Gerard Lovius sleeps at night on the floor of an empty classroom, listening to the gunshots. He and his traumatized neighbors started living there a month ago after bandits broke into his house, sending his wife and three children running through the streets and leaving him with nothing: money, goods, not even a cell phone.
On the 20th, Lovius resumed his job as a street sweeper, preparing for the ceremony in honor of the assassinated President of Haiti on the Champs de Mars, the main square of the capital, Port-au-Prince. President Jovenel Moïse was soon to be buried, and members of his government vying for the succession had reached a truce, promising to rule the country again.
But there was little peace in Lovius’ life. “We only have hope in God,” he said as he pushed a trash cart down the street.
Haitian leaders called the political truce a new chapter, a historic turning point, which, in the words of Acting Prime Minister Ariel Henry, shows that “we can really work together, even though we are different, even though we are have worldviews. “.
But for many Haitians, that doesn’t seem like a change. The list of ministers for the new government features several names well known in Moïse’s party, including the new prime minister and Claude Joseph, a former prime minister who competed with Henry for the top post but now takes the helm of foreign affairs.
“It’s a provocation,” said Pierre Espérance, executive director of the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights in Haiti, on party control in the new government. “This means the crisis will continue, the insecurity will continue and the criminal gangs will continue.”
He claimed that Moise was a victim of his own government, a leader who “died because of the insecurity created by his party”. Two years ago, violence and angry protests condemning corruption and demanding the president’s resignation crippled the country – leaving patients without hospitals, children without schools, workers with few jobs and people in the black where the electricity has stopped coming.
Gangs have since mushroomed, controlling large parts of the capital, attacking at will, kidnapping children on their way to school and pastors in the midst of church services.
“The country will continue to be in the same situation unless they consult each other,” said Rosemane Jean Louis, just before the start of the tribute and the inauguration of the new government. “We have no security. We are hungry, we are in misery.”
Jean Louis, 61, recounted how she casually said goodbye to her 24-year-old son last year, not knowing it would be the last time. With a smile, he took a piece of candy from the goodies she sold outside her house and left to find a friend. He walked a block, he said, before being shot by gang members outside a church.
“I haven’t even found your body,” he said. “They took it.”
Crime, kidnappings, gangs, security: words have circulated among Haitians throughout the capital. As political opponents demanded Moise’s replacement, locals continued to demonstrate in the streets, believing that their new rulers, no matter who they were, would not care about them.
The homage to Moses took place in the garden of the Haitian National Pantheon Museum, where the anchor of Christopher Columbus’ ship, the Santa Maria, is on display alongside the chains of former African slaves.
Guests slowly entered, including the two struggling to succeed the president: Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon appointed prime minister shortly before Moise’s death, and Claude Joseph, the acting prime minister who was replaced that week. but took control of the government and imposed a state. of siege.
Praise to Moise, whose “increasingly authoritarian” regime had alarmed many in Haiti and beyond, described him as a warrior of social justice who fought against the country’s oligarchs, a crusader whose reputation was murdered before him. Diplomats and ministers from his government met, as well as at least one official from the Moise government, which suffered US sanctions in connection with a massacre in 2018.
“You can kill a revolutionary, but you cannot murder the revolution,” Joseph said at the ceremony.
The power struggle between Joseph and Henry had been officially settled. Joseph said on Monday that he had agreed to step down and serve as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Religion, while Henry would become Prime Minister, paving the way for future elections. The two stood side by side at the start of the memorial, surrounded by members of Moise’s cabinet.
Shortly after the ceremony, the new government was installed under a canopy in front of the Prime Minister’s office. Joseph said he was passing the baton on to Henry, who spoke at length about the terrors plaguing the nation, people being killed and robbed, homes and businesses looted and torched. He promised to restore stability and prepare the country for elections. The two kissed briefly.
The show of unity came after a fierce struggle for power. Lawmakers and democracy advocates had condemned Joseph’s rapid advance and the imposition of a state of siege soon after the assassination, which some compared to a coup.
Senate President Joseph Lambert said he would be sworn in as Haiti’s new ruler, but suddenly postponed the move, arguing that US officials, who have wielded enormous influence over Haitian politics since they invaded the country more than a hundred years ago, had asked him to support disabled.
Henry had also tried to impose his authority a week earlier, without much success. He issued a statement promising to unveil his new office at the elite symbolic Karibe Hotel surrounded by palm trees, which was once a favorite spot for political announcements.
But just as the press conference was due to begin, last week, the hotel manager closed the building’s heavy metal doors, preventing reporters from entering. He had not been informed in advance of the interview, he said, and he did not want to be seen supporting one political faction or another. “You know how delicate things are here,” explained director Patrice Jacquet. “I must take action to protect the hotel.”
For many Haitians, the political maneuver was just that – a power play by members of the elite and the ruling party that promised them little relief. Some fondly remembered this period and mourned the loss of a politician who presented himself as an enemy of the vested interests of the country.
On a wall a few blocks from the former president’s house, a group of artists were completing a mural on Moses on Monday afternoon. “He’s the only president who cared,” said John Alfrena, 42, admiring the work done by his friends, as he speculated whether Moses had been killed for standing up to the country’s oligarchs, the small group of families who control much of the Haitian economy. . . .
Now he hoped that the president’s wife, Martine Moïse, would continue his political legacy. “We will fight for her to be a candidate in 2022,” he said.
Martine Moïse surprised the country by returning Sunday from Miami, where she was treated for the injuries she suffered during the assault on her husband. She got off the plane wearing a sling over her bandaged right arm and a bulletproof vest. He has generally remained out of sight since then, but a painful message was posted to his Twitter account three days after the murder lamenting Moise’s death and encouraging the country to follow his path.
“Twenty-five years living together. In one night, the mercenaries took him away from me,” the recording said. “Tears will never dry in my eyes. My heart will bleed forever.”