Joseph Mécène Jean-Louis, a former Supreme Court judge who declared himself the president of Haiti in a social media video in February, has made no public appearances since then and no confirmed public statements regarding the assassination of rival Jovenel Moïse on Wednesday in his home.
Unidentified gunmen raided Moïse’s home in the early morning hours of Wednesday and shot him dead, as well as severely injuring First Lady Martine Moïse. Moïse was 53 years old and set to step down as president in 2022.
Jean-Louis declared himself president in early February in a video and has made no public appearances since. He has not attempted to put together a cabinet, enforce any laws, or otherwise exercise presidential power. No foreign state has accepted him as the legitimate president of Haiti.
His prolonged silence is particularly striking this week, however, as Moïse’s death means he is the only person in Haiti presumably alive and claiming to be the president. Haitian news outlets have not relayed any messages from Jean-Louis, nor have any opposition leaders. A strange Twitter account claiming to belong to the “Committee to Support the President J. Mécène Jean-Louis” posted a message on Wednesday reading, in French:
Press statement from the designated Transitional President:
The designated president of the Transition Mr. Joseph Mécène Jean-Louis deplores and condemns the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and appeals to the people for calm, and for them to abstain from all abuses.
The statement was accompanied by a generic photo of Jean-Louis. Breitbart News could not independently verify the legitimacy of the statement or who runs the Twitter account, which as of Wednesday, boasted only 20 followers.
Note de Presse du Président désigné de la Transition de Rupture
Le Président désigné de la Transition de Rupture Me Joseph Mécène Jean Louis déplore et condamne l'assassinat du Président Jovenel MOÏSE et appelle le peuple au calme,s'abtenant de toutes dérives. pic.twitter.com/t1jK2GptqD
— Comité Soutien Au Président J. Mécène Jn Louis (@ComiteJn) July 7, 2021
The Twitter post surfaced before the Haitian National Police announced it had identified and confronted a group of individuals believed to be responsible for Moïse’s assassination. The confrontation escalated into a shootout killing four suspects and resulting in two arrests and the liberation of three police officers the suspects had allegedly taken hostage, according to police Director-General Léon Charles. Law enforcement authorities referred to the suspects as “mercenaries” and reiterated claims by outgoing Prime Minister Claude Joseph that the killers were speaking a foreign language at the time of the attack, believed to be either English or Spanish.
Charles added the information that the suspected killers claimed to be members of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Moïse faced intense pressure to step down this year due to the chaotic nature of his ascent to the presidency. The president stepped in after the removal of President Michel Martelly in 2015, which followed months of protests and turmoil in the island nation. Opposition leaders insisted that, because he served as acting president that year, his legal term ended in February 2021. Moïse disagreed, asserting that he was not officially sworn into office until 2017 and, thus, his term expired in 2022. Moïse vowed not to participate in the 2022 elections.
As a result of the disagreement on Moïse’s term, opposition leaders declared him to no longer be the president of the country in February. They replaced him with Jean-Louis who, at 72 years old, was serving as the Supreme Court’s most senior justice at the time of his claim to the presidency. Jean-Louis appeared in a video online stating that “the opposition,” without elaborating, had chosen him to serve as “transitional president” and organize elections.
“I declare to accept the choice of the opposition and the civil society to be able to serve my country as the provisional president,” Jean-Louis said.
Moïse responded by immediately removing Jean-Louis from the Supreme Court, asserting, “you cannot be a judge and president at the same time” and urging Jean-Louis to run in the 2022 presidential election if he felt so strongly that he should be the head of state. Moïse also removed two other judges from the court, Yvickel Dabrezil and Wendelle Coq Thelot, for allegedly supporting an opposition-led “coup.” Dabrezil was arrested shortly before the ouster.
Haitian news outlets noted quickly that Jean-Louis did not appear to be working to exercise the powers he claimed to have in any way.
“Since his appointment by the opposition as president of the transition, the judge … Joseph Mécène Jean-Louis has been very discreet,” Le Nouvelliste noted in late February. “For the time being, he has not yet made any public appearance, other than the publication of a pre-recorded message and a note on the economic situation.”
Opposition leader André Michel told the newspaper at the time that Jean-Louis was doing “very well” and that he was working on “strategic issues,” without elaborating.
Jean-Louis appeared on video at least one more time since his self-appointment, in an interview in March with host Valerio Saint-Louis of the U.S.-based French-language outlet Tele Image.
In May, the outlet Haiti Liberte described Jean-Louis’s messages to the people throughout his “tenure” as “complete radio silence.”
“It has now been three months since judge Joseph Mécène Jean-Louis was appointed ‘President’ of the Transition,” the outlet noted at the time. “Since that date, apart from a few relatives of his ‘Excellency,’ no one has met him at his home or in a building serving as his ‘Palace’ while awaiting his installation which, according to some officials endorsing his ‘presidency,’ is imminent.”
“Joseph Mécène Jean-Louis no longer gives any sign of life. He makes no symbolic tours, no political attacks on Jovenel, no public statements or condemnation of kidnapping or the acts of armed gangs,” the outlet observed. “In short, the ‘President’ of the transition does not exist. At least, not for Haiti.”
The May report added that Michel, apparently the only public figure to have even seen Jean-Louis this year, claimed that he had not begun operating as president despite declaring himself such because the former judge was waiting for Moïse to voluntarily move out of the presidential palace.
A coalition of opposition groups calling itself the Democratic and Popular Sector issued a statement “reaffirming its support” for Jean-Louis in June, but the statement does not indicate that the group met with Jean-Louis or that it has any evidence that Jean-Louis is operating as president. No evidence suggests Jean-Louis played any role personally in the statement’s release.