Haiti sees rise in faith, gang violence after president assassinated

As many Haitians come to mourn the assassination of President Jovenel Moise, the country is seeing a rise in violence amid efforts to stabilize the political turmoil.

Hundreds of Haitians sought solace in prayer at Sunday church services as a political power struggle threatened to further destabilize their fragile country after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.

Roman Catholic and Protestant church leaders asked for calm and told people to remain strong as anxiety about the future grew, with authorities providing no answers or theories about who masterminded the killing by a group of gunmen last week at the president's home. Martine Moïse, the president's wife, was critically injured and was transported to Miami for treatment.

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"Facing this situation, we will not be discouraged... You must stay and fight for peace," Father Edwine Sainte-Louis said during a sermon broadcast on TV that included a small picture of Moïse with a banner that read: "Haiti will remember you."

Meanwhile, as gangs in Haiti have long been financed by powerful politicians and their allies — many Haitians fear those backers may be losing control of the increasingly powerful armed groups who have driven thousands of people from their homes as they battle over territory, kill civilians and raid warehouses of food.

The escalation in gang violence threatened to complicate — and be aggravated by — political efforts to recover from Moïse’s assassination. Haiti's government is in disarray with no parliament, no president, a dispute over who is prime minister and a weak police force. But the gangs seem more organized and powerful than ever.

While the violence has been centered in the capital of Port-au-Prince, it has affected life across Haiti, paralyzing the fragile economy, shuttering schools, overwhelming police and disrupting efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

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"The country is transformed into a vast desert where wild animals engulf us," said the Haitian Conference of the Religious in a recent statement decrying the spike in violent crime. "We are refugees and exiles in our own country."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.