Port-au-Prince, Haiti: Jovenel Moise was a successful entrepreneur before jumping into Haiti’s tumultuous politics, but his presidency of the impoverished Caribbean nation oversaw a spiral of instability and a surge of violence that included his own assassination.
Moise was a virtual unknown to the general public before becoming president in 2017, pledging of bringing work to the people and fighting corruption.
Instead, Haiti saw a steady uptick in kidnappings, gang violence, and a political standoff on the duration of his time in power — which ended early Wednesday when he was killed in his home by gunmen.
Moise, a 53-year-old former entrepreneur who set up a string of businesses in the north of the country, burst onto the political stage with a populist message of building up the chronically unstable island nation.
His talk was backed up by his business background: past ventures included water treatment, the energy sector, and agricultural production, the latter of which earned him his nickname, “Neg Bannan nan” or “The Banana Man” in Creole.
He had been handpicked by former president Michel Martelly in 2015 as the PHTK candidate to succeed him.
In February 2016, with Martelly’s five-year term nearing its end and his political succession in limbo, Haiti’s parliament elected Jocelerme Privert, president of the Senate at the time, to be interim president.
Moise’s focus on agriculture and his provincial home became key campaign themes in the following election. Backed by a communications team that was more advanced than those of his rivals, Moise visited all 145 of Haiti’s communes.
Like the other candidates in the race, Moise did not flesh out details of his platform. But after arriving on the political scene, his remarks highlighted the idea of reviving, through agriculture, the deeply troubled Haitian economy.
‘Descent into hell’
A former auto parts executive, Moise founded the company Agritrans in 2012, which in cooperation with the Martelly government launched the country’s first agriculture free-trade zone, in the North-East department where he was born.
But his presidency was quickly confronted with challenges and controversy.
A dispute over when the president’s term was to end stemmed from Moise’s original election: he was voted into office in a poll subsequently canceled on grounds of fraud, and then elected again a year later, in 2016.
After the latter disputed election, demonstrations demanding his resignation intensified in the summer of 2018.
Voting to elect deputies, senators, mayors, and local officials should have been held in 2018, but the polls have been delayed, triggering the vacuum in which Moise said he was entitled to stay for another year.
Haitian authorities said in February they had foiled an attempt to murder Moise and overthrow the government, as the dispute raged over when his term was to end.
Leon Charles, the director of Haiti’s national police force, said at the time that officers had seized documents, cash, and several weapons, including assault rifles, an Uzi submachine gun, pistols, and machetes.
In the early hours of Wednesday, gunmen shot him dead — and left his wife Martine wounded — at their private residence.
Under Moise, kidnappings for ransom surged, reflecting the growing influence of armed gangs in the country — such as the abduction in April targeting 10 people including seven Catholic clergies.
An outraged Catholic Church slammed the government’s failure to act over the worsening unrest, decrying Haiti’s “descent into hell.”