As It Happens

Haiti in chaos after president's assassination, says man who heard gunfire from his home

The assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in the early hours of Wednesday has plunged the Caribbean country into even more chaos, says a man who heard the attack from his home in the capital.

Jovenel Moïse shot dead by gunmen with heavy-calibre weapons on Wednesday

Presidential guards patrol the entrance to the residence of late Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in Port-au-Prince on Wednesday. (Joseph Odelyn/The Associated Press)

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The assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in the early hours of Wednesday has plunged the Caribbean country into even more chaos, says a man who heard the attack from his home in the capital. 

Haiti has declared a two-week state of emergency and authorities closed the international airport in order to catch the gunmen who assassinated the president and shot his wife, Martine. She is reportedly in stable but critical condition and efforts are under way to move her to Miami for treatment.

Interim prime minister Claude Joseph said the heavily armed gunmen spoke Spanish or English, but he gave no details on the attack.

The country has been dealing with natural disasters, gang violence, soaring inflation and protests to oust the president. Moïse had been ruling by decree for more than a year after failing to hold elections, and the opposition demanded he step down.

Ralph Chevry, a board member of the Haiti Center for Socio Economic Policy in Port-au-Prince, lives just over a kilometre from the president's residence. 

LISTEN: Chevry describes hearing gunfire during assassination:

Chevry soke with As It Happens guest host Duncan McCue on Wednesday about what he heard. Here is part of their conversation. 

Can you describe what you saw and heard last night? 

About one o'clock [a.m.] I heard heavy fire. 

I had never heard this type of machine gun. So it was obviously something foreign to what is typically used in Haiti. It was sporadic. It lasted about ... three, five minutes and it stopped and it happened again. It went on for about six, seven times, say, from 1 to 2 a.m. 

What you just described was an all-out gunfight. I mean, this wasn't a quiet undercover operation. So what does that tell you about these attackers and how powerful they were?

Obviously, they were powerful as the machine guns I heard were things I've heard in movies. 

But yeah, it was pretty scary when we heard it and it became obvious that it was the president's house being attacked.

People are taking to the streets. They have looted the Port Authority, there are gas stations that are getting burned, and it's really getting out of hand now.  

What was your reaction when you learned that the president had been killed? 

Shocked. You know, this is something that we don't want to live through. It's a very difficult thing to deal with. 

It's also very frustrating that we had talked about this. I had already mentioned in certain interviews that we felt that this was the making of a Somalia, and this incident kind of corroborated or made it true. Sadly enough. I feel like we are living in Somalia now. There's no doubt about it. 

We feel that Haiti needs a reset.- Ralph Chevry, board member of the Haiti Center for Socio Economic Policy

What do you mean by that? 

Well no law, none of the institutions function, the country is bankrupt. The government's gone really rogue. There's no government. 

The southern part of Haiti has been cut off from Port-au-Prince. People have not been able to go to work for the past two weeks because there's a gang war. The police can't stop them. These guys come out with heavy machine guns. It's Somalia. To me, that's what it looks like. 

So what does that mean for the people of Haiti who are just trying to get by right now? 

What it means for us is that we feel that Haiti needs a reset. 

And the whole point of view is that we all feel that there should be some sort of transition, and that transition should be led by members of the civil society, people that don't have their hands in politics, people that are not too antagonistic. 

So we're looking for a neutral group. So this is what we want to promote. We need to take Haiti back to democracy, because Haiti is certainly not on the road. 

An investigator places an evidence marker next to a bullet casing outside the president's residence. (Joseph Odelyn/Associated Press)

Let's talk a little bit about Jovenel Moïse. I mean, he's been under pretty intense pressure from the opposition to resign because they argue his term is over. Do you think it was a political crisis that motivated this? 

To me, it's an explosion. The country just exploded. Every institution. The police are fractured into four different sections. Nothing works. The constitution, it's on hold. The judicial system doesn't work. 

And I guess the straw broke the camel's back.

Are there suspicions that the opposition is behind this? 

No, that hasn't come out yet. What is being said is that the attackers, they spoke Spanish, some of them spoke English, and the weapons we heard were foreign. So a lot of people were concerned that this was something commando from another country. 

Raising the idea or spectre of a foreign operatives? 

Yeah, foreign operative. Many people say mercenaries. We don't know who. I don't see the opposition actually going to that extent. It wouldn't make any sense to me because he has only a few months left. But one never knows. 

There's a lot of frustration and a lot of anguish and a lot of pain. A lot of people have lost a lot of relatives and they blame him for a lot of things. 

Written by Sarah Jackson with files from The Associated Press. Interview produced by Chris Harbord. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 


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