First, the question that ricocheted in hair salons, bakeries and botanicas in Little Haiti was: “Who killed the president?”
But as Haiti sank into deeper turmoil following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise on July 7 – with Haitian officials providing a long list of suspects from Florida, Colombia and Venezuela; the announcement of a new government; and preparing for the slain leader’s funeral on Friday – Haitian Americans here have asked an even more puzzling question: “Who can we trust to fix the mess? “
“Some groups say, ‘We need American troops. We need the American money. We need American intervention. And then you have people saying, ‘No, no, no, no, no! The last time they came here, X, Y and Z arrived, ”said Kassandra Timothe, 31, a first-generation Haitian American and newly elected city councilor for North Miami. “So there is this question of what this aid looks like? “
In Little Haiti, the neighborhood four miles north of downtown Miami where waves of Haitians began to settle in the 1970s, the mood has recently been mixed – even though the happy, swaying rhythms of Haitians Kompa music was booming in record stores and stores selling herbal remedies.
“Everyone is so sad for Haiti,” said Laider Andre, 57, owner of the 3×3 Santa Barbara Botanica, as a stream of shoppers strolled through his lime-mint-striped corner store to buy basil. fresh, tea leaves, candles. and bottles of Agua Bendita to drive away evil.
Andre, a Haitian voodoo priest, shook his head as he considered how Haitians in South Florida could help bring peace and stability to those on the island facing the escalating gang violence that has drives up food prices, closed schools and overwhelmed police.
“There is nothing we can do,” he said.
It was a mantra repeated from top to bottom in the brightly colored but abandoned business district of Little Haiti, where many stores are closed.
While South Florida is home to the largest Haitian population in the United States – with over 300,000 people living along the sprawling coastline of Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach – Little Haiti’s historic enclave is more the dynamic center of the Haitian diaspora.
Many local businesses have been forced to close as landlords raise rents and the area has become a magnet for real estate speculators betting coastal Miami residents will move to higher land due to the surge. waters.
Even Haitians and Americans of Haitian descent who took small, practical response steps – going to the Caribbean Air Mail money transfer store on 2nd Avenue with crisp dollar bills to send to cousins, aunts, grandparents of the island – expressed their despair.
“Everyone is in shock, but there is nothing we can do,” said Marie Laphoret, a 49-year-old nursing assistant, sending money to her cousin and aunt. In recent months, as the situation on the island worsened, she had also shipped rice, vegetable oil and beans to her family.
Across the Miami area, Haitians said the assassination had heightened the concern of relatives back home.
“If this president was assassinated with all the security he had, what will protect the Average Joe?” said Gepsie Metellus, 61, executive director of Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center, a social service organization in North Miami.
Yet Haitians – many of whom are deeply religious – hope the prayers will help them.
At the Notre Dame d’Haïti Catholic Church in Little Haiti, Rollande Louis, a 54-year-old technical nurse, prayed in a shrine of imposing stained-glass windows “so that grace let God open his eyes to Haiti”.
“We need to pray more for Haiti,” she said as she left the morning mass. “I don’t know what’s wrong with this country, because Haitians, they pray therefore a lot.”
Even though many feel helpless, some activists and elected officials note that Haitian Americans are in the strongest position they have ever been to bring change to the island.
Over the past several decades, the Haitian diaspora has built political power in South Florida, with Haitian American politicians winning a series of mayor, city council, and county commission seats in greater Miami, as well as representation in the Legislative Assembly. This year, for the first time, Americans of Haitian descent formed the majority of the North Miami City Council and the North Miami Beach City Commission.
“We are small but powerful,” said Timothe, noting that she was the 14e Haitian civil servant elected in South Florida.
Some in South Florida say the Haitian diaspora must follow the lead of the Cuban exiles, who for decades have led raucous protests and urged the United States to intervene and free Cubans from the Communist government.
“We Haitians cannot solve this nation,” said Farnel Louis, 43, a FedEx driver born in Haiti and moved to the United States in his late teens. “The UN or the US government, they have to send troops. We need help to run the country. We are in a state of emergency.
Haiti’s Acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph – who on Monday announced he would step down and hand over the post to Prime Minister-designate Ariel Henry – called on the United States and the United Nations to send troops to the nation Caribbean Under Siege to Restore Order and Protect Key Infrastructure. It is a request that makes many Haitians uncomfortable.
Calls for intervention by the United States have long been controversial for Haiti, which became the world’s first black-ruled republic and the second oldest republic in the Western Hemisphere in the early 19th century when Africans collapsed. slavery in the French Caribbean colony of Santo Domingo revolted and threw it out of French colonial control.
Many talk about the last time a Haitian president was assassinated. In 1915, President Woodrow Wilson sent the US Marines to seize the capital and repel a German invasion of Haiti after the assassination of Haitian President Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam. The US occupation lasted 19 years.
In 1994, when democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown in a military coup, President Clinton sent over 20,000 troops to bring him back to power. A decade later, after another armed uprising against Aristide, the United States pressured him to resign and deployed 1,800 troops as part of a UN force.
“The worst, the worst-case scenario is that there is an American military intervention, which we have already experienced,” said Krystina François, an American Haitian who is the executive director of the New Americans Office in the county of Miami-Dade. “We don’t want boots on the ground in Haiti. “
Biden said last week that sending the US military to stabilize the country was “not on the agenda.” But the American commitment is not limited to the troops. The Biden administration sent a delegation of US officials to Haiti to help secure infrastructure and investigate the assassination.
The United States and the United Nations are also pushing for Haiti to move forward with legislative and presidential elections slated for September and November – a move that many Haitians, as well as a former US ambassador say, United would be a mistake due to the complete collapse of institutions, infrastructure and trust on the island.
“How are you going to organize an election in this climate where people are afraid with all these gangs out?” said Metellus.
Still, some with close ties to Haiti have said they welcome the elections.
Dorothy Content, 30, a Haitian entrepreneur who moved to Miami at the age of 17 and this year started a business selling Haitian coffee and fair-trade guava jelly in the United States, said that she was as suspicious of the current leaders of Haiti as of the United States.
According to the island’s constitution, the president of the Supreme Court is expected to take power, but he died of COVID-19 on June 23. The national parliament is no longer in office after Moise dissolved it in January 2020. Joseph, the interim prime minister, took power with the backing of the military. But he was appointed by Moise on an interim basis and should have been replaced by Henry, a former Home Secretary, on July 7, the day Moise was assassinated. Now Joseph seems to have seen the light and stepped back for Henry to take power.
“The leaders we have now are not elected by the people. We don’t trust them, ”Content said at a Hope 4 Haiti solidarity memorial in North Miami. “I don’t think they should be leading anything. It’s chaos.
Even the exiles who criticized the US intervention in Haiti were careful to note that they too were foreigners who did not fully understand the situation on the island.
Metellus, who left Haiti at the age of 12 as her family fled the dictatorship of Francois Duvalier, said she recognized her ideas were influenced by her experience of living in the United States for almost a half-century.
“I’m not on the pitch,” she said. “I don’t understand the intricacies and nuances, the lay of the land, the psyche.”
But if there was one thing she had learned from the history of Haiti, she said, it was that solutions imposed from outside would only fail.
“The fundamental point is that we can decide for ourselves,” she said. “You can help us, but we have to be in the driver’s seat. “