A New Day in Haiti? Many Haitians Have Their Doubts.
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Gerard Lovius falls asleep at night on the floor of an empty classroom to the sound of gunshots. He and his shocked neighbors started living there a month ago, after gang members stormed his house, sending his terrified wife and three children running through the streets and leaving him with nothing: no money, no goods, not even a cell phone.
On Tuesday morning, Mr. Lovius was back at his job as a street cleaner, tidying up before the majestic memorial of the day for Haiti’s murdered leader on the Champs de Mars, the capital’s main plaza. President Jovenel Moïse was soon to be buried, and the sparring members of his government had just concluded a truce, vowing to rule the country again.
But there was little peace in Mr. Lovius’ life. “We only have hope in God,” he said, dragging a wheelbarrow of garbage down the street.
Haitian leaders have called the political truce a new chapter, a historic turning point that, in the words of the acting prime minister, shows “that we can really work together, even though we are different, even though we have visions. different from the world. . “
But for many in the country, that doesn’t seem like a change. The list of cabinet ministers published in the government gazette featured several familiar names from Mr Moïse’s ruling party, including the new prime minister and the new foreign minister, both of whom were seeking to take over from the government. assassination of the president.
“It’s a provocation,” said Pierre Espérance, executive director of the Haitian National Human Rights Defense Network, of the party’s control over the new government. “It means the crisis will continue, the insecurity will continue and the gangs will continue.”
He argued that Mr. Moïse was a victim of his own regime, a leader who “died because of the insecurity created by his party”. Two years ago, violence and angry protesters condemning corruption and demanding the president’s impeachment locked down the country – barring sick people from hospitals, kids from school, workers in scarce jobs and people in the black in areas where electricity has stopped flowing.
The gangs have grown more brazen since then, controlling large parts of the capital, attacking at will, kidnapping children on their way to school and pastors providing their services.
“The country will stay in the same state, unless they come to an agreement,” said Rosemane Jean Louis, shortly before the start of the memorial and the new government taking office. “We have no security. We are hungry. We are in misery.
Ms Jean Louis recounted how she said goodbye to her son, 24, one day last year, not knowing it would be the last time. With a smile, he grabbed a candy from the pile of goodies she was selling outside their house, then continued on his way to meet a friend. He did a block, she said, before being shot by gang members outside a church.
“I did not even find his body,” said Ms. Jean Louis, 61, with tears streaming down. “They took it with them.”
Crime, kidnappings, gangs, security: words flowed from Haitians across the capital as dignitaries paid tribute to the assassinated president on Tuesday and his successors took the helm. Even as rival politicians made claims and counterclaims to replace Mr Moïse, residents were still on the streets protesting – often because they were convinced their new rulers, regardless of who won, would care. not from them.
“There are too many kidnappings in this country,” said desperately Steve Madden, standing in a group of men last week in a stare with police.
Where John Brown Avenue spills out of a lush valley into the sandy streets of downtown, tires burned along the road as Mr. Madden and other residents gathered. A local port worker had been kidnapped the day before and his frightened neighbors were demanding his return, Mr Madden said. A phalanx of policemen stood nearby with large guns.
Entire districts of the capital are too dangerous to be crossed.
The Champs de Mars, once a place where people danced in droves during carnival and gathered on hot nights to eat ice cream or share a beer with friends, has been largely desolate since the assassination. In front of the presidential palace, still not replaced after the earthquake more than a decade ago, a small handful of withered flowers and candles sat in a bouquet for Mr. Moïse. A large portrait of him, with tears streaming down his face, had fallen to the floor. The words “I tried, don’t give up, keep fighting” were printed on it.
Kim Baptiste Jean-Louis, 32, rushed to put the photo on an easel. When asked if he had been a fan of Mr. Moses, he shrugged. “But,” he said, “he was the president.”
The memorial of Mr. Moïse took place in the garden of the Haitian National Pantheon Museum, where the anchor of Christopher Columbus’ ship, the Santa Maria, is exhibited, as well as the chains of former slaves.
The guests entered slowly, including the two men who fought to succeed the president: Ariel Henry, the neurosurgeon appointed prime minister just before Mr. Moïse was killed, and Claude Joseph, the acting prime minister who was replaced. that week but quickly took control. government and imposed a “state of siege”.
The praise of Mr. Moïse, whose “increasingly authoritarian” regime had alarmed many in and outside Haiti, described him as a warrior for social justice who fought against the country’s oligarchs, a crusader whose reputation had been murdered before him. Diplomats and ministers from his government gathered under a lattice covered in bougainvillea, including at least one official in the Moïse administration who had been sanctioned by the United States in a 2018 massacre.
“You can kill a revolutionary, but you cannot murder the revolution,” Mr. Joseph told the memorial.
The power struggle between Mr. Joseph and Mr. Henry was officially settled. Mr Joseph said on Monday that he had agreed to step down and serve as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Religion, while Mr Henry became prime minister, paving the way for elections in the future. The two men stood side by side at the start of the ceremony, shoulder to shoulder, flanked by members of Mr. Moïse’s cabinet.
Shortly after the memorial, the new government was installed under a canopy outside the prime minister’s office. Mr Joseph said he was passing the baton on to Mr Henry, who spoke at length about the terrors that had gripped the nation, the people who had been killed and robbed, the homes and businesses looted and set on fire. He promised to restore stability and prepare for the elections. The two men kissed briefly.
Tuesday’s show of unity followed a controversial race for power. Lawmakers and democracy advocates have condemned Mr Joseph’s swift seizure of the national reins and imposition of siege immediately after the murder, with some likening it to a coup.
The assassination of the Haitian president
Senate President Joseph Lambert has said he will instead be sworn in as Haiti’s new leader. Then he abruptly postponed that decision, later explaining in an interview that US officials, who have wielded enormous influence over Haitian politics since they invaded the country over 100 years ago, had urged him to withdraw.
Mr. Henry had also tried to assert his authority last week, without much success. He issued a press release promising to unveil his new cabinet at the Karibe Hotel, an elite palm-fringed landmark that has been a hotbed for political announcements in the past.
But just as Mr Henry’s press conference was supposed to start last week, the hotel manager closed the building’s heavy metal doors, preventing news outlets from entering. He had not been informed of the press conference in advance, he said, and did not want to be seen supporting one political faction over another.
“You know how sensitive things are here,” explained manager Patrice Jacquet. “I have to take action to protect the hotel.
For many Haitians, the political maneuver was just that – a power play by members of the elite and the ruling party that promised them little relief. Some fondly remembered the president and mourned the loss of a politician who presented himself as an enemy of the nation’s entrenched interests.
On a wall a few blocks from the former president’s home, a group of artists finished a mural of Mr. Moïse on Monday evening. “He’s the only president who cared,” said John Alfrena, 42, admiring the work his friends had done, while speculating that Mr Moses was killed for attacking the oligarchs of the country, the small group of families who control much of the Haitian economy.
Now he hoped that the president’s wife, Martine Moïse, would continue his political legacy.
“We will fight for Martine Moïse to become a candidate in 2022”, he declared.
Ms Moïse surprised the country when she returned from Miami on Saturday, where she had been treated for the injuries she suffered in the attack on her husband. She exited the plane wearing a sling for her bandaged right arm and a bulletproof vest. Since then, she has largely remained out of sight, although a heartbreaking message was posted on her verified Twitter account three days after the murder, mourning her death and encouraging the country to continue its momentum.
“Twenty-five years together: in one night, the mercenaries snatched him from me,” the recording said. “The tears will never dry up in my eyes. My heart will always bleed.
Harold Isaac and Federico Rios contributed reporting.
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