The heavily armed gunmen who appear to have killed the president of Haiti were caught on video claiming to be DEA agents.
“DEA operation, everybody back up and stand down,” said a voice through a megaphone in English with what sounds like an American accent, according to several videos circulating on social media that appear to have been recorded by neighbors of the president showing heavily armed men in the streets.
The video shows at least five assailants wearing bulletproof vests and carrying large weapons who appear to be standing guard outside the president’s home while the assault is taking place.
President Jovenel Moise, 53, died of gunshot wounds at his home in the hills surrounding the capital Port-au-Prince in a brazen raid shortly after midnight, while his wife, first lady Martine Moise, 47, was wounded and is hospitalized.
There is no evidence suggesting the United States Drug Enforcement Administration was involved, and it was likely an attempt to create confusion around the source of the attack. The DEA has not yet issued a statement and did not immediately respond to an inquiry from VICE World News.
A statement from acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph said that the assailants were not DEA, but “mercenaries,” some of whom also spoke Spanish, in an apparent attempt to blame external forces. The dominant language in Haiti is Creole, but in the country’s sole neighbor on the island of Hispaniola, the Dominican Republic, it’s Spanish.
In a statement, President Joe Biden condemned the murder of Moise, calling it a “heinous act” and saying that the U.S. was ready to assist to “continue to work for a safe and secure Haiti.”
In October 2015, Moise received the most votes according to official tallies in the first round of the presidential election. But he didn’t win enough to avoid a runoff, and a vast discrepancy in the percentage he supposedly won compared with exit polls led to allegations of fraud and widespread protests. The ensuing runoff election, which was delayed due to the unrest, was boycotted by many and only about a fifth of eligible voters cast a ballot.
Moise officially took power on February 7, 2017, a year after the inauguration should have taken place. Marred by controversy from the start, his tenure was a tumultuous period in a country that’s still recovering from a disastrous 2010 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 and destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure.
In recent months, Haiti has suffered a crisis of kidnappings and has struggled to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The country, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, is the only one in the region yet to vaccinate a single person.
Critics have questioned Moise’s legitimacy, saying that his five-year term should have ended in February. The president contended that since he didn’t officially take office until 2017, there was another year left on his term.
That same month, authorities arrested opponents whom the government said were plotting a coup, releasing a video that suggested the attempt was masterminded by a former U.S. State Department official. There doesn’t appear to be any evidence to support such a wild claim.
Legislative elections have been delayed indefinitely since October 2019, and in the absence of a parliament, the president had been ruling by decree, leading many to compare him with past dictators. Recently, the head of the Supreme Court died of COVID-19.
With few elected officials and weak institutions, the murder of Moise is likely to create a power vacuum that could bring more violence and unrest.