News of the assassination of Haiti’s president swept through Boston’s Haitian diaspora Wednesday, prompting shock and worry over a nation already beset by natural disasters and political turmoil in recent years.
Local Haitians heard about it from neighbors, woke up to calls from family members living in the capital, Port-au-Prince, or watched as the headlines scrolled across television screens at community centers and Haitian restaurants.
“Too many folks in the diaspora have lost loved ones,” said Jean-Claude Sanon, a Haitian community organizer who has lived in Massachusetts since 1975. “And they were also feeling that they were not free enough to go back to their home country, visit their loved ones, or be able to go back and enjoy the country.”
The assassination of President Jovenel Moïse was the latest upheaval for the Caribbean nation, which is still recovering from the devastating 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Political corruption and violence are rife.
Unidentified gunmen assassinated Moïse at his home overnight. First Lady Martine Moïse was wounded in the attack. Moïse, 53, had ruled the nation by decree after Haiti failed to hold elections. Opposition figures in the country had been demanding he resign for months.
Boston has the third-largest Haitian population in the United States, after New York and Miami.
Representative Ayanna Pressley of Boston and the other co-chair of the US House Haiti Caucus said the assassination “stands as a clarion call for swift and decisive action to bring political stability and peace to a nation in crisis“
“We remain committed, more than ever, to working diligently alongside the Biden Administration in support of ushering in an equitable, inclusive Haitian-led democracy,” they said in a statement. “One that reestablishes rule of law, reinforces institutions of Haitian-led governance, and centers the safety and human rights of every Haitian citizen.”
Charles Pean, a local Haitian radio personality who hosts the political show “Dialogue,” said members of the community were calling each other in the middle of the night to share the news. Pean worries about family members back in his home country.
“The gangs and the cops are killing people left and right, and no one seems to do anything to protect them, not even the police,” he said. “The Haitian people have nothing sufficient to protect them. Nothing.”
Though he doesn’t believe that diaspora members celebrated the assassination, he does acknowledge that Moïse was an “uncaring person.”
“Nothing has been done” to help the country recover from the calamities, said Pean, who moved to Boston 55 years ago. “To me, the Haitian people are the most restricted people on Earth because the people of this country have done nothing to change the lives of the vast majority, which is very poor and very desperate.”
Fabienne Eliacin, director of communications for Boston Mothers Care, which works to bring disaster relief to communities in Haiti, said she has grown accustomed to seeing headlines about her country’s poverty, crime, and insecurity, but she never thought she’d see anything like this.
“There’s been so much controversy and so much disturbance. It’s been almost a civil war,” she said in a phone interview. “But I never thought it would come to this. I don’t think — if you’re for or against [Moïse’s] party — anyone wants to see anything like this.”
For years, Eliacin dreamed of moving back to Haiti to join her family and open a bed and breakfast. But now that dream feels like it’s been crushed by the weight of her sadness and fear for the country’s trajectory.
Fania Alvarez moved to the United States six years ago with her 5-year-old daughter, Najma. She too planned to go back to be with her husband and mother, who are still living in Haiti. Now, she doesn’t see that happening.
Alvarez was sitting in the basement of the Haitian Church of Nazarene in Mattapan, trying to think of a way to explain to her daughter what was happening to their country but feeling “overwhelmed” by her own emotions.
“There are no words to describe it. There’s sadness in my heart,” said Alvarez, who had helped distribute food at the church earlier Wednesday. But most of all, she said, she feels “unbearable” uncertainty.
“I worry because I don’t know what is going to happen,” she said. “Before this, Haiti was in a crisis — there was crime and kidnapping, and the insecurity was just so bad. Now, is it over? Or is it only going to get worse?”
Louis Charles was having lunch at Sant Belvi Haitian Adult Day Health Center in Dorchester, sitting among dozens of others who seemed paralyzed by sadness and shock. One woman said she was too sick to speak. The room was quiet save for the sounds of plastic forks scrapping paper plates.
“Everything is dark,” Charles said. “The country is going down a very difficult road.”
Despite the uncertainty, there was a consensus among many about the importance of persistence. This should be a moment, they said, for the global community to come together to strategize and figure out how to support a country in a crisis.
“We have to come out of this,” Eliacin said. “We have to make sure the next generation is not suffering like we are now. The people of Haiti have been suffering for too long.”
Shocking news out of Haiti about the assassination of President Moise. My prayer for the country is one of absolute safety and security in the days and months to come. Standing in solidarity with Haitians calling for peace and progress.— Ruthzee Louijeune (@ruthzee4boston) July 7, 2021
Tiana Woodard is a Report for America corps member covering Black neighborhoods. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @tianarochon. Julia Carlin can be reached at email@example.com.