CAP-HAITIEN, Haiti — The hometown of slain Haitian President Jovenel Moïse received his body on Friday for a private funeral amid heavy security following violent protests and fears of political volatility in the Caribbean nation.
White T-shirts and caps emblazoned with his picture were distributed to supporters the day before what is expected to be the final ceremony to honor Moïse, who was shot several times on July 7 during an attack at his private home that seriously injured his wife, Martine.
“This is something that will be engraved in our memory,” said Pedro Guilloume, a Cap-Haitien resident who hoped to attend the funeral. “Let all Haitians channel solidarity.”
Moïse’s body arrived shortly after dawn at his family’s seaside property where the funeral is being held. Six officials carried the brown casket up a stage where they saluted it and stood before it in in silence for several minutes before draping a large red and blue Haitian flag over it.
The funeral comes days after a new prime minister supported by key international diplomats was installed in Haiti — a move that appeared aimed at averting a leadership struggle following Moïse's assassination.
Ariel Henry, who was designated prime minister by Moïse before he was slain but never sworn in replaced interim prime minister Claude Joseph, and has promised to form a provisional consensus government until elections are held.
On Thursday, violent demonstrations hit neighborhoods in Cap-Haitien as groups of men fired shots into the air and blocked some roads with blazing tires. One heavily guarded police convoy carrying unknown officials drove through one flaming barricade, with a vehicle nearly flipping over.
A priest who presided over a Mass on Thursday morning at Cap-Haitian’s cathedral to honor Moïse warned there was too much bloodshed in Haiti as he asked people to find peace, noting that the poorest communities are affected.
On Thursday evening, Martine Moïse and her three children appeared at a small religious ceremony at a hotel in Cap-Haitien where Henry and other government officials offered their condolences.
“They took his life, but they can’t take his memories," said a priest who presided over the ceremony. “They can’t take his brain. They can’t take his ideas. We are Jovenel Moïse.”
Moïse was sworn in as Haiti’s president in February 2017 and faced increasing criticism in recent years from those who accused him of becoming increasingly authoritarian. He had been ruling by decree for more than a year after the country failed to hold legislative elections.
Authorities have said that at least 26 suspects have been arrested in the killing, including 18 former Colombian soldiers. Police are still looking for several more suspects they say were involved in the assassination plot, including a former rebel leader and an ex-senator.