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Haiti's assassination update, school staffing shortages, and healthier sugarcane harvesting in Brazil

Image showing sugar cane in Brazil under the word Brazil on the left and burning sugar cane under the word Florida on the right
Nadia Sussman/ProPublica and Greg Lovett/The Palm Beach Post
Florida’s largest sugar companies say cane burning is safe and can't be stopped without economic harm. But Brazil has successfully transitioned away from the controversial practice, and experts there say the U.S. can follow their lead

Miami Herald's Jacqueline Charles, WLRN's Tim Padgett, Sommer Brugal from the Miami Herald, and Nadia Sussman from ProPublica joined guest host Wilkine Brutus on The South Florida Roundup. They looked at the big issues facing Haiti, Florida's school districts, and alternative sugarcane harvesting in Brazil.

There’s finally a breakthrough just months after the assassination of Haiti’s President, Jovenel Moïse. Federal authorities took a key suspect into custody this week in Miami.

A 43 year-old man named Mario Palacios Palacios is one of many suspects Haitian authorities have linked to the president's murder last summer in his home in Port-au-Prince.

Miami Herald’s Jacqueline Charles and WLRN’s Tim Padgett talked about the latest update, how authorities spent months trying to unravel the plot.

Who is Mario Palacios Palacios?

“He's a Colombian national, retired member of the Colombian army. He's a father of three. We spoke to his wife this week. Basically, he arrived in Haiti sometime about a month before the assassination,” said Charles. “According to the Haitian police probe, he was a member of what they call the Delta team. The Colombians are about 20 Colombian former soldiers that were allegedly involved in his assassination."

Charles said the mercenaries "were broken up into four teams."

"Palacios Palacios was in the Delta team, which was the team that actually gained access to the private bedroom of President Jovenel Moïse. So presumably with Haitian police are saying is that, you know, the person who killed, pulled the trigger was was among them. Two of them are dead and Palacios is here, and the other one is jailed in Haiti.”

WLRN’s Tim Padgett says the plot to kill President Moïsewas partially hatched on U.S. soil, when Haitian-American Dr. Christian Emmanuel Sanon of Florida, "who, by most accounts, thought he should be president of Haiti." Sanon recieved help from a Venezuelan-owned security firm who used Colombian mercenaries.

This is the first charges since the murder of the Haiti's president.

“As far as we know, this is the first formal charge that's been brought against any of these dozens of people that Haitian authorities have fingered for involvement in the assassination,” Padgett said.

“His first court appearance on Tuesday, he did not enter a plea of either guilty or or innocent.”

Omicron on the rise as schools face staffing shortages: 

The school year resumed this Monday to staggering numbers of absent personnel. These numbers are the result of a rise in COVID-19 cases due to the contagious Omicron variant. Teachers, bus drivers, counselors and more were absent, which led to the substitute pool being strained.

Miami Herald’s Education Reporter Sommer Brugal joined the conversation surrounding staffing shortages and Superintendent Alberto Carvalho during the first week back to school.

"In Miami, on Monday, there were about 2100 instructional staff that were out, along with about 24 four bus drivers in Miami. At least that number has gone down throughout the week," said Brugal.

"As of yesterday, there are about 1700 out."

And what about Broward?

"On Monday, that number was around 1600. And that number has actually increased as the week has gone by," said Brugal. "On Friday morning, I got some numbers from the district and it was up by up closer to about 1800."

"So while in Miami, it's kind of going down, Broward County seems to be having a little more trouble getting that number down."

It’s a tri-county issue. The Palm Beach County School District also has felt the strain as well. According to the Palm Beach Post, there were a thousand teacher absences as the district navigates a small pool of substitutes.

Superintendent Alberto Carvalho will become the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District; his last day in Miami-Dade to be February 3rd, and there is a rush to fill his position.

"Wednesday, the school board held a special meeting to discuss just how his departure will be handled, who will be his replacement and how they will go about finding his replacement," said Brugal. "It seemed from the get-go, pretty early on, that they wanted to find somebody before that February 3rd deadline, which puts us, you know, about a month from now. And it seemed to be that the board was a little split on that. You had a couple of members, including the chair, wanting to get somebody in as quickly as possible.

Brugal said leaders considered a seven day application period.

"So you really have these two opposing arguments should it be a month long process or should it be something that could take a couple of months? And you also had Vice chair Galen pushing for not necessarily a national search, but saying that we have enough talent here in the community."

Brugal said that community members who spoke during the public comment "felt after the meeting that a seven day period was just not enough for even a month long period was just not enough time to bring in all of the community stakeholders to have their opinions and concerns and wishes heard."

Brazil’s healthier harvesting method is a lesson for Florida?

From October through around April, Florida’s largest sugar companies light fires in the sugarcane fields near Lake Okeechobee to strip the plant down to the stalk and make it easier to harvest. Pre-harvest sugarcane burning takes place near low-income communities of color in the Glades area, in the western part of Palm Beach County. And for years, residents and health experts have raised concerns about the release of toxic air pollutants and the impact the pollutants have had on people’s health.

A new report by ProPublica shows how there has always been a healthier alternative to the harvesting method.

Nadia Sussman is a video journalist at ProPublica.

“We learned that Brazil, which is the world's largest producer of sugar cane, was gradually ending the burning there," said Sussman. "And in the state in Brazil, Sao Paulo, that is the biggest sugar cane producing state. They had actually passed a law almost 20 years ago, gradually eliminating the burns."

"And what's more, the sugar cane industry worked with the government to speed up the deadline to end the burns. They signed a voluntary agreement that eliminated the vast majority of burns in Sao Paulo state by 2017.”

South Florida Roundup: A Haitian soup for the ages 

January 1st was Haitian Independence Day. Haitians throughout the diaspora eat Soup Joumou as a tribute to the thirteen-year resistance and independence from colonial powers; it’s the same delicacy Africans were forced to serve but were forbidden to eat.

Nearly 20,000 people viewed my mothers soup on Twitter, as she explained some of the ingredients in Haitian kreyol.

Pumpkin winter squash, a variety of meat (beef, etc), Haitian Epis, which is a seasoning base; there’s herbs, there’s vegetables like watercress, carrots, cabbage, celery and potatoes; there’s dash of pasta.

For Haitians, Soup Joumou tastes like freedom.

And that’s one of many reasons why the traditional soup was awarded protected cultural heritage status by UNESCO.

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Wilkine Brutus is the Palm Beach County Reporter for WLRN. The award-winning journalist produces stories on topics surrounding local news, culture, art, politics and current affairs. Contact Wilkine at wbrutus@wlrnnews.org