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President Jovenel Moïse's Assassination Stuns Haitians Already Reeling From Violence

Screen shot of a video from a neighbor near Haitian President Jovenel Moise's home showing armed gunmen on a street with cars parked nearby
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Screen shot of a video from a neighbor near Haitian President Jovenel Moise's home before armed gunmen attacked and assassinated the country's president.

Gunmen stormed the Haitian president's home early Wednesday morning, killing him and wounding his wife. The act follows months of frightening criminal violence.

Haitians woke up Wednesday morning to the shocking news that President Jovenel Moïse had been assassinated in his Port-au-Prince home overnight. The murder stunned a nation already been dealing this past year with frightening levels of violence.

Haiti’s interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, said the 1 a.m. commando-style gun attack left Moïse, 53, "mortally wounded." Joseph called it a "barbaric" act. Moïse's wife, Martine Moïse, was also shot at their residence in the hills above Port-au-Prince and was hospitalized.

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Joseph’s statement said the attackers spoke Spanish; and in a video purportedly taken by neighbors, one of the gunmen bizarrely shouts that they were from the “DEA,” or U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

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Whether the assassination was carried out locally or by some sort of professional international group — as many who watched the video were speculating — Haitians WLRN contacted in Port-au-Prince early Wednesday morning said it felt like a culmination of the terrible criminal violence they’ve been experiencing for more than a year now, including street gang warfare and a ransom kidnapping wave.

“They’re trying to understand, if this could happen to a president, what chance does that [give] me, a regular Haitian," said Haitian entrepreneur and YouTube show host Christherson Jeanty, who lives in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Pétion-Ville, not far from Moïse’s residence in the Pelerin 5 district.

"A lot of them are asking themselves this morning, how can you stay in a country where this stuff is happening?”

"This feels like the apex of that violence," said Vladimir Laborde, who owns a Haitian energy company and lives in Port-au-Prince's Turgeau district.

"People are weary and waiting for the worst now. This was a heinous act against the Haitian state that hits Haitians hard — but it also shows Haiti's weakness regarding our rule of law and our institutions."

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Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse has been governing by decree. His critics say that he is an autocrat in the making.

Moïse was a widely unpopular and authoritarian president, ruling by decree since last year. But Jeanty said even Moïse’s opponents told him they're shocked by the president's assassination, and Port-au-Prince seemed under lockdown Wednesday morning.

“The reality is everyone I know is staying home, because they understand security isn’t guaranteed especially today," said Jeanty. "I’m looking through my balcony right now that has a pretty decent view, and there isn’t a car on the main street here.”

It’s not clear who will assume Haiti’s presidency now. According to Haiti's Constitution, if the President dies he or she is succeeded by the Council of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister — which in this case appears to be Joseph, even though he's serving as interim PM. Moïse recently selected a new PM, Ariel Henry, who was supposed to be sworn in this week.