Bishop Alphonse Quesnel of Fort Liberté, Haiti, said the Haitian Church was “stunned” by the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse.
“We bishops must not only call for calm but also for all Haitians to sit down together, change the way they look at each other, and seek together the way forward,” the bishop told Vatican News hours after the Haitian president was gunned down by unknown assailants in the bedroom of his residence early July 7. His wife, Martine Moïse, was injured in the attack. The Associated Press reported she was in stable condition.
Bishop Quesnel said the assassination presents an opportunity for a “change of mentality” and a “real conversion.”Subscribe to your daily free newsletter from UCA News
The last assassination of a Haitian president took place in 1915 and led to a 19-year occupation by U.S. troops. But the bishop said there had been several warning signs that a similar tragedy could occur and described the previous months as “chaotic” ones that called for prudence and careful judgment.
Tensions had been building in the Caribbean nation for several months, Bishop Quesnel said, with the rise of violent activities of armed gangs that U.N. sources say have displaced almost 15,000 people from poor neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince. Human rights organizations say these armed gangs are linked to different politicians, including the executive government.
Kidnappings for ransom by these gangs have skyrocketed in recent months, with 91 people documented kidnapped in April 2021. Among them were seven priests, including two French nationals abducted in broad daylight as they drove in a convoy to the ordination of a new priest.
When one holds the reins of power, a certain measure of flexibility and humility is necessary
The takeover by gangs of the poor neighborhood of Martissant, situated on the road that leads to southern Haiti, has more or less cut off half of the country from the capital. On July 4, six people, including two U.S. Protestant missionaries, were killed when a small plane crashed while flying from Port-au-Prince to the southeastern city of Jacmel, in an attempt to avoid Martissant.
Moïse had been ruling by decree since January 2020, when the terms of most senators and deputies ended. In a June statement, the bishops’ conference opposed an unpopular general referendum called by Moïse. The bishops said such a referendum would be impossible in the current context of paralyzing crime and extreme sociopolitical unrest.
“When one holds the reins of power, a certain measure of flexibility and humility is necessary,” Bishop Quesnel reflected, echoing a broad range of civil society groups that compared the Moïse government to a dictatorship. “To exercise power in this day and age means to let go of rigid positions and to listen closely and attentively to other parties.”
“The bishops’ conference now has an important role to play in the instillment of Gospel values, so that people can learn to look at each other face to face and see the nation,’ Bishop Quesnel said. “Otherwise, we are going to continue to be stuck in this situation.”