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Violence overshadows memorial Mass for slain Haitian leader

Haiti on July 22 prepared to bury its slain president under tight security, just over two weeks after his assassination further rattled a country mired in poverty, corruption and political instability.
Haiti on July 22 prepared to bury its slain president under tight security, just over two weeks after his assassination further rattled a country mired in poverty, corruption and political instability.VALERIE BAERISWYL/AFP via Getty Images

CAP-HAITIEN, Haiti — Violence engulfed pockets of northern Haiti after a priest pleaded with his fellow countrymen to stop killing each other during a memorial Mass Thursday for slain President Jovenel Moïse.

“The killings and kidnappings should stop,’' the Rev. Jean-Gilles Sem said to dozens of people wearing white T-shirts emblazoned with Moïse’s picture.

Noting that poor communities are the most affected, he said, “We’re tired.”

The Mass at the cathedral in the northern coastal city of Cap-Haitien was about half-full as many mourners, fearing more violence, stayed away. Some supporters of the slain president threatened to kill members of the country’s elite, whom they blame, in part, for the assassination. Officials warned that other events could be canceled amid concerns over violence.

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A man who identified himself as John Jovie stood outside the church with a group of men and threatened to kill wealthy members of the elite from the capital of Port-au-Prince who showed up for the ceremonies.

“We ask them not to come to the funeral,” he said. “If they come, we will cut their heads off. We will bring our guns out of hiding. … We want justice for Moïse.”

The mayor of Cap-Haitien arrived at the cathedral with heavy security as men with high-powered weapons stood watch during the entire Mass.

Demonstrations after the Mass turned violent. Protesters fired their guns in the air, throwing rocks and overturning heavy concrete barricades next to the seashore as businesses closed and people took cover.

A heavily armed police convoy carrying unknown officials rushed through a barricade of flaming tires set up at the end of a bridge, with one vehicle turning over as the others continued on their way. Officers and officials fled the overturned vehicle.

“This is real messed up since Jovenel died,” said David Daniel, who stood in the doorway of a restaurant he co-owns as he watched the scene unfold. But he said he doesn’t think it’s going to lead to anything productive. “Violence has been here in Haiti since I was a kid, so I don’t think violence is going to change anything.”

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Some people signed a blue condolences book that the mayor’s office had set up near the cathedral as well-wishers stood before a portrait of Moïse and rows of candles whose flames flickered in the hot wind.

“My President. Go in peace. God sees everything. Fight for change,” wrote Louis Judlin, a 36-year-old electrician and father of two.

He said he is unemployed and struggles to find food to feed his children. “Life is truly hard for every Haitian. To eat, to go to school, to have health, transportation,” Judlin said.

The Mass was held a day after violence erupted in Quartier-Morin, located between Cap-Haitien and Moïse’s hometown. At least one person was killed during the protests organized by armed men who blocked roads with large rocks and burning tires.

“That’s the only way we have to demand justice,” said Aurélien Stanley, a Moïse supporter, of the violence. “If we don’t get justice for Jovenel, we will do whatever it takes to stop the funeral from happening.”

Overnight, local media reported the burning of a nearby bridge that connected two communities.

Before the Mass began, several people stood at the entrance and shouted, “Justice for Moïse! Justice for Moïse!”

Inside, dozens of people wore T-shirts that read: “The fight for the ones that are weaker is continuing. Safe journey, President Jovenel Moïse.”

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A private funeral for Moïse was planned for Friday as authorities continue to investigate the July 7 attack at the president’s home, in which he was shot several times and his wife seriously wounded.

Meanwhile, the US State Department announced the appointment of Daniel Foote, a career member of the Foreign Service, as its special envoy for Haiti.

Foote will “engage with Haitian and international partners to facilitate long-term peace and stability and support efforts to hold free and fair presidential and legislative elections,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price.

Haiti’s police chief, Léon Charles, said 26 suspects have been arrested so far, including three police officers and 18 former Colombian soldiers. Another seven high-ranking police officials have been detained but not formally arrested as authorities probe why no one in the president’s security detail was injured that night.

Moïse’s widow, Martine, made a surprise return to Haiti on Saturday after receiving medical treatment in Florida following her injuries.

She made a public appearance Wednesday at an event at the National Pantheon Museum in Port-au-Prince to commemorate her husband. She was accompanied by her three children, dressed in black and with her arm in a sling.

In a letter to the Haitian people posted on social media, Martine Moïse thanked them for their sympathies and added that the funeral Friday would be paid for by the family rather than the public treasury.

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’'Your moral support gives the presidential family the courage to go through this great pain,’' she wrote.

Material from The Washington Post was used in this report.