MONTEGO BAY, July 7, 2021 - As members of the Caribbean Community try to come to grips with the assissination of President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, the question hanging on the lips of everyone is : Why was Moïse assassinated and who did it?
Gunmen who assassinated Haitian President Jovenel Moïse posed as agents from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Haitian ambassador to the United States said on Wednesday.
“No way they were DEA agents,” Bocchit Edmond told the Reuters news service in an interview citing video footage the government has in its possession.
Edmond said he had asked US officials to provide security assistance, training and equipment to help strengthen the national police, amid fears of a breakdown in order in the economically challenged CARICOM member state.
Interim Premier Claude Joseph said a group of unidentified gunmen attacked Moïse’s private residence overnight on Wednesday and shot him dead.
Joseph observed that the attackers were highly trained gunmen, some speaking Spanish or English. Their three children who were said to be at home were not hurt.
The First Lady, Martine, who survived the attack that killed President Jovenel Moïse, was in critical condition and efforts were under way to bring her to Miami for treatment, Haiti’s ambassador to the United States Bocchit Edmond said.
“She’s stable but in critical condition,” Ambassador Edmond told reporters in an online interview with reporters hours after the assassination.
Ambassador Edmond described the attackers as “well trained professional commandos” and “foreign mercenaries” but he did not comment on possible suspects or motives. Details of the attack are continuing to emerge.
A resident who lives near the president’s home compared the sound of the shooting to an earthquake, the AP reported.
Journalist Kim Ives, an editor with the newspaper Haiti Liberte, said the Caribbean nation now faces a volatile situation following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse by armed men who attacked his home overnight.
“I imagine now the US, which holds the predominant weight in Haiti, will try to bring about some kind of transitional government,” Ives told Al Jazeera in a television interview.
“The streets, though, are going to be very hot. There are armed neighbourhood organisations … which have called for a revolution against the system in Haiti.”
The attack appeared to have been planned and “well funded”, Ives said.
“They had nine new Nissan pickup trucks. They knew the layout of the president’s house. They had inside information, clearly.”
Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph declared a state of emergency amid confusion over who would take over the reins of the country.
“My compatriots, remain calm because the situation is under control,” Joseph said in televised remarks after chairing a cabinet meeting.
Mr. Joseph said he did not want the nation to plunge into chaos. He urged the population to "remain calm" and appealed "to the intelligence of the Haitian people in these difficult times."
He said a preliminary investigation has determined that it was a "group of armed individuals, who spoke English and Spanish, who killed the president."
A state of siege means that all borders are closed and martial law temporarily imposed, with Haiti's military and the Haiti National Police empowered to enforce the law.
Mr. Joseph vowed to bring to justice to those involved in the president's assassination.
As world leaders responded to the assassination, former Haiti President Michel Joseph Martelly in a tweet called the “cruel assassination” of President Jovenel Moïse by armed gunman a “hard blow for our country and for Haitian democracy which is struggling to find its way”.
A musician and politician, Martelly was president of Haiti from 2011 to 2016.
CARICOM Chairman Gaston Browne told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) that he was in shock at the developments, adding “that’s very very, unfortunate.
“I am shocked to hear about the assassination of President Moise and I pray the full recovery of his wife, who is reported to be hospialised with bullet wound,” said Browne, adding “the savageous act, is a very unfortunate development coming at a time of great instability to Haiti.
“I hope the Prime Minister and other members of the Cabinet will be able to hold things together to prevent further chaos and confusion,” Browne told CMC.
“I will be convening a meeting of heads later today to discuss this latest development,” said Browne, who up until Tuesday night had chaired the annual summit of regional leaders where at which the situation in the French-speaking CARICOM country had been discussed.
Browne had told reporters following the summit that the leaders had agreed to issue a statement on the ongoing political and economic crisis in Haiti after receiving a report on the situation in that country from the Expert Group which had been established by CARICOM leaders in February 2021.
Jamaica’s prime minister Andrew Holness said the heinous act committed in Haiti is a stain on the country and is a sorrowful time for the region.
"We wish for the people of Haiti peace and stability at this time. We continue to monitor the situation and to gather as much information as we can. CARICOM leaders will convene a special meeting today to discuss the situation, and as soon as more information is available, we will inform our local public here," Holness said.
The Government of Trinidad and Tobago whose prime minister Dr. Keith Rowley stepped down as Chairman of CARICOM only days ago, joined other Caricom countries in expressing shock and outrage over the assassination President Moïse.
"The Government of TT is shocked at the tragic developments in Haiti with the assassination of the President of Haiti, earlier this morning," read a statement posted by the Office of the Prime Minister.
"We offer our deepest condolences to the family of President Moïse and to the Government and People of Haiti, our brothers and sisters in the Caribbean Community (Caricom) on this most distressing occurrence.
"TT pledges to work together with our Caricom colleagues and other hemispheric and international partners to support Haiti at this very difficult time,” the statement concluded.
Barbados Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley described the assassination President Moïse as “an atrocious act which Barbados vehemently condemns”.
In a statement issued today, Ms. Mottley said: “Violence can never be a solution, and must be rejected in all circumstances. Barbados urges all to pause and work at all costs for peace. The Haitian people deserve this.
“It is the necessary foundation for their stability and for democracy to emerge to protect them against the many vagaries they face, man-made and otherwise. We pray for the swift recovery of his wife, Martine.”