Haiti was in turmoil on Thursday as police searched for the assassins who killed its president and speculation swirled about who would lead the impoverished Caribbean country.
Police killed four suspects in the assassination of President Jovenel Moise on Wednesday night, and two more were detained, according to officials.
The suspects were described as foreign “mercenaries” by Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, Bocchit Edmond, who said he believed they were helped by Haitian nationals, but officials have released few public details about the attack.
Moise’s death comes amid a wave of violence in the capital, Port-au-Prince, that has claimed the lives of dozens of people in recent weeks. Haiti was already beset by political unrest, a worsening humanitarian crisis, and the Covid-19 virus.
In addition, the assassination has created a massive power vacuum in Haiti. Its parliament is effectively defunct, and two men are claiming to be the country’s legitimate prime minister at the same time.
Judge Jean Wilner Morin, president of the national association of Haitian judges, told CNN that the supreme court president would normally be the next in line to take over on an interim basis, but he recently died of Covid-19.
On Wednesday, Haiti’s Acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph declared a “state of siege,” closing the country’s borders and imposing martial law.
However, Joseph was set to be replaced by Ariel Henry, whom the president appointed shortly before his death, because he had not been confirmed by parliament, which has not met since 2020.
“Claude Joseph is not prime minister, he is part of my government,” Henry told the Haitian newspaper le Nouvelliste.
Moise was killed early Wednesday in Petion-Ville, a suburb of Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince, during an attack on his private residence. At around 1 a.m., the attackers stormed Moise’s home and fatally wounded the president.
Martine Moise, Haiti’s first lady, was shot in the attack and was flown to a Miami hospital for treatment, according to Edmond. Her condition is stable but critical. The first lady was seen arriving at Jackson Health System’s Ryder Trauma Center in Miami on a stretcher.
Due to the vehicles they used to get to the presidential residence where the President was killed, Ambassador Edmond believes the suspects, whom he described as “well-trained killers,” received assistance from Haitian nationals. Edmond stated that the Haitian National Police were determining their nationalities.
“We’re trying to figure out how to identify more of those who were involved in this heinous act,” he said.
According to Edmond, video from the scene showed suspects speaking Spanish and posing as Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents. He told reporters on Wednesday, “I believe they are fake DEA agents.”
“We don’t know how they came in,” Edmond said, adding that they did not know if the attackers were still in the country. He said if they have left, it would be via a land border with the Dominican Republic because Haiti would have detected a plane leaving and the airport has been closed since the attack. He said the airport would reopen “once we have this situation under control.”
The Dominican Republic’s flight authority has halted flights to and from the Republic of Haiti, according to a statement from the country’s civil aviation board.
Following the assassination, Joseph, the acting Prime Minister, addressed the nation, declaring a state of siege and urging citizens to remain calm.
Under Haitian law, the state of siege is the middle of three levels of emergency, alongside the lower “state of emergency” and the highest “state of war.”
National borders are closed and martial law is temporarily imposed under the state of siege regime, with Haiti’s military and national police empowered to enforce the law.