The Irish Times view on the assassination in Haiti: a country on the brink

The president’s murder has injected a new level of violent instability into the turbulent politics of an impoverished state

Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was killed by a group of unidentified people who had entered his private residence in Port au Prince. Photograph: Orlando Barría/ EPA

Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was killed by a group of unidentified people who had entered his private residence in Port au Prince. Photograph: Orlando Barría/ EPA

 

The assassination of Jovenal Moïse, Haiti’s autocratic president, has injected a new level of violent instability into the turbulent politics of this impoverished state, the poorest in the Americas. The country of 11 million has suffered repeated political and economic crises as well as several natural disasters in recent years, struggling to rebuild since a devastating earthquake in 2010, the subsequent cholera outbreak, and Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

Although the international community has pumped in €11 billion in aid over the last decade, the Haitian state and its institutions have become further hollowed out, the cash fueling endemic corruption and undermining any incentive to reform. The UN, which still maintains an advisory office in Port au Prince, and which had played a substantial role in the aftermath of the earthquake, has been discredited because of the role of peacekeepers in spreading cholera.

The assassination leaves Haiti without an accepted leader. The last prime minister Claude Joseph, having been sacked by Moïse, has now taken authority back on himself, while yet-to-be-installed replacement Ariel Henry protests. The legality of Joseph’s “state of siege” declaration imposing emergency rule is fiercely contested.

Moïse’s legitimacy was also dubious. A former banana exporter turned politician, he had been ruling by decree since October 2019, when parliamentary elections were suspended. Mass protests over claims of government corruption and involvement in gang violence punctuated his time in office, although he consistently denied any part and pledged to take on the power of the powerful monopolies. He had many enemies.

Who ordered the killing remains a mystery. The commando-like hit-squad which posed as agents of the US Drug Enforcement Agency and some of whom spoke foreign languages, have been killed or captured. But the power vacuum remains deeply destabilising. Emergency meetings of the UN Security Council and the Organisation of American States may see pressure rising for international peacekeeping intervention.

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