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Fast Thinking July 7, 2021

FAST THINKING: Why the Moïse assassination is Haiti’s worst-case scenario

By Atlantic Council


It’s a shock to a reeling nation. Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was killed in his home by a group of assailants early Wednesday, with the first lady also seriously injured. The murder leaves a power vacuum atop a country battling rampant crime and COVID-19—with no obvious succession plan in place. What’s going on in Haiti and how will it reverberate across the region? Our experts break down what we know and don’t know.


  • Wazim Mowla (@wmowla): Assistant director of the Caribbean Initiative at the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center

The Moïse file

  • Hours after Moïse’s assassination, the picture of what happened remains “murky,” Jason says. “Reports indicate that the assailants were well-organized and precise with their planning and how they carried out the attack, including the use of sophisticated weaponry.”
  • In office since 2017, Moïse has faced persistent criticism over how he’s governed Haiti—including the accusation that his term already expired, though he’s remained in charge. He’s also pushed for constitutional reforms to strengthen the presidency. “Moïse will likely be remembered as part of a long line of Haitian leaders who struggled to bring economic development and democracy to the country,” Wazim says.
  • The chronically unstable nation was in a fraught position even before the assassination. In addition to the pandemic fallout—with cases rising and the country unable to procure any vaccinesJason points out that “in the first four months of the year, kidnappings rose 36 percent and homicides 17 percent.” Plus, hurricane season is just beginning, and Haiti is often in the path of major Caribbean storms.
  • Given all these mounting problems, Jason calls this morning’s attack Haiti’s “worst-case scenario.”

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A new refugee crisis?

  • Part of the problem is that the country lacks a succession plan: Acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph, who announced Moïse’s death, “has been making statements on behalf of the government today, including declaring a ‘state of siege,’” Jason notes. But “questions remain as to the order of succession given vacant posts currently in the Haitian government.” For example, Moïse selected a new prime minister, Ariel Henry, but Henry has not yet been sworn in. And the head of the country’s highest court just died of COVID-19.
  • Many Haitians may respond by attempting to leave the country. Wazim points to reports that 13,000 people have already fled Haiti due to gang violence since June 1. “More instability can have spillover effects throughout the region, including leading to increased migration across the Caribbean and to US shores,” Wazim tells us. “The situation is likely to worsen, so the Biden administration and Caribbean leaders should start today to prepare to welcome refugees.”

Will the world step up?

  • Haiti’s crisis requires a broad international response, Wazim says. He notes that the Organization of American States (OAS) “has tried to take the lead in recent months” including a three-day visit to Haiti last month with the aim of fostering free and fair elections.
  • But Wazim wants to see more from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). “The regional body, of which Haiti is a member, can be the most effective and influential actor going forward,” he argues. “Overall, there needs to be a combined and coordinated effort by the OAS, CARICOM, the US, and the UN.”
  • What can all these groups provide? “The country still needs vaccines, it needs to rebuild democratic institutions, and it needs a lifeline for its economic growth,” Jason tells us. “If not, lawlessness will continue to fill the vacuum that has been created.”
  • But Wazim cautions that international actors need to work closely with people on the ground in order to make a lasting difference: “It will be about guidance rather than giving orders to Haiti.”

Further reading

Related Experts: Jason Marczak and Wazim Mowla

Image: People walk past a wall with a mural depicting Haiti's President Jovenel Moise, after he was shot dead by unidentified attackers in his private residence, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on July 7, 2021. Photo by Robenson Sanon/Reuters