CAP-HAITIEN, Haiti — There are no banners of remembrance like the black and white ones hanging near the grounds of the presidential place, or arrangements of flowers like those gathering at the memorial site at the Museum of the Haitian National Pantheon in the capital.
But in Balan, where Haiti’s 58th president, Jovenel Moïse, played soccer in the streets and came of age as the son of a local heavy-equipment mechanic, they are preparing for a homecoming with indignation and mixed emotions.
Moïse, assassinated in his home during a brazen, middle-of-the-night attack on July 7, will be buried Friday on the grounds of his family’s private residence on the outskirts of Cap-Haïtien. The historic northern port city, where the republic of Haiti was born, is where Moïse’s father Étienne worked and was later laid to rest following his death in October last year.
Though during his presidency Moïse was often associated with the cities of Port-de-Paix in the northwest of the country and Trou-du-Nord in the northeast, residents here say he is like an adopted son. They recall him as a young man growing up in the farming community before his 2015 presidential run where he was an unknown and took on the moniker of “Neg Bannan nan” — the “Banana Man” in Creole.
“Once someone is killed, and he is Haitian, no one can be happy about that,” sad Roland Laguerre, 61, sitting outside of his storefront not far from the road to the SOS Children’s Village, which is next to the Moïse family residence and where the late president will be buried Friday.
Moïse, 53, was killed inside his private residence in the hills above Port-au-Prince. His wife, Martine Moïse, who visited a public memorial in his honor Wednesday at the Museum of the National Pantheon in the capital, was wounded and flown to Miami for medical care.
In a note to the Haitian people this week, the first lady’s office thanked them for their support and said the presidential family will bear the funeral expenses rather than have the public treasury pay for it.
Haiti National Police, who are working with investigators from the FBI and Colombia, have arrested more than 23 individuals so far but still have yet to uncover who bankrolled the multimillion-dollar conspiracy.
Just as the president’s death has triggered a multinational investigation, it has also provoked a range of mixed emotions in Haiti, where presidents are revered even when their records are mixed.
Late Wednesday, The Associated Press reported at least one death after hundreds of people in Quartier Morin, not far from where the president grew up, blocked the road with barricades and violent protests threatening to shut down the country until his killers are found. Some of the protesters were heavily armed.
Earlier in the day, a visit by Interim Haiti National Police Chief Léon Charles in the city also triggered protests when crowds ran after his motorcade and threw rocks.
Back where the president grew up and where his tomb is being built, the mood was more one of reflection with some budding tension. Residents noted that he is the fifth Haitian president from the northern region of the country to be killed in office, and demanded justice.
“Even if he didn’t do anything for me, I cannot be happy about his death,” said Mimose Metayer, 35, a mother of five who scrapes a living by selling used clothing known as “Pèpè.”
As she spoke, road graders and rollers traveled up and down a dirt road nearby, moving gravel and dirt to even the road in preparation for Friday’s funeral. They were joined by trucks sprinkling a mixture of liquid asphalt and kerosene to smooth out the road.
Dieu Daceus, 38, said no president should have died the way Moïse did. “Where was his security?” he said, echoing a question many Haitians have asked in the two weeks since the president’s killing.
And while he feels sorry for the way he died, Daceus said he has no plans to sanctify him, as some have done in recent days. He’s still looking at his record, and only a president’s death, he said, would bring members of the government and foreign dignitaries to his dirt-poor village.
And for that, he wishes that Moïse had at least helped them better prepare for this moment.
“He could have at least given us a road,” Daceus said.
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