Matiado Vilme in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and Arthur Jean Pierre in Washington contributed to this report
WASHINGTON / PORT-AU-PRINCE - Haitian President Jovenel Moise broke his long silence Tuesday and delivered a national speech that sought to calm a furious nation, reeling from violence, political chaos and economic woes.
"We must gather our courage. Hold hands and cast aside our divisions," Moise said. "We must embrace what unites us, together we can."
Referring to his decision not to travel abroad, the president said, "I canceled my trip to the United States to deliver a speech before the 74th General Assembly of the United Nations. I made this decision so I could address the problems of the country. I want to speak to you today about the political crossroads we face today."
Moise had been scheduled to attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Tuesday, but issued a statement announcing that Foreign Minister Bocchit Edmond would represent Haiti and deliver a speech on Thursday..
Moise's national address follows a shooting at the Senate Monday morning during which a ruling party senator, Ralph Fethiere, fired on opposition supporters who he said rushed his car and his entourage.
A palace security guard and an Associated Press photographer were wounded. Fethiere, one of two lawmakers photographed by international and national press wielding guns in the parliament yard, has not been arrested. He blamed the opposition for the violence.
Moise condemned the Senate, who he said was "not capable of fulfilling its constitutional duties." He noted that the upper chamber has failed to ratify two prime ministers he named to run the government.
The Senate has failed five times to ratify his latest prime minister designate, Fritz Henry Michel, who has allegations against him ranging from corruption to illegal business practices and ineligibility to hold a cabinet position.
Reacting to the shooting incident, a spokesperson for the State Department Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs told VOA, "Violence has no place in Haiti's political process, even as we recognize the importance of forming a government to address Haiti's urgent priorities."
Congressman Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also expressed concern on Twitter.
"I am monitoring the situation in #Haiti & extremely concerned by events on the ground. Yesterday a journalist was injured when a Senator opened fire amid crowds of protesters. It's critical that freedoms of assembly & press are respected."
Chairman @RepEliotEngel: I am monitoring the situation in #Haiti & extremely concerned by events on the ground. Yesterday, a journalist was injured when a Senator opened fire amid crowds of protesters. It's critical that freedoms of assembly & press are respected. https://t.co/2TgUQ7ofb4— House Foreign Affairs Committee (@HouseForeign) September 24, 2019
Anger over a nationwide fuel crisis, and long lines at gas stations that crippled public transportation, forced some people to vent their frustrations by attacking citizens and property. Many citizens depend on gasoline for essential daily activities, including cooking, electricity and transportation.
Moise attempted to reason with those seeking vengeance through violent means, saying that when property is destroyed, forcing businesses to shutter, the state cannot collect the revenue it needs to function.
"I will not respond to violence with violence," he said. "I have a special thought for each citizen, large and small, who has been affected by the attacks and destruction of property of recent days."
Addressing criticism about impunity, Moise said the Justice Ministry must do its job.
"I have heard the screams of the people. I have heard and felt your desperation. Haiti will not perish. Haiti must not perish," he said.
In an interview Monday with VOA Creole, lawyer Sienna Merope, who works for the Institution for Democracy and Justice in Haiti IDJH, criticized the Moise administration's failure to address corruption and human rights.
"Far from supporting the effort to fight corruption, the government is weakening the public institutions. For example, Jovenel Moise himself criticized the institution charged with handling the PetroCaribe corruption report. When he was cited for corrupt practices, he accused the institution of being partisan," Merope said.
Attempting to unite a divided nation, the president extended an olive branch to the social, political and business sectors.
"If you don't want to do this for yourselves, let's do it for Haiti. If you don't want to do this for yourselves, let's do it for our children and our grandchildren," he said.
Opposition leader Andre Michel rejected the offer for dialogue.
"The Democratic and Popular Sector rejects all possibility of dialogue with President Jovenel Moise to form a national unity government of any kind. Jovenel Moise has been rejected as head of state by the nation. We are not soliciting jobs," he tweeted.
Le Secteur Démocratique et Populaire rejette toute possibilité de dialogue avec le président Jovenel Moïse pour la Formation d’un quelconque Gouvernement d’union Nationale. Jovenel Moïse est un Chef d’Etat rejeté par la Population.Nous ne sommes pas des demandeurs d’emplois.— Me. André Michel (@avokapepla) September 25, 2019
Moise also promised to assume the responsibilities bestowed upon him in the constitution, responding to protesters' frequent criticism that he is not fit to lead.
"There is no cause that is more important than the cause of the people. There is no shortcut to the development of Haiti. We have to work together. Long
live the people of Haiti. Long live Haiti."
The opposition has called for more protests on Friday to demand Moise step down.