When Georges Bossous Jr. opened a WhatsApp group chat last Wednesday morning, he felt a whirlwind of emotions.
“I was surprised, shocked, amazed, disturbed,” said the American of Haitian descent.
He learned that Haitian President Jovenel Moïse had been assassinated at his home in Port-au-Prince. The brazen attack also injured First Lady Martine Moïse, who was later flown to Miami for medical treatment.
Bossous, 47, grew up in Limbe, Haiti, and came to the United States at the age of 21. A psychotherapist, he is the executive director of the nonprofit group Word and Action and the Haitian American Leadership Initiative in Orlando.
He said that although Moses had come under heavy criticism, the assassination at his home was unexpected. “This tells us a lot about the security level of the country,” Bossous said.
Moïse, 53, was elected in 2016 and took office in February 2017. Protests erupted in 2019 calling for his resignation over allegations that he and other government officials embezzled money intended for social initiatives. He denied the allegations, but the unrest in Haiti continued.
the rates of gang violence, kidnappings, murder and economic insecurity have increased dramatically in recent months.
Many Americans of Haitian descent say they are concerned about the safety of their families back home. Bossous said many people, including his own mother, have been displaced by the instability in Haiti.
“They cannot live in their homes and the government has not helped,” he said.
Moïse refused to resign in February at the end of his term. The terms of Haitian presidents begin when they are elected rather than when they are sworn in. Moses threatened to amend the Constitution to give himself more power.
“There were a lot of people for him and against him,” said Rochilda Fevrius, 20. “I was shocked, but not really shocked. ”
A student from South Florida, she immigrated from Haiti to the United States at the age of 7 with her immediate family, but has parents living in the Caribbean nation.
“In a town where one of my aunts lives, she was barricaded,” she said. “No one can come in and no one can get out.”
Fevrius later confirmed that his parents are safe with his parents’ knowledge, but there is a sense of uncertainty about the future.
Acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph will preside over the country until the start of elections in September. Although Haiti is under new leadership, Fevrius suspects that one election will not be enough.
“It’s a bit like putting a bandage on a big wound,” she said. “I would like to see a renewed and refined government for the people, and when I say for the people, it is for everyone.”
Ave Leone, 19, said the media coverage was overwhelming. “It’s weird to see Haiti so poorly placed in the spotlight,” she said.
A first-generation Haitian-American student, she notes that the news media generally only cover Haiti when tragedies strike.
“It is always called, especially at times like this, as the poorest country in the world, when the great Western nations are the reason we are poor to begin with,” Leone said.
Haiti was a colony of France before it gained independence in 1804. The United States occupied Haiti at other times, including for two decades after the murder of President Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam in 1915, and again during of a military coup in the 1990s.
Today Haitians highlight the number of refugees from this country who have been turned away from the United States as they attempted to seek asylum over the past year.
Melissa Lucien, 23, came to the United States from Haiti six years ago to study at university.
Motivational speaker, writer and reigning Miss Haiti Florida, Lucien said when she left Haiti things were far from perfect, but now her condition looks grim.
“This was the wake-up call that things are going so badly,” she said. “A lot of people don’t know the reality of Haiti.”
When Lucien last visited her home country in December, she found that insecurity was widespread.
“I had friends who went to school in Haiti and it hurt me when they called me to tell me that they had to go to school, but they don’t know if they will go home” , she said.
But, she said, her love for her homeland will always outweigh the tribulations that surround her. Haiti may be a low-income country, she said, but the pride Haitians have in it is abundant.
Lucien said she will continue to visit Haiti and possibly live there again when she is ready to help create change in the country.
“I hope something positive comes out of this somehow for the country.” she added: “How? I really don’t know, I would like to. But I will remain optimistic that something will happen.
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