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The Assassination Of Haiti's President Is Called A Barbaric Act


Haitian President Jovenel Moise has been assassinated. He was killed at his home in Port au Prince. First Lady Martine Moise was rushed to the hospital for her injuries, and there are conflicting reports about her condition. The news of the president's death was confirmed by the country's acting prime minister, Claude Joseph. NPR's Carrie Kahn, who covers Haiti for us, joins us now from Mexico City. Good morning, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So, Carrie, what have we learned so far?

KAHN: Officially, we have a statement from Claude Joseph, the prime minister, and he was actually on Radio Caraibe in Haiti early this morning and said the same thing. In that statement, he said that around 1 in the morning, a group of nonidentified individuals, some of whom spoke Spanish, attacked the private residence of the president of the republic and mortally wounded the head of state. He did say the first lady was injured and is getting care, and as you said, there are differing reports on her conditions, ranging from her having died to being medevaced.

The prime minister condemned the attack as inhumane, odious and a barbaric act. He called on the population to remain calm and said the security situation is under control of the national police of Haiti and the armed forces. There are videos circulating, including shots by a drone over the president's residence, which is high up in the hills above the capital, and you hear assailants there speaking English as well as Spanish.

FADEL: Now, you've met and interviewed Moise. What was he like? And why would anybody want to assassinate him?

KAHN: Yes, I first met him back in 2015 when he was campaigning for the presidency. And he was not a politician; he was in agribusiness. He exported bananas, and everyone called him the banana man. He was a very tall and lanky man. He was 53 years old. And at first, he just seemed like such an awkward pick for the president. He was personally tapped by the previous president for the job. And he liked to profess that he was not a politician; he was an outsider and a champion of the poor.

But he did not have a clear path for Haiti. He was not a typical strongman or a wily politician that Haiti is used to. And it was a rocky road for him from the get-go, politically, as is always in Haiti. You know, democracy is extremely fragile there. It's never been an easy transition. An indication of his political difficulties - he kept firing and appointing prime ministers. Many resigned. He had seven prime ministers since taking power.

FADEL: Wow. Now, as you point out, Haiti has a long history of instability. What was the situation leading up to the president's assassination?

KAHN: It's just been so incredibly, extremely difficult and sad. Look; this is the poorest country in the hemisphere. The U.N. had been the major police security force in the country, but it pulled out years ago. And it's just been - the security has been left to the underfunded and weak national police. Haiti is also still dealing with the aftereffects of that devastating 2010 earthquake, a deadly cholera outbreak. And Moise never could bring the forces together to govern the country. Haiti couldn't hold credible parliamentary elections two years ago, and the Parliament was dissolved, and he's been ruling by decree. He was also making moves recently to consolidate more power for the presidency by passing new laws.

Cut to now. Gangs are now ruling many, many important regions of the country, especially in the capital. Commerce is just devastated. Kidnappings are on the rise again. And people are terrified. Food and fuel is sparse. And, you know, most Haitians live in extreme poverty. The situation in Haiti is clearly unstable, and this assassination is just going to create even more turmoil.

FADEL: Now, Carrie, the announcement of the president's assassination came from the acting prime minister, who was replaced two days ago by Moise. Is there anything we can read into that?

KAHN: It's - as typical in Haiti, it's conflicting who's in charge. The current prime minister says he will address the nation later today, so we'll hear more about that.

FADEL: NPR's Carrie Kahn. Thank you.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.