Tense Funeral for Haiti Leader Exposes Rifts, and U.S. Delegation Departs Early
CAP-HAÏTIEN, Haiti – Heckled by protesters and surrounded by phalanxes of heavily armed guards, foreign diplomats and Haitian politicians attended the funeral of the slain Haitian president on Friday, a tense event that laid bare a nation’s problems fractured instead of providing an opportunity for healing.
Less than half an hour after the funeral, foreign dignitaries, including a US delegation led by US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, left for security reasons triggered by gunfire in outside of the event. White House officials said members of the delegation were safe and had returned to the United States, saving the trip.
The funeral took place in the family compound of the assassinated president, Jovenel Moïse, just outside the northern city of Cap-Haitien, with stands erected inside an arena around a central stage, dressed in white curtains and flowers, where her coffin was placed, covered with a Haitian flag and guarded by four men in military uniform.
Although the setting is serene, the tensions that had rocked the streets the previous afternoon quickly seeped into the ceremony.
A line of supporters of Mr. Moïse stood at the entrance to the funeral and shouted at the arriving politicians: “Justice for Jovenel!
When Haiti’s national police chief Leon Charles arrived, the crowd rushed around him and erupted into screams and finger pointing. As he walked past the guest gallery, many also stood up to shout their displeasure.
“He killed the president! shouted Marie Michelle Nelcifor, adding that she believed Mr. Moïse had telephoned Mr. Charles while assassins were attacking his home but Mr. Charles had not sent police to defend him. “Where were the security guards? ” she asked.
Others were angry that the investigation into his murder had not been completed. “They bury him surrounded by his assassins!” shouted Kettie Compere, a mother of two, looking at the platform of Haitian diplomats and politicians where Mr. Charles had settled.
When Martine Moïse, the widow of the president, arrived dressed in black with a big black hat and a mask with a photo of her husband affixed on it, the crowd swarmed around her singing “Arrest-les, stop-les” .
Speaking publicly for the first time since the assassination, which also hurt her, Ms. Moïse delivered ostensibly political praise. While telling the mourners that her family is “living in dark days”, she also hinted that her husband had been killed by the main bourgeois families in the country.
“Is it a crime to want to free the state from the clutches of corrupt oligarchs?” She said, standing on the podium with her three children surrounding her.
“Raptors are still running the streets with their bloody claws,” she said. “They are always looking for prey. They don’t even hide. They are there looking at me and listening to us, hoping to scare me. Their thirst for blood is not yet quenched.
The smell of tear gas wafted over the family compound during the funeral.
Following the ceremony, Cap-Haitien seemed to sink into anarchy. The main roads of the city were blocked by burning tires and barricades made of rocks and wood. Packs of wandering men, some masked and armed, stopped motorcyclists and robbed them.
At least one home appliance store has been looted, with people taking refrigerators and air conditioners. All shops in downtown streets have been closed.
The U.S. delegation that arrived in the city earlier on Friday said its goal was to reconnect with Haiti and help the country overcome a litany of problems made worse by the assassination of Mr. Moïse.
“You deserve democracy, stability, security and prosperity, and we stand by your side in this time of crisis,” said Ms. Thomas-Greenfield.
In an interview, a member of the delegation, Juan Gonzalez, President Biden’s main adviser on Latin America, said he wanted to promote cooperation between political factions in Haiti. He also said the White House believes Haiti should conduct an election, but only when it can safely do so.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said after the delegation’s flight that the United States remained “deeply concerned” about Haiti.
“We strongly urge all parties to speak out peacefully and call on Haitian leaders to be clear that their supporters must refrain from violence,” Sullivan said in a statement. The delegation, he said, had “met with senior Haitian officials and civil society leaders and shared this message directly.”
The murder on July 7 of Mr. Moïse, 53, in the bedroom of his home near Port-au-Prince, the capital, plunged the Caribbean nation of 11 million people into deep crisis. Officials blamed a group of Colombian mercenaries, but many questions remain unanswered, including who planned the assassination and why no members of the president’s security were injured. Several members of this security detachment were questioned and taken into custody.
Under pressure from Western countries led by the United States, Haiti’s other political leaders, scrambling for power, pledged an orderly transition and democratic process. A new government was installed in the capital this week, and its leaders vowed to shed light on the assassination and build consensus among the country’s political factions and civic groups.
But it was clear, even before the funeral, that deep divisions would shape and eventually overturn what many hoped would be a place of reconciliation.
The night before, Cap-Haitien was burning with anger and frustration, revealing deep divisions in Haitian society that have existed since the former French colony of slaves rebelled and defeated Napoleon’s troops.
The streets billowed with black smoke from burning tires, a form of protest common in a country divided by geography, wealth and power. Large crowds of demonstrators ran through the narrow colonial streets, chanting: “They killed Jovenel, and the police were there!”
Angry men tried to block the arrival of mourners from the south of the country, throwing a concrete block at the lead car of a motorcade that had passed through the fire, then dragging a concrete telephone pole down a road .
“Someone was sent to them alive, they sent him back a corpse,” shouted Frantz Atole, a 42-year-old mechanic, promising violence. “This country is not going to be silent. “
Contempt for the country’s economic elite, expressed by Ms Moïse in her eulogy, was clearly a dominant emotion among protesters on Thursday.
“The bourgeoisie of Port-au-Prince is responsible. They are the reason for it all, ”said Emmanuella Joseph, a 20-year-old high school student, crying in a washcloth on the side of the road at the end of an ongoing protest.
The assassination of the Haitian president
She added that the president’s assassins were foreigners who had long been involved in the country’s fate. “What kind of nation comes to kill a president?”
Cap-Haitien was once the capital of the French colony of Santo Domingo, which claimed one of the most brutal slave plantation economies in the world and was then overwhelmed by the world’s most successful slave rebellion. . Banners hung on its roads read “Justice for President Jovenel” and “Thank you, President Jovenel.” You gave your life for the struggle of the people and it will continue.
Right next to the town’s main stone plaza, where rebel leaders were executed over two centuries ago, mourners lined up on Thursday to sign condolence books and light candles in front of a large photo of the president in a government building.
“We live in such a fragile time,” said Maxil Mompremier, standing in front of the colonial-era Notre-Dame de L’Assomption Cathedral, where Mr. Moïse’s supporters had gathered earlier for a service. “Nobody understands what happened. A lot of people are afraid. “
Originally from the north, Mr. Moïse was not well known in the center of power of the country of Port-au-Prince when the ruling party chose him as a candidate for the 2015 elections. He was born in the town of Trou -du-Nord and subsequently began his entrepreneurial career in Port-de-Paix, where he became president of the Chamber of Commerce.
The fact that he was killed far away in Port-au-Prince has fueled old divisions between the less developed north and the country’s capital and economic center. He also deepened the divisions between the country’s small elite – historically descended from lighter-skinned blacks who were free before the revolution – and its destitute majority.
“It keeps coming back throughout the history of Haiti,” said Emile Eyma Jr., historian based in Cap-Haitien, evoking the resentment felt by the inhabitants of the North.
“What is dangerous is that the issue of color and the issue of regionalism are militarized for purely political reasons,” he said, distracting from the country’s fundamental problems of inequality, poverty and unemployment.
Harold Isaac, Zachary Montague and Rick Gladstone contributed reporting.
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