Greater Boston is home to the third-largest concentration of Haitians in the country. And more than 200 of them attended a Haitian Flag Day breakfast and ceremony at Boston’s City Hall Plaza on Friday.
It was a momentous occasion: The first Haitian American elected to the City Council, Ruthzee Louijeune, hosted this year’s celebration. Louijeune said Boston was the first city to celebrate Haitian Heritage Month, in 1998.
“[Haitians] contribute mightily to the city,” said Louijeune in an interview as she got ready to host the festivities. “When we talk about getting our kids to school on time, a lot of that is Haitian bus drivers. And essential workers who make sure our kids have food in school, and a younger generation of engineers and doctors. . . . Whether it’s Haitian teachers, Haitian DJs, or Haitian nonprofit leaders, I want to create spaces where we can all come together and where we feel like a strong, fortified community.”
And yet, even as Boston’s Haitians gathered to celebrate for the first time in person since 2019, there was a major cloud hanging over their heads: the future of their homeland.
Haiti has become a dangerous and chaotic place to live. Conditions on the ground, which are worsening, have been pushing thousands of Haitians to flee and embark on risky journeys to seek refuge in other countries, primarily in the United States through the southern border.
Louijeune has not only been representing and advocating for the local Haitian diaspora and recent arrivals from her country; she has also raised her voice to push the US government to take more constructive foreign and domestic stances toward Haiti, such as ending the dreadful Title 42 expulsions. Since President Biden’s inauguration, more than 20,000 Haitians have been sent back to a country that cannot keep them safe. These expulsions represent an astonishing American moral failure.
Worse, the Biden administration continues to support Prime Minister Ariel Henry and his political party, the Pati Ayisyen Tèt Kale. A coalition of Haitian activists blames the PHTK, which has virtually controlled Haiti’s politics for the last decade, for the systematic dismantling of the country’s democratic institutions. The coalition — whose members include local Haitian diaspora organizations like the Ansara Family Fund at the Boston Foundation and the Boston-based Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti — wants the US government to support and partner with Haiti’s civil society organizations, which have created a roadmap that would lead to fair and democratic elections.
Louijeune agrees. “Given the history of American foreign policy in Latin America, we must always be wary” of US interventionism, the councilor said. “We always have to take a beat before we say, ‘America should be doing XYZ.’ But I really do think that there is a role. . . . This is potentially an opportunity for the United States to take corrective action and to really lean in and be a partner with civil society.”
“Dr. Henry lacks legitimacy with the Haitian people, and a path toward a democratic transition in Haiti must be backed by its people and civil society,” US Representative Ayanna Pressley, a cofounder of the House Haiti Caucus, said in a statement.
It’s hard to overstate how desperate Haitians are to leave. The conditions are so bad that there’s been an increase in attempted sea migration to Florida and Caribbean islands. On Thursday, a boat carrying Haitian migrants capsized near Puerto Rico, leaving at least 11 people dead. Between October 2021 and March this year, more than 500 Haitians have been detained in waters near Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, according to government data.
Gangs virtually dominate the country, making daily life impossibly unsafe and violent. Last week, the United Nations sounded the alarm over the gangs’ increased recruitment of children. In addition, almost half of the population need immediate food assistance. Haiti is the poorest country in the hemisphere — and the most exploited. The Haitian government is at the center of this intractable and complicated dynamic, and the United States should stop supporting it.
“The Haitian community isn’t a monolith,” said Louijeune, “but I think that most local Haitians would tell you that the solution isn’t US intervention or takeover.” Instead, the Biden administration should work “in lockstep with civil society.”
Just as Haitians took over City Hall Plaza Friday to honor their shared heritage and contributions to Boston’s economy and society, Biden should let Haitian citizens lead the way on the island. It’s the best chance Haitians have to take their country back.