A political crisis followed by natural disasters have left the Caribbean nation of Haiti — already one of the poorest countries in the world — without stability and crucial resources.
Haitians worldwide, including some 2 million in the United States, worry the situation will worsen for their homeland and its 11 million citizens.
Following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in his home in the capital Port-au-Prince on July 7, gangs filled the leadership vacuum. As they increased their control of several cities and townships, including the capital, many were afraid to venture out or raise their voices in opposition.
Nearly six weeks later, a major 7.2-magnitude earthquake devastated the country, and three days later, Tropical Storm Grace left thousands of Haitians dead, injured or homeless.
Another challenge arising from these crises is educating Haiti’s children.
After the earthquake, Haiti’s interim prime minister Dr. Ariel Henry said on Sept. 2: “For the schools to open, we have a lot of work to do. We have to remove the rubble and build structures to accommodate the children.”
Schools are now scheduled to open on Oct. 4, pushed forward from the original start date of Sept. 6.
Uphill battle to recovery
While international aid, including food and medical care, make inroads in the uphill battle toward recovery, many Haitians in the U.S. fear what lies ahead.
Haiti native Pierre Nicolas, now a U.S. citizen based in Brooklyn, New York, said he and other Haitians want the people in their home country to enjoy some of the opportunities that enable Americans to realize their dreams, provide for their families and live in peace.
“Haitians, wherever they live, need to understand our country’s significance and place in history,” said Nicolas, a father of three boys who has made sure his children know “the truth.”
“I don’t expect my brothers and sisters to hold hands and sing songs like ‘Kumbaya.’ but if more of them knew the facts behind how Haiti gained its freedom — the first black country to successfully secure its independence in the Western Hemisphere — perhaps we’d stop promoting black-on-black violence within our own country and begin to take greater pride in who we are as a people,” Nicolas said.
“Despite our resilience, there have always been forces opposed to our survival. That’s something that I’ve made sure my sons understand. While they’ve enjoyed the comforts of home that middle-class Americans count as the norm, they have also witnessed the daily struggle to survive that remains prevalent for most Haitians. They’ve experienced this firsthand during yearly visits with their grandparents, who still live in Haiti.
“Maybe for now it’s all about survival. But one day I hope Haiti will realize it has tremendous natural resources [minerals, natural gas, wood] that could improve the quality of life for the masses,” he said. “We just need to make education a priority and opportunity for anyone who desires it. And we need leaders committed to establishing an economic engine that benefits all, not just a select few.”
Jean-Marie Jean Pierre, who left Haiti during his teens for America — alone and unfamiliar with the English language — took advantage of every educational opportunity he could find, eventually earning an MBA and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Howard University in Washington, D.C., in 2001.
However, he says he still often feels like a man without a country.
“Life in Haiti was already precarious, even before the earthquake in 2010 decimated the country’s infrastructure and economy,” he said. “But with the recent assassination of our president — an event that hasn’t occurred on Haitian soil since 1915 — the level of political uncertainty has risen to dangerous proportions, and it’s a scary situation,” he said.
“Haiti has long paid the price for being the first black, independent country in the Western Hemisphere. Remember, Trump called us a ‘s..t-hole country.’
“As for answers to Haiti’s problems, those like me who understand the country because it’s in our DNA and who are educated, need to be included in discussions about long-term solutions. America needs to get members of the Haitian diaspora involved. But instead, the U.S. continues to support a government that also has America’s interests — sometimes before placing the needs of Haiti first,” said Pierre, a 23-year veteran with NASA, who last visited Haiti in 2010.
Response from the administration
Addressing whether the U.S. has forgotten about Haiti and the urgent pleas for assistance from its leaders, Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre spoke on behalf of President Joseph R. Biden during a phone call with a group of reporters on Sept. 9.
“We will continue to support fair and open elections in Haiti as well as provide assistance for its citizens, especially with medical resources as they attempt to recover from the latest storm and earthquake,” said Jean-Pierre, a native of Haiti.
“… The Biden administration believes that the restructuring of the government should be facilitated by the people of Haiti,” she said. “The U.S. supports a Haitian-led dialogue and believes that it’s their decision to assemble a team of leaders committed to maintaining the democratic process. A Haitian-developed solution to the nation’s problems and challenges is what the U.S. encourages and supports … .”
She refuted recent criticism of the administration that policies related to Haiti endorsed in the Trump administration have been maintained by President Joe Biden.
“When we saw the devastation endured by Haiti following the recent hurricane, we immediately went into action — that’s not what the Trump Administration would have done,” she said.
A State Department report on “U.S. Relations With Haiti” published on Jan. 6, 2020, at the end of the Trump administration, details aid to the Caribbean nation since a previous major earthquake in 2010. The report includes U.S. aid totaling more than $5 billion and U.S. trade preferences for Haiti — the U.S. is Haiti’s largest trading partner.
Also, the report states: “Haiti’s transition to a strong democracy is important to the United States. Strong democratic institutions, in particular the holding of regular free and fair elections, can help guarantee Haiti’s democratic traditions and ensure a voice for the Haitian people in their governance.”
Assistance for Haiti
After President Moïse was assassinated, Haiti asked the U.S. and the United Nations to send troops to help maintain order, but the U.S. declined. Instead, President Biden sent senior officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security to help with the investigation.
“The United States offers condolences to the people of Haiti, and we stand ready to assist as we continue to work for a safe and secure Haiti,” the president said in a statement on July 7.
Elections for a new president and a constitutional referendum in Haiti, postponed since 2019, have been scheduled for Nov. 7.
After the earthquake in Haiti, Biden stated: “Through USAID, we are supporting efforts to assess the damage and assist efforts to recover those who were injured and those who must now rebuild. The United States remains a close and enduring friend to the people of Haiti, and we will be there in the aftermath of this tragedy.”
Pleas from human rights groups
A total of 344 human rights groups sent a letter to Biden and his top officials on Aug. 30 urging the administration to halt deportation flights to Haiti amid the crises.
“Since February 1, 2021, the Administration sent at least 37 deportation flights to Haiti, even as your officials acknowledged internally that those being deported ‘may face harm’ on return and the COVID-19 pandemic raged,” the letter states.
“By March, the Biden-Harris Administration had removed more Haitians since taking office than during all of fiscal year 2020. Many of the deportees must return to neighborhoods controlled by gangs with ongoing kidnappings, in an already unstable environment now further overwhelmed by [the earthquake’s] calamity.”
Edited by Judith Isacoff and Fern Siegel
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