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Lack Of Security Is The Central Issue Among Haitians After President's Assassination

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Officials in Haiti have announced that the assassinated President Moise will be buried next week in the north of the country, where he was born and grew up. Many ordinary Haitians say that President Moise oversaw a major breakdown in law and order in the country. Criminal gangs flourished, and some critics say, with the approval of the president. NPR's Jason Beaubien has been in Port-au-Prince all week.

Jason, thanks for being with us.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Hey. It's good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: You've been reporting from Haiti various times, more than a decade. What strikes you about the country this time?

BEAUBIEN: Yeah, I mean, Haiti has always been a place that's had crime. Gangs have operated here for a long time. But, you know, never in my trips to Haiti has one issue so dominated what people talk about.

RICHARD WIDMAIER: Security, security - I mean, I didn't hesitate to answer insecurity. We have a major problem.

BEAUBIEN: That's the head of Radio TV Metropole here in Port-au-Prince, Richard Widmaier.

WIDMAIER: I don't know of anybody that really feels safe.

BEAUBIEN: Under President Moise, gangs grabbed control of much of Port-au-Prince, particularly near the waterfront. They regularly cut off roads to the south of the country. The gangs are so powerful and so well-armed, the police don't even bother to try to confront them. These criminal groups, they kidnap people. They kill people. They extort people, and it's all with impunity. And as the police were weakened under Moise's rule, the violence and insecurity spread all over, even outside gang areas. And Widmaier says that his reporters are regularly getting attacked.

WIDMAIER: I'm not even talking about gangs. Gangs - we don't even dare go where they are. So we are frustrated not being able to do the work because we feel in danger, and we don't have answers to that. Again, it's mostly they're really scared for their lives. It's hard to cover.

SIMON: So why is this rise in violence and insecurity being blamed on President Moise?

BEAUBIEN: People here are telling me that Moise let it happen. Moise actively undermined much of the apparatus of the state. For instance, he let the parliament dissolve and never held elections to reestablish it. Courts shut down because judges weren't appointed to fill empty seats. Critics say Moise basically let government agencies wither and die so that he had more power in his hands at the presidency.

SIMON: Jason, this makes it sound like Haiti has a lot more to resolve than just finding President Moise's killers.

BEAUBIEN: Absolutely. Absolutely. Haiti is facing huge challenges. You know, first, the country needs to figure out who actually is in charge and is the rightful successor to Moise right now and how to pick its next leader. All of that is complicated. I talked with Monique Clesca. She's a former U.N. official, and she's working with this group called the Commission for a Haitian Solution to the Crisis. She says this is a very important moment for change in Haiti right now, and the reforms start by finding Moise's killers.

MONIQUE CLESCA: We are asking for justice for him, but we're asking for justice for all the people who were massacred under his rule. There were massacres documented by human rights organizations. There were massacres under his rule, the last one a week before he died.

BEAUBIEN: She says finding the truth about his assassination is a way to break this pattern of impunity that had become the norm under Moise's time in office.

SIMON: NPR's Jason Beaubien in Port-au-Prince.

Thanks so much for being with us, Jason.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.