Trudeau condemns 'appalling' assassination of Haitian president

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today joined leaders around the world in condemning the overnight assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse and said Canada is willing to help.

President Jovenel Moïse shot dead by unidentified gunmen early Wednesday morning

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets Haiti's President Jovenel Moise as he arrives for an official welcoming ceremony at the G7 Summit in La Malbaie, Quebec, on June 9, 2018. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today joined leaders around the world in condemning the overnight assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse and said Canada is willing to help.

"I strongly condemn the appalling assassination of President Moïse this morning," Trudeau said in a tweet. 

"Canada stands ready to support the people of Haiti and offer any assistance they need."

Moïse was shot dead by unidentified attackers at his private residence in the early hours of Wednesday morning local time, according to a statement from the country's interim prime minister, Claude Joseph. The 53-year-old president's wife, Martine Moïse, was also shot in the attack and was receiving medical treatment, Joseph said.

The murder comes after months of gang violence, anti-government protests and a recent surge in COVID-19 cases.

It's not clear who is responsible for the attack, which now threatens to plunge the impoverished Caribbean country into a political crisis due to confusion over who will succeed Moïse.

The person who should have succeeded Moïse was the president of the Cour de Cassation, René Sylvestre, but he died of COVID-19 in June and hasn't been replaced. On top of that, the legislature is effectively inactive and Joseph, who says he is in control of the country, was scheduled to be replaced this week with a new prime minister.

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Moïse, 53, was a businessman with little political experience when he was appointed president in 2017. He was the subject of protests over his decision to rule by decree for more than a year after the country failed to hold legislative elections, and was pushing for a controversial constitutional reform.

World leaders condemn assassination

The assassination drew shock and condemnation from leaders in Latin America, Europe and the U.S., along with calls for calm and unity in Haiti.

Speaking to reporters before boarding the Marine One helicopter, U.S. President Joe Biden said that while more information is needed about what exactly happened and who is behind the attack, the president's murder is "very worrisome."

Colombian President Ivan Duque condemned what he called a "cowardly act" and expressed solidarity with Haiti. He called for an urgent mission by the Organization of American States "to protect democratic order."

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Other initial reactions reflected concern about Haiti's security.

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, tweeted that "this crime carries a risk of instability and (a) spiral of violence."

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted that he was "shocked and saddened at the death of President Moise."

Haiti facing a 'difficult time': Ambassador

Haiti's Ambassador to Canada Weibert Arthus said that while the country is facing a "difficult time," he is convinced Haiti will pull through.

"There are reasons to not think that tomorrow would be better," Arthus told Radio-Canada in an interview. "But we've known so much difficult time in our history and we have the capacity to go over the difficult times."

Haiti — a country of 11 million people and the poorest in the Americas — has long had close ties with Canada. Haiti is the largest recipient of development assistance from Canada in the region.

The country has struggled with political instability, poverty and crime since the end of the brutal dictatorships of Francois and Jean-Claude Duvalier from 1957 to 1986.

Criminal gangs have driven thousands of people from their homes this year. Protesters demanding Moise's ouster in 2019 shut down much of the economy and the country has yet to begin vaccinating its 11 million people against the coronavirus, which is surging.

Gilles Rivard, a former Canadian ambassador to Haiti, said the president's unpopularity combined with Haiti's weak democratic institutions and dysfunctional political culture likely contributed to the killing.

"If you put all these ingredients together, you come to [the] very sad situation of this morning," said Rivard.

"I don't think the Haitian political [elite] are taking all the action necessary to establish a very strong governance structure. That is missing in Haiti and it's not only with Jovenel Moïse — it's been like that for the last 10 or 20 years."

With files from The Associated Press