“We are shocked and saddened to hear of the horrific assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and the attack on First Lady Martine Moïse of Haiti,” Biden said in a statement released by the White House.
“We condemn this heinous act, and I am sending my sincere wishes for First Lady Moïse’s recovery,” Biden said. “The United States offers condolences to the people of Haiti, and we stand ready to assist as we continue to work for a safe and secure Haiti.”
As he departed the White House on Wednesday morning en route to Illinois, Biden said “we need a lot more information” on the situation, but added that “it is very worrisome about the state of Haiti.”
Even before the assassination, Haiti had grown increasingly unstable and disgruntled under Moïse. The president ruled by decree for more than a year after the country failed to hold elections and the opposition demanded he step down in recent months.
“The country’s security situation is under the control of the National Police of Haiti and the Armed Forces of Haiti,” Joseph said in a statement from his office. “Democracy and the republic will win.”
In the early morning hours of Wednesday, the streets were largely empty in the Caribbean nation’s capital of Port-au-Prince, but some people ransacked businesses in one area.
Joseph said police have been deployed to the National Palace and the upscale community of Pétionville and will be sent to other areas.
Joseph condemned the assassination as a “hateful, inhumane and barbaric act.” In the statement, he said some of the attackers spoke in Spanish but offered no further explanation. He later said in a radio address that they spoke Spanish or English, again offering no details.
The White House said it was still gathering information on what happened. U.S. President Joe Biden will be briefed later Wednesday by his national security team, spokesperson Jen Psaki said during an interview on MSNBC.
“The message to the people of Haiti is this is a tragic tragedy,” she during a previously scheduled interview on CNN. “It’s a horrific crime and we’re so sorry for the loss that they are all suffering and going through as many of them are waking up this morning and hearing this news. And we stand ready and stand by them to provide any assistance that’s needed.”
Haiti’s economic, political and social woes have deepened recently, with gang violence spiking heavily in Port-au-Prince, inflation spiraling and food and fuel becoming scarcer at times in a country where 60% of the population makes less than $2 a day. These troubles come as Haiti still tries to recover from the devastating 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Matthew that struck in 2016.
The coronavirus has also taken a disproportionate toll on Haiti, with the country reporting more than 19,000 confirmed cases and 467 deaths since the pandemic began, according to the World Health Organization. In addition, Haiti is still registering an average of roughly 73 new infections each day, according to data compiled by Reuters — a figure representing nearly a third of its peak infection rate.
Just last month, Supreme Court Judge René Sylvestre died after being diagnosed with Covid-19, further complicating the presidential line of succession in the wake of Moïse’s assassination.
Opposition leaders accused Moïse, who was 53, of seeking to increase his power, including by approving a decree that limited the powers of a court that audits government contracts and another that created an intelligence agency that answers only to the president.
In recent months, opposition leaders demanded the he step down, arguing that his term legally ended in February 2021. Moïse and supporters maintained that his term began when he took office in early 2017, following a chaotic election that forced the appointment of a provisional president to serve during a yearlong gap.
Haiti was scheduled to hold general elections later this year.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.