U.S. Delegation to Haiti President’s Funeral Departs Early Over Safety Fears

Angry protests before and during the funeral reflected the nation’s deep divisions, a backdrop to a moment many had hoped would help mend a fractured nation. Shots were reported outside the event.

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CAP-HAITIEN, Haiti — Heckled by protesters and surrounded by phalanxes of heavily armed guards, foreign diplomats and Haitian politicians attended the funeral of Haiti’s assassinated president on Friday, a tense event that laid bare a fractured nation’s problems instead of providing an opportunity for healing.

Less than a half-hour into the funeral, foreign dignitaries including the American delegation, led by the United States ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, departed over safety concerns because of reported gunshots fired outside the event. The White House spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said “the presidential delegation is safe and accounted for in light of the reported shootings outside the funeral,” and was heading back to the United States, cutting the visit to Haiti short.

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The slain president, Jovenel Moise, was laid to rest Friday, two weeks after he was killed in his bedroom outside Port-au-Prince. The authorities have blamed a group of Colombian mercenaries for his killing, and have taken others into custody.CreditCredit…Federico Rios for The New York Times

Earlier, as the flag-covered coffin of the president, Jovenel Moise, was brought onto a central stage lined with white curtains, carried by men in military uniforms, a moment that many had hoped would help promote reconciliation was overshadowed by tensions that had exploded in the streets the day before and carried over into Friday.

A line of Mr. Moise’s supporters stood by the entrance to the funeral, held at his family homestead, and yelled at arriving politicians: “Justice for Jovenel!”

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Soldiers guard the coffin of Jovenel Moise, the slain president of Haiti.Credit…Federico Rios for The New York Times

When Haiti’s national police chief, Leon Charles, arrived, the crowd surged around him and erupted into shouting and finger pointing. As he passed a grandstand of invited guests, many there also jumped to their feet to holler their displeasure.

“He killed the president!” shouted Marie Michelle Nelcifor, adding she believed Mr. Moise had telephoned Mr. Charles while assassins attacked his home but that Mr. Charles had not sent police officers to defend him. “Where were the security guards?” she asked.

Others were angry that the president would be buried before the investigation into his assassination was completed. “They are burying him surrounded by his assassins!” shouted Kettie Compere, a mother of two looking up at the grandstand of diplomats and Haitian politicians where Mr. Charles had settled.

When Martine Moise, the president’s widow, arrived dressed in black with a large black hat and a mask with a photo of her husband affixed to it, the crowd surged around her, singing “arrest them, arrest them.”

Speaking publicly for the first time since the assassination, which also left her wounded, Ms. Moise delivered a eulogy that was pointedly political. While telling the mourners that her family is “living in dark days,” she also implied that her husband had been killed by the country’s leading bourgeoise families.

“Is it a crime to want to free the state from the clutches of the corrupt oligarchs?,” she said, standing at the podium with all three of her children surrounding her.

“The raptors are still running the streets with their bloody claws,” she said. “They are still looking for prey. The are not even hiding. They are there watching me and listening to us, hoping to scare me. Their thirst for blood has not been quenched yet.”

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Ms. Moise arriving for the funeral surrounded by bodyguards and security personnel.Credit…Federico Rios for The New York Times

The smell of tear gas wafted over the family compound during the funeral. Afterward, guests returning to the city of Cap-Haitien nearby saw the fresh remnants of burning tires and navigated through streets blocked with felled trees and rocks.

In remarks during the American delegation’s arrival at Cap-Haitien’s airport earlier 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 stand with you in this time of crisis. So, we come here in solidarity with the Haitian people during this difficult time.”

The July 7 killing of Mr. Moise, 53, in the bedroom of his home near Port-au-Prince, the capital, has plunged the Caribbean nation of 11 million into one of its deepest crises. Officials have blamed a group of Colombian mercenaries, but many questions remain unanswered, including who planned the assassination and why no members of his security detail were hurt. Several members of that security detail have been questioned and taken into custody.

Pressured by Western countries led by the United States, Haiti’s other political leaders, jostling for power, have pledged an orderly transition and a democratic process. But it was clear even before the funeral that deep divisions would shape and possibly subvert what many hoped would be a venue for reconciliation.

Just hours earlier, the northern city of Cap-Haitien — 30 minutes from his family homestead — had burned with anger and frustration, exposing Haiti’s the distrust of the elite in the country’s less developed north.

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A burning roadblock on the streets of Cap-Haitien.Credit…Federico Rios for The New York Times

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.”

“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.”

The Assassination of Haiti’s President

An assassination strikes a troubled nation: The killing of President Jovenel Moise on July 7 has rocked Haiti, stoking fear and confusion about the future. While there is much we do know about this event, there’s still much we don’t know.A figure at the center of the plot: Questions are swirling over the arrest of Dr. Christian Emmanuel Sanon, 63, a doctor with ties to Florida described as playing a central role in the death of the president.More suspects: Two Americans are among at least 20 people who have been detained thus far. Several of the people under investigation met in the months before the killing to discuss rebuilding the country once the president was out of power, Haitian police said.Years of instability: The assassination of Mr. Moise comes after years of instability in the country, which has long suffered lawlessness, violence and natural disasters.

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 civic groups.

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

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Prime Minister Ariel Henry at the funeral for Mr. Moise on Friday.Credit…Federico Rios for The New York Times

“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.

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

Cap-Haitien 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 its 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 on Thursday 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. Moise’s supporters had gathered earlier for a service. “Nobody understands what happened. A lot of people are afraid.”

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A mourner during Friday’s funeral. The death of Mr. Moise, who was from the country’s less-developed north, has highlighted Haiti’s political and economic divisions. Credit…Federico Rios for The New York Times

Hailing from the north of the country, Mr. Moise 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-Haitien, speaking of the resentment felt by northerners.

Harold Isaac, Zachary Montague and Rick Gladstone contributed reporting.

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