Americas

As Haitian President’s Funeral Nears, Anger Burns in the Streets

CAP-HAÏTIEN, Haiti — The coffin of Haiti’s assassinated president, Jovenel Moïse, was carried by men in military uniform to a central stage and covered with a Haitian flag on Friday as onlookers tucked in bouquets of white flowers before a state funeral, a moment that many hoped would help mend a fractured nation.

Just hours earlier, the northern city of Cap-Haïtien — 30 minutes from his family homestead where the ceremony will be held — had burned with anger and frustration, exposing Haiti’s deep divisions and the distrust of the elite in the country’s less developed north.

Two weeks after Mr. Moïse was killed in his own bedroom outside the capital, Port-au-Prince, the country is still spinning with unanswered questions and seething with anger. The authorities say that he was killed by a group of Colombian mercenaries, and several members of Mr. Moïse’s own security detail have been questioned and taken into custody as well.

But on Friday morning, there were no signs of the protests that had raged in the city the previous evening, and the streets were clear but dark — there was no electricity.

The state funeral, planned for the Moïse family homestead less than a half-hour from downtown Cap-Haïtien, was expected to draw diplomats from around the world — including a presidential delegation from the United States, led by Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations — and officials from throughout the country.

The group will include Juan Gonzalez, President Biden’s top adviser on Latin America; Representative Jeff Fortenberry, Republican of Nebraska; Michele J. Sison, the U.S. ambassador to Haiti; and Gregory Meeks, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the White House said in a statement. The State Department said that Daniel Foote, a career diplomat, would serve as its special envoy for Haiti on Thursday; he will also be part of the delegation.

The group from the United States plans to meet with the Haitian politicians who have been vying to replace Mr. Moïse, as well as representatives of civil society organizations.

Yet the turmoil before the ceremony raised security issues and questions over whether all of the people intending to pay respects to Mr. Moïse would be able to reach the funeral.

In the president’s family compound, a few miles south of Cap-Haïtien’s downtown, workers rushed to finish the last preparations of a grand staging area. White stands were filled with more than 1,000 white chairs, set in a rectangle around a large tent, with flowing white curtains, where the president’s coffin was expected to be laid, surrounded by bouquets of white flowers.

As the sun began to lighten the sky, workers rolled out carpets of green AstroTurf and stapled red and blue ribbons to the stands.

“Today, we are all sad,” said Wilkens Saint-Louis, 32, pausing for a moment from his task of sweeping leaves.

On Thursday, the streets billowed with the black smoke of burning tires, a common form of protest in a country split by geography, wealth and power. Large crowds of demonstrators ran though the narrow colonial streets, chanting, “They killed Jovenel, and the police were there.”

Distrustful of the elite coming from the capital, angry men tried to block the arrival of mourners from outside the city, throwing a concrete block at the lead car of a motorcade that had navigated through the fire, and later dragging a concrete telephone pole across a road.

“We sent them someone alive, they sent him back a cadaver,” screamed 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 vowed to get to the bottom of the killing and to build consensus among the country’s political factions and its civil society groups.

Yet the unrest on Thursday threatened to turn hopes of consensus into a naïve, unrealized dream.

“The bourgeoisie from Port-au-Prince are responsible. They are the reason for all of this,” said Emmanuella Joseph, a 20-year-old secondary school student, crying into a face cloth on the side of the road at the tail end of a running protest. “All I’m asking is to shut down all the streets to stop them from coming.”

She added that the president’s killers had been outsiders who had long meddled with the country’s destiny. “What kind of nation comes and kills a president?”

Others shouted that the police and presidential guard, whose members sustained no reported injuries during the attack on the president’s home, had been complicit in the murder.

Cap-Haïtien was dressed for mourning on Thursday. It was once the capital of the French colony of St. Domingue, which claimed one of the most brutal slave plantation economies in the world and was later overwhelmed by the world’s most successful slave rebellion. Banners strung across the roads read “Justice for President Jovenel” and “Thank you President Jovenel. You gave your life for the people’s fight and it will continue.”

Just off the city’s main stone square, where rebel leaders were executed more than two centuries ago, mourners lined up to sign condolence books and light candles before a large photo of the president in a government building.

“We are living in a time that’s so fragile,” said Maxil Mompremier, standing outside 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.”

Hailing from the north of the country, Mr. Moïse was not well-known in the country’s power center of Port-au-Prince when the governing party chose him as its candidate in the 2015 election. He was born in the town of Trou-du-Nord, and later began his entrepreneurial career from Port-de-Paix, where he became president of the Chamber of Commerce.

That he was killed far away in Port-au-Prince inflamed old divisions between the less developed north and the country’s capital and economic center. It also deepened the rifts between the country’s small elite and its destitute majority.

“It comes back incessantly in all the history of Haiti,” said Emile Eyma Jr., a historian based in Cap-Haïtien, speaking of the resentment felt by northerners. “What is dangerous is that both the question of color and the question of regionalism are weaponized for purely political reasons.”

The president’s wife, Martine Moïse, who was injured in the attack, has said that her family would pay for the funeral. Planes arrived at the normally sleepy airport throughout Thursday, with more scheduled to arrive on Friday.

But on the streets of this city, the anger burned.

“We are going to protest all night,” Mr. Atole vowed as tires burned on a bridge behind him. “We are going to give them a hard time in town.”

Harold Isaac contributed reporting.

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