A memorial service for Haitian president Jovenel Moïse on Thursday (July 22) was overshadowed by gunshots heard soon after the funeral began, giving credence to the concerns over the violence that has wracked the island country since Moïse was assassinated earlier this month.
The Mass, which took place at a cathedral in the northern coastal city of Cap-Haitien, was interrupted multiple times by Moïse supporters, as they cried out and accused Haiti’s elite of killing the president, USA Today reports.
However, Newsweek reports that the U.S. delegation, including Ambassador Linda Thomas Greenfield and United Nations Special Representative to Haiti Helen La Lime, were forced to leave the funeral immediately.
Moïse’s death has led to violent demonstrations and protests throughout Haiti, as his supporters call for justice and local gangs take advantage of the power vacuum left by his death.
The Rev. Jean-Gilles Sem addressed dozens of mourners wearing white T-shirts emblazoned with Moïse’s picture, saying that too much blood is being shed in Haiti and noting that poor communities are the most affected.
“The killings and kidnappings should stop. We’re tired,” he said.
A group of men, led by a man who identified himself as John Jovie, stood outside the church. Jovie threatened more violence if members of the wealthy elite from the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince showed up for the ceremonies.
“We ask them not to come to the funeral,” he said. “If they come, we will cut their heads off. We will bring our guns out of hiding. …We want justice for Moïse.”
Demonstrations after the Mass also turned violent with protesters shooting into the air, throwing rocks and overturning heavy concrete barricades. At one point, a heavily armed police convoy carrying Haitian officials drove through a barricade of flaming tires set up at the end of a bridge.
The day before the Mass, violence broke out in the commune Quartier-Morin, located between Cap-Haitien and Moïse’s hometown. The Associated Press reported the death of a man who witnesses said was killed during the protests.
David Daniel, a restaurant owner and bystander to the demonstrations, told USA Today that the violence since Moïse died was “real messed up” and unlikely to lead to productive change. “Violence has been here in Haiti since I was a kid, so I don’t think violence is going to change anything.”
Aurélien Stanley, a Moïse supporter, said the violence was “the only way we have to demand justice. If we don’t get justice for Jovenel, we will do whatever it takes to stop the funeral from happening.”
A private funeral for Moïse was planned for Friday (July 23). First Lady Martine Moïse landed back in Haiti Saturday (July 17) to plan the funeral after being treated in Miami for wounds suffered during the assassination.