Haiti endures political, environmental turmoil


photo courtesy of Associated Press

With the assassination of their president, a rash of environmental disasters, and an uptick in gang violence, Haiti has seen its share of horrific events.

Kaitlyn Tholen, Staff Writer

From the time Columbus landed on the shores to present day, Haiti has seen its fair share of violence and discord. Located just over 700 miles from Wellington, the small nation of Haiti has endured hurricanes, hostages, earthquakes, and assassinations all just within the last 10 years.  

“I have a lot of family in Haiti,” said senior Deondre Pierre Louis. “95 percent of my family is in Haiti. I’m in disbelief. I didn’t realize things could get that bad. That place is just unfortunate all together with everything that’s happened over there.”

With close to 40,000 Haitians residing in Palm Beach County, South Florida has close ties with the island. Beginning in 1972, Haitians started to flee to South Florida en masse. Unable to obtain visas, they journeyed across the Atlantic in boats, earning the name “Boat People.” In response, the U.S government detained and deported all who were not considered political refugees. 

Those who were lucky to escape detention remember the country they left behind.

“All these people sell whatever they had in Haiti like houses and personal belongings to be able to pay the Captain to get onto the boat,” recounted Alfred Francois, a Haitian immigrant who came to the U.S in 1971. “All of them left in search of a better life.”

At the time, the country was led by newly inaugurated president Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, after the death of his father and former president François “Papa Doc” Duvalier. Papa Doc’s presidency is remembered as one of corruption and authoritative rule. During his rule, those who spoke out against the government were beaten or killed, food shortages spanned across the country, and poverty remained widespread. In 1964, a constitution was drafted that made Duvalier president for life. Consequently, many professionals vacated the country causing the collapse of health and educational systems and signaling the start of a decade-long migration of Haitians just a few years later.

After the death of Papa Doc in 1971, many Haitians feared that his son and successor Baby Doc would continue his father’s regime and started to flee the country in search for a better life. 

“There were few jobs in the country,” said Francois, grandfather to fellow Bronco Enjelica Sangster. “You couldn’t just quit a job and go to another one. Some of the jobs give you $2 – $3 a day for 8 hour days. I couldn’t find a job. I had to go in the army, I got $40 a month. Family or friends that already in America send money every month to other family members in Haiti and that’s how they make their living. I had no hope until there was a door open for me to leave. You had to try to make a living by stealing.”

This migration took place until 1981 when the U.S altered its immigrant policy to immediately deport all intercepted Haitians back to Haiti.

Today, Haiti remains in disarray, its instability fueled by the assassination of its president, rise in gang violence, and occurrence of natural disasters.

On July 7, 2021 the Haitian citizens witnessed the assassination of president Jovenel Moïse at his private residence. Moïse was about to end his presidential term of 5 years until he was shot by local gangs. Haiti was then put in a state of siege. About 28 foreign mercenaries from many countries were apart of this assassination, including an American. 

“It’s really sad . . . even though he was bad,” said Central’s ISS supervisor Mr. Francois (no relation to Alfred Francois).  “But for him to get assassinated in his home, that is beyond crazy. No one deserves to die the way he did and especially at his house. That’s really bad for a president.”

Furthermore, Haiti has had a multitude of gang violence in recent years. According to an article by the Associated Press, an estimated 40 percent of Port-au-Prince is controlled by various gangs, some of the most well-known being the Grand Revine and the G9 Family and Allies.

With the streets in a constant battle, there has also been an increase in kidnappings. The most recent kidnapping occurred on October 16 when 17 American and Canadian missionaries, were captured by the 400 Mawozo gang demanding $1 million per hostage.  Among the victims were an eight-month-old infant and four children.  As of December 8, only 5 of the captives have been released.

“Even if they give something they are still people who are desperate to make a living,” said Central’s Francois. “I think some of them are doing it not just because they are bad or just to have something to do. Some of them are based on survival some of them are not.” 

Additionally, in August of 2020, Hurricane Laura, a Category 4, ripped through the island, bringing 140 mph winds and heavy flooding.  The storm killed 31 people.  A year later, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit southwestern Haiti causing major damages and killing an estimated 2,207 people.

As a country continually devastated by disaster, the future of Haiti remains uncertain. Yet, despite decades of turmoil, many Haitians still have a deep connection to their country for its rich history, and vibrant culture.

“I love my country,” expressed Alfred Francois. “But I also love America because its the one that is keeping me alive.”