Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise speaks during an interview at his home in Petion-Ville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, on Feb. 7. Moise was assassinated at his home. DIEU NALIO CHERY, ASSOCIATED PRESS Haiti’s embattled president has been killed at age 53. Jovenel Moïse was a former banana producer and political neophyte who ruled Haiti for more
BLOOMINGTON — A former Lexington resident who founded a Haitian charity said Wednesday the assassination of the country’s president is another stunning upheaval for the poverty-stricken nation. The death has touched off chaos and an emerging constitutional crisis.
“Just how much can the people of Haiti endure?” said Shelley McCall Hari, who moved to the Caribbean country in 2017, after founding the group Welcome Home Haiti.
President Joe Biden before leaving for a speech in northern Illinois on Wednesday called the killing “heinous.”
“We need a lot more information,” Biden said in Washington. “It’s very worrisome about the state of Haiti.”
Hari, who is in Central Illinois for two weeks to meet with the Welcome Home Haiti board of directors, said the residents she’s talked to are “asking how can this happen to a head of state in his own home?”
“Haiti suffers from much corruption in the government,” Hari said. “And there are several very wealthy people there who are in opposition to the government and may be motivated to make change.”
Hari and her husband Steve founded the organization following a devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010. Nearly 300,000 homes and businesses were destroyed. The group has since helped Haitian employees build 130 homes as well as several schools, clinics and other public buildings.
Hari said violence has been steadily increasing.
“The United Nations Peacekeepers were doing a good job controlling violence in Haiti until they left in 2017,” she said.
“There were soldiers and tanks everywhere and it was peaceful but when they left, conditions deteriorated.”
Bocchit Edmond, the Haitian ambassador to the United States, said the attack on Moïse was carried out by “well-trained professional commandos” and “foreign mercenaries” who were masquerading as agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Opposition leaders accused Moïse 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.
He had faced large protests in recent months that turned violent as opposition leaders and their supporters rejected his plans to hold a constitutional referendum with proposals that would strengthen the presidency.
In May, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced an 18-month extension of temporary legal status for Haitians living in the U.S., citing “serious security concerns (in Haiti), social unrest, an increase in human rights abuses, crippling poverty, and lack of basic resources, which are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Hari said the country is locked down, with airports and ports closed, although it’s unlikely to last long because Haiti gets almost of all of its food from imports.
“We’re supposed to return on July 21, but we’ll see what happens,” she said.
For her mission, there is concern lumber prices will increase during the closures. Hari said the pandemic virtually closed their mission during the quarantine but construction crews are back at work and are aiming to triple new homes being built. The charity normally builds one house a month but construction crews are currently building three to four houses a month since returning to work.
Hari said Haiti’s direction into the future ultimately has to be determined by the people of Haiti.
“You can’t send in well-meaning people to make a difference,” she said. “You have to support the people on the ground who are doing the work.”
The Associated Press and Chicago Tribune contributed to this report.
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