CAP-HAÏTIEN, HAITI — Jovenel Moïse, the Haitian president who was assassinated in his home in the middle of the night, was laid to rest Friday afternoon in this historic city, but not before Haiti police fired tear gas as shots rang out just as the ceremony was getting underway.
The shootings around 10 a.m. prompted the U.S. delegation to the funeral, headed by the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas Greenfield, to cut its visit short. A minute later the United Nations special representative to Haiti, Helen La Lime, left hurriedly with her entourage as well.
Moments before the funeral service began, the crowd began shouting “Assassin” as Haiti National Police Chief Léon Charles arrived. They were joined by others yelling, “Where is Jovenel?”
“Where were you,” an attendee yelled in Creole. “He called you. Where were you? Now you show up with your guns.”
Moïse was assassinated inside his private residence even though he had multiple layers of security from teams of specialized Haitian national police officers. Though the president made several phone calls that night, no one was able to save him before he was killed, and his wife, first lady Martine Moïse, was wounded.
More than 20 people have been arrested in the plot, but Haiti National Police have yet to identify those responsible for the killing, which Friday provoked not only anger from the few allowed inside for the Catholic Mass, but led to protesters erecting barricades of burning tires and overturned vehicles in the streets and looting a high-end appliance store.
As protesters clashed with police outside of the walls of the Moïse family residence, where the president was eventually buried, the funeral continued inside. Four guards in military attire kept watch over his closed coffin under a canopy while the smell of tear gas fouled the air and billows of smoke from burning tires could be seen in the distance.
The emotionally charged and tense celebration of Moïse’s life began shortly after the arrival of his wife, Martine Moïse. Flanked by foreign bodyguards, the press and crowds shouting “Justice! Justice!” she walked stoically toward the stage covered in white roses, carnations and baby’s breath.
She stepped up and then stood underneath the canopy where Moïse, Haiti’s 58th president and her husband of 25 years, lay in a closed brown coffin. It was covered in the red and blue bicolor of the Haitian flag, with a medal of honor, distinction and merit in the middle, on top of his presidential sash.
As she stood in silence, the crowd shouted “Mare yo,” “Boule yo” and “Yo touye Jovenel, Nap vote Martine” — “Tie them up,” “Burn them,” and “They killed Jovenel, we are voting Martine.”
Despite the eruption of violence, the messages at the funeral called for nonviolence, while demanding justice for the president.
Both Martine Moïse and the president’s oldest son, Joverlein Moise, painted him as a progressive leader who was killed because of what they described as the battle he was waging on behalf of the poor, to bring an end to the exclusion of Haitians from the countryside, known as andeyò, versus those from the capital of Port-au-Prince. He was betrayed, they said, by the traitors and the oligarchs.
“On this day of July 7, godless outlaws came with the intent to topple the cauldron of hope of the impoverished,” she said, “the people who had hopes because roads were being built near their homes, electricity posts were going up, power is coming and solar pumps are installed to help fight hunger.”
In snuffing out his life, she said, “these men” didn’t know how much they were hurting the country, the people of Haiti and the diaspora.
“You were abandoned and betrayed. Your murder has exposed their hatred, their ugliness and their cowardice,” she said. “The oligarchs have won a battle, but they didn’t realize the people are starting to see clearly. ... We’ve lost a battle but we have not lost the war.”
Jovenel Moïse was “a good father, a good husband, a good president, a good soldier,” she said.
“He died because of his vision,” she said in French and Creole. “The war has not finished. We have to find justice for you.”
Haiti’s new prime minister, Ariel Henry, who was seen crying as he passed the casket, said Friday was a sad day and promised that Haiti, which has an ongoing investigation, will get justice for its first president to be slain in more than a century.
“I attended a ceremony full of dignity and emotions,” he said. “The crowd, although sad and angry, demanded justice. I share their sadness, their anger and their thirst for justice.”
After most of the attendees, including members of the government, left, Martine Moïse — wearing a face mask with an image of the president on the left side — her children and the slain president’s sisters and other relatives took the short walk down a paved walkway amid coconut trees to a freshly constructed mausoleum.
As his coffin was lowered shortly after 1 p.m., the waiting crowd continued its calls for justice.
Moïse’s casket was lowered into a 10-foot concrete tomb supported by iron bars and sealed with wooden planks covered with a mixture of cement, rocks and water. As the workers moved buckets of cement, Martine Moïse, her two children and the president’s oldest son watched in silence. Nearby was the tomb of Etienne Moïse, the father of the slain president, who died in October at age 97.
Tensions have been rising since Wednesday, the first of three days of mourning, as supporters and non-supporters alike said his death was a plot by the country’s Port-au-Prince-based elite against the poor black majority.
On Thursday, roads into the city from the capital had been blocked, and fiery barricades were erected. A bridge was burned and shots were fired as protesters fanned out across the city, demanding justice for the dead president. Protesters shot at a restaurant as journalists tried to take video, attacked a foreign videographer in front of a hotel along the oceanfront and threw rocks at a diplomatic car, forcing security guards to fire their weapons and flee with a foreign diplomat.
Thursday afternoon, as Haitians attended a memorial service for Moïse inside Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral, some people in the congregation shouted, “Justice before funeral,” while others said the slain president “was not a dog. He cannot be buried before he gets justice.”
Tensions continued to boil over into Friday. Looters were seen taking brand-new washing machines and refrigerators on the backs of motorcycles.
After the U.S. delegation took their seat among other members of the diplomatic corps at the funeral, a man began cursing in Creole and then in English, saying to the U.S. delegation, “You’re responsible, you killed Jovenel and we’re going to get justice today.”
The comments intensified an already tense atmosphere, with people in the crowd accusing the U.S. and U.N. of being complicit in the president’s death. Nervous diplomats were seen consulting over an exit strategy, at one point requesting whether an emergency ramp could be erected in order to quickly leave. They ended up leaving through a side door.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday afternoon that the members of the U.S. delegation who had traveled from Washington had returned to the U.S.
“The presidential delegation is safe and accounted for in light of the reported shootings outside of the funeral. They are on their way back to the United States,” she said. “We are deeply concerned about unrest in Haiti. In this critical moment, Haiti’s leaders must come together to chart a united path that reflects the will of the Haitian people.”
Besides the U.N. ambassador, the U.S. delegation to the funeral included the ambassador to Haiti, Michele Sison; U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb.; Daniel Foote, special envoy to Haiti; and Juan Gonzalez, senior director for the Western Hemisphere on the National Security Council.
McClatchy Washington Bureau correspondent Michael Wilner contributed to this story.