Haitian President’s funeral reveals loopholes, US delegation leaves early amid security fears

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 the US delegation, led by US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, left for security reasons due to beatings fire reported outside the event. White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said “the presidential delegation is safe and justified in light of reported gunfire outside the funeral.” and returned to the United States, cutting short the visit to Haiti.

Earlier, as the flag-covered coffin of President Jovenel Moïse was brought to a central stage lined with white curtains, worn by men in military uniforms, a moment many hoped would help promote reconciliation was overshadowed by tensions that had exploded in the streets the day before.

A line of M. Moses’ supporters stood at the entrance to the funeral, held at his family farm 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 a guest stand, 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 president was buried before the investigation into his the assassination was completed. “They burn 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 president’s widow, Arriving dressed in black with a large black hat and a mask with a photo of her husband affixed, the crowd swarmed around her chanting “Stop them, stop them”.

Later, a smell of tear gas hung over the family compound. After the funeral, returning guests to the nearby town of Cap-Haitien saw the fresh remains of burning tires and navigated streets blocked by downed trees and rocks.

In remarks upon the arrival of the US delegation at Cap-Haitien airport earlier on Friday, Ms Thomas-Greenfield said: “Our delegation is here to bring a message to the Haitian people: you deserve democracy, stability, security and prosperity, and we are with you in this time of crisis. So, we come here in solidarity with the Haitian people at this difficult time. “

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 one of its crises the deepest. Officials blamed a group of Colombian mercenaries, but many questions remain unanswered, including who planned the assassination and why no members of their 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. 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.

Hours earlier, the northern city of Cap-Haitien – 30 minutes from his family property – had burned with anger and frustration, revealing Haiti’s mistrust of the elite in the less developed north of the country.

The streets swelled with black smoke from burning tires on Thursday, a form of protest common in a country divided by geography, wealth and power. Large crowds of protesters ran through the narrow colonial streets, chanting: “They killed Jovenel, and the police were there.

“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. “

A new government was installed in the capital this week, and its leaders have vowed to shed light on the killings and build consensus between the country’s political factions and its citizens groups.

Yet Thursday’s unrest threatened to turn hopes of consensus into a naive and unrealized dream.

“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.

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 of the country, 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 in the 2015 elections. He was born in the city. de 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. It also widened the divides between the small elite of the country 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.

Harold Isaac, Zachary Montague and Rick Gladstone contributed reporting.

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