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'Living in fear': local Haitian communities rocked by president’s assassination, civil unrest

Nonprofit leaders, elected officials from Haiti express concerns for their families, country’s future

There are nearly 1600 miles between Providence and Port-au-Prince, Haiti. But the small yet closely connected Haitian community in the Ocean State still felt shockwaves of the July 7 assassination of Haitian president Jovenel Moïse and the civil unrest that has followed.

The details and rationale of the plot remain uncertain, as does Haiti’s political future. Haitian police have so far implicated over 30 people in the attack, including foreign nationals. 18 Colombians and two Haitian-Americans have been arrested. 

With Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph stepping down to allow former Minister of Interior and Territorial Communities Ariel Henry to take office, honoring the wishes of the late president, the question of who will lead Haiti for the immediate future has been resolved. But Haitians, including those residing in Rhode Island, remain ill at ease. 

“When you live abroad, live in the U.S. and know that your family still lives down there — any time your phone rings, you pick it up with fear,” said Norly Germain, executive director of Hope and Change for Haiti, a community organization based in Cranston that advocates for women, immigrant rights and development projects in Haiti.

One of Norly Germain’s primary concerns is that his family in Haiti will fall victim to violence or kidnapping, which has tripled in the country over the last year. 

“There is instability in the country … nothing is functioning,” said Bernard Georges, the founder and director of New Bridges for Haitian Success, a nonprofit that seeks to empower the Haitian community in Rhode Island by providing cultural programs, legal services and educational support. “We are not surprised that this level of instability happens. What we see is chaos.”

Though Georges said he was used to hearing of Haiti’s instability, he was “in shock” at the news of Moïse’s assassination. 

Aniece Germain, councilwoman for Ward 2 in Cranston and wife of Norly Germain, also recalled her shock.

“I feel shame to see this image of my country, my home,” said Aniece Germain, who was born in Haiti. “So when I see all the violence that has been happening for years, I always feel compelled to do something and to speak up,” despite feelings of hopelessness that come from being a long distance away. 

The country had been experiencing civil unrest long before Moïse’s death. Members of Haiti’s opposition had accused him of corruption and called for his resignation. Moïse had repeatedly failed to hold local elections, leading to high numbers of vacant seats in Haiti's legislature. Violence and food insecurity were also on the rise and have further escalated since the assassination.

“Moïse was a controversial leader, but at the same time, he was the president of the country, elected democratically,” Norly Germain said. “The symbolism of a president being hideously assassinated — this is not acceptable.”

Norly Germain added that he believes Moïse’s controversial status has hindered community support in Rhode Island for the local Haitian community. 

“That's the big surprise. We haven't felt (support),” Norly Germain said. “It seems like everyone is waiting for us to reach out to them instead of them reaching out to us.” 

Still, the Germains and other community leaders are focused on providing support to their fellow Haitians in Rhode Island. Hope and Change for Haiti, the Haitian American Partnership for Positive Action, Councilwoman Germain and Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune, who also hails from Haiti, held a peace vigil on July 19 in Cranston. 

The event was for the Haitian community in Rhode Island to gather in a show of “empathy, compassion and decency as (they) seek justice, peace, unity and reconciliation,” according to an announcement email written by Norly Germain and reviewed by The Herald.

“We need to get together, to be united,” Councilwoman Germain said. ”The only way we can get (through) this darkness is peace and love and reconciliation, but we need to find justice and healing as a community.”



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