What does the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse mean for politically unstable Haiti?

Early this morning, Haiti President Jovenel Moïse was shot and killed after gunmen broke into his home in Port au Prince. First Lady Martine Moïse was wounded in the attack and hospitalized. Haiti’s interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, says the attackers were heavily armed, well-trained, and spoke Spanish and English. 

Moise, who took office in 2017, dissolved Parliament last year and had been ruling by decree. He refused calls for him to step down. Behind the political uncertainty is a nation overrun with poverty and ruled by gangs.

“There’s been a tamping down of civic life because of not just the chaos, but the violence. So you can be a street market person … or you can be an outspoken human rights advocate, and you might meet the same fate of kidnapping or ransom or rape or murder,” says Amy Wilentz, contributing editor at The Nation and author of “The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier.”

She points out that Haitians have been living in a state of siege for more than a year. “Businesses are closed most of the time because nobody can travel in their car without being a target. … They want to have the roads free for them,” she says. “It's just easier to be lawless when there's chaos, and the government under Moïse has not stopped what's going on with the gangs and with the drug traffickers, and has been really incapable whenever it has made little baby steps to try to interfere in anything.”

The U.S. has had a long-term heavy presence in Haiti, and Wilentz argues now there’s an opportunity for American support of the Haitian people. 

“It's time for the Biden administration to listen to Haitians, instead of listening to the state that does nothing for the Haitians,” she says. “They have to start listening to the very robust discussion and debates among Haitians  ... about what the country should be doing next, how to move toward elections in a responsible and democratic way instead of in an autocratic strongman way.” 



  • Amy Wilentz - contributing editor at the Nation, journalism professor at University of California, Irvine; author of “The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier” and “Farewell” - @amywilentz