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The South Florida Roundup

The Haitian diaspora in South Florida continues to grapple with the country's unrest

A man in Haiti runs past a white and blue building while ducking down
Rodrigo Abd
Near a bullet-pocked Catholic shrine, a Haitian man keeps low to avoid gunshots as he runs across a gang-controlled street in Port-au-Prince this month.

It’s been more than four months since Haitian President Jovenel Moise was assassinated and, since then, Haiti has continued to deal with tumultuous and tragic situations.

A massive earthquake rocked the island in August causing thousands of deaths, then came Tropical Storm Grace and, in recent months gang violence, and the kidnapping of a missionary aid group, have stoked the flames of fear for safety — for Haitians and for their families and friends here in South Florida.

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U.S. officials have continued efforts to send aid and support. Todd Robinson, the Assistant Secretary of State for international law enforcement, recently shared with WLRN that his department is focused on bolstering the strength of the Haitian police force, but is finding that the task is more difficult than the will of those seeking to help the country.

"If you talk to most Haitians, as I've been doing over the past few weeks, they they will simply say the gangs are more powerful than the actual government authority right now in Haiti," said Tim Padgett, WLRN's Americas editor. "So [Robinson] has a real daunting task to rebuild the police, [and] rebuild public order so that they can hold, eventually, elections to create a new government presence that would be more authoritative than the gangs."

Many there, as the gang crisis continues, say they feel like strangers in their own home — according to local advocates.

"The kidnappings [are] still wreaking havoc in people's lives and Haitians, local and international folks, as we know, are not spared. Schools have been out for months now. And we've been getting calls from Haiti asking for help because the country is in lockdown," said Marleine Bastien, executive director of the Family Action Network Movement.

"The Haitians are now believed to be refugees in their own home."

Friday's conversation came just one day after November 18, the date of the Battle of Vertières — which was a decisive victory in the country's fight for independence from France.

Santra Denis, executive director of the Miami Workers Center, said that the anniversary was fitting as Haitians on the island are still trying to show a fighting spirit even as things remain dire, but also asking others to fight for and with them.

"They're asking us to share out, with our elected officials, with our Congress folks, that SOS," said Denis. "They cannot get gas. They are basically locked down in their homes. They cannot get to their daily activities."

Bastien said that her organization has fielded calls and offered services for people in shock or struggling with anxiety in South Florida as they grapple with wave after wave of troubling news since July's assassination. She said, in her experience, it's an unprecedented level of concern.

"Haitians are very resilient. We are known to be very resilient, folks. We've endured dictatorships, constitutional crises, coup d'etats, food insecurity, pandemics, natural disasters, the assassination of our own president for God's sake. But for the first time in recent history, I hear a lot of hopelessness," said Bastien. "I've been organizing on the ground for 40 years and I've never seen this high level of anxiety."

Denis is also the founder of the organization Avanse Ansanm, which works to engage Haitian-American millennials. She noted that while younger members of the diaspora — and on the island — have seen a great deal of turmoil and uncertainty they haven't fully lost hope.

"Young activists on the ground in Haiti who are nonstop, sharing their truth, speaking truth to power, raising the alarm in terms of what they're experiencing. And these are folks who have dedicated their — while they're young — their lives to staying in Haiti to see that corruption, impunity, all the things that result in what we're seeing right now, is done away with," Denis said.

TSFR 11-19-2021 SEG A Haiti.mp3
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Lance Dixon is WLRN's digital editor. He's worked as a professional journalist in his hometown of Miami since 2013.