An obituary from the Times (London).
Jovenel Moïse lived in Pétion-Ville, an affluent enclave high in the hills of Haiti overlooking Port-au-Prince, the teeming capital of that small Caribbean state. When the hit squad reached his private home at about 1am on July 7, 2021, the president’s bodyguards failed to defend him, for reasons that have yet to become clear. Soon afterwards he lay dead on his bedroom floor, having been shot a dozen times.
Moïse had made plenty of enemies. There were his many political opponents, who accused him of corruption, of stealing the presidential election five years ago and of growing increasingly authoritarian, and there were the wealthy businessmen whose lucrative monopolies he appeared to threaten. There were the Haitian people, who had seen their already wretched country assailed by violent gangs, kidnappings, demonstrations, Covid-19, inflation, shortages of basic goods and rampant hunger. Possibly, too, there were the international drug syndicates who use Haiti as a transshipment point.
Moïse had refused to leave office on February 7, the fifth anniversary of his predecessor, Michel Martelly, leaving office. He argued that bitter electoral disputes had prevented him succeeding Martelly for a year, so his five-year term should run to February next year. It was a stand that cost him his life.
Jovenel Moïse was born in Trou-du-Nord, a northeastern district of Haiti far from Port-au-Prince, in 1968. His father, Étienne, was a small-time farmer and his mother, Lucia, a seamstress. He liked to say that he grew up on a sugar plantation and understood the hardships faced by ordinary Haitians, but his family moved to Port-au-Prince when he was six and he was educated in the capital.
He earned a degree in political science from the private Université Quisqueya, where he met Martine Joseph. They married in 1996 and had three children: Jomarlie, Jovenel and Joverlein. That same year the newlyweds moved to Port-de-Paix, in northwest Haiti, where Moïse opened a car parts business and began growing bananas. Martine, who was injured in the attack, survives him.
In time he became president of the region’s chamber of commerce and in 2012 he started Agritrans, a banana export co-operative for 3,000 local farmers, with the help of a $6 million (£4.3 million) grant approved by Martelly’s government. There are conflicting reports about how successful the venture was, but it brought Martelly and Moïse together and in 2015 Martelly chose Moïse to succeed him as the presidential candidate of his centre-right Tet Kale (bald headed) Party.
Martelly was a flamboyant former singer and entertainer. Moïse was soft-spoken and a political novice. But he campaigned as “Neg Bannan Nan” (Banana Man), promising to crack down on corruption, strengthen Haitian institutions and help farmers. With Martelly’s support he defeated 53 other candidates in the first round of the 2015 presidential election with 32.8 per cent of the vote.
His opponents cried foul and Haiti was rocked by violent and protracted protests. The election was eventually annulled, and a fresh one was held in November 2016. Moïse won that ballot with 55.6 per cent of the vote, negating the need for a second round, but the turnout was a paltry 21 per cent. His opponents again complained of electoral fraud, this time in vain. In February 2017 Moïse was sworn in. He rebutted charges that he was Martelly’s puppet by declaring: “Jovenel is his own man.”
Haiti, the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, is almost ungovernable at the best of times, let alone by a president who had won office with fewer than 600,000 votes in a country of 11 million people and who was threatening to regulate its powerful oligarchs.
From the outset his presidency was beset by protests. His critics said he responded by becoming increasingly authoritarian. In particular he sought to introduce a new constitution that would considerably increase the powers of the presidency and curtail those of the legislature in order, he said, to streamline government. “I am not a dictator,” he told The New York Times.
Moïse was also accused of corruption and specifically of involvement in the diversion of $2 billion that had been raised through the sale of heavily subsidised petrol from Venezuela and was supposedly earmarked for social development. He denied all such charges.
By the end of his life the country’s parliament had been dissolved and Moïse was ruling by decree. Haiti had rival constitutions and rival interim prime ministers, one chosen by Moïse and the other by his opponents. On the streets of Port-au-Prince near anarchy prevailed, with armed gangs, some allegedly linked to Moïse, robbing, kidnapping, setting fires and killing with impunity. Those close to Moïse said that he feared assassination. He no longer dared to appear in public.
Jovenel Moïse, president of Haiti, was born on June 26, 1968. He was assassinated on July 7, 2021, aged 53