Politics in Everett can be more than enough for a person to handle, but for the large Haitian American community in Everett, the assassination of former Haitian President Jovenel Moise – though thousands of miles in their home country – feels like a politician event that happened right next door.
Moise was assassinated in the night at his presidential home last week, potentially by mercenaries from Colombia. The event has developed into a wide range of conspiracies and unknowns as the international investigation has plugged on, and some are already calling it the Haitian version of the Kennedy Assassination. Here in Everett the feelings following the event are deep and hurtful – local leaders said.
“It’s demoralizing,” said Rev. Myrlande Desrosiers of the Everett Haitian Community Center (EHCC). “I know it is very far away from here, but for us it’s like it happened here in Everett and the communities around us…It is just such a demoralizing thing for the community, and it’s a community that has been dealing with COVID-19 on top of this. We’ve had special prayers at the Center for Haiti and our family members and friends there. It’s not easy for our community at this time…Being far away, you feel powerless. It becomes numbing.”
Everett is a unique place for the Haitian American community as it hosts one of the most dense clusters of the community in Greater Boston. While Haitian Americans live in almost every community around Boston now, Everett is believed to have more than 20,000 Haitian residents – or about one-third of the entire City population. So, an act in Haiti may be far away, but it resonates very strongly in a place like Everett where that community finds itself in shock.
Moise was a controversial figure, and many did not support him due to the way he ruled – which in his final days was mostly by edict and what many thought was a power grab to change the Haitian Constitution. However, politics aside, many here feel like it’s the overall act of killing the president of a nation so casually that hurts the most.
“The biggest thing I’ve been hearing in the community is that people are just very upset that assassins went into a country and murdered a president – poking his eyes out and breaking his arms and torturing him – so casually,” said Guerline Alcy, a community leader in Everett and a candidate for City Council. “The way I feel about it is the Haitian government is not that complex to be able to pull that off…What is so sad to me is that someone is so comfortable that they think they can go into a country and assassinate a president in his own home. It’s unacceptable to me…What we need here in Everett is closure and an explanation of what really happened and why people could go in so comfortably and do this.”
City Councilor Gerly Adrien – the only Haitian American elected official in the area – said she participated late last week in a conference call with the Haitian elected leaders in Greater Boston, as well as some former leaders.
“The call was a robust discussion about whether the U.S. should be more involved or not,” she said. “It was interesting. They were requesting people to ask for the FBI to investigate. Other people didn’t think that was a good idea because this is an issue for Haiti and the FBI is a U.S. organization and shouldn’t be involved…The community in Everett is hurting. There are two sides to it, but no matter how anyone felt about the president this is unacceptable. What we need to do is stand in solidarity as a country to help strengthen our country in Haiti. I think it’s just a tragic event and I was surprised and shocked.”
Councilor Adrien said she wanted to stress that violence in retaliation is not something anyone should advocate.
“I think violence right now is not the answer,” she said. “No matter how people felt about the president, everyone in Haiti and in the US, we should call for peace and stability.”
Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, who co-chairs the House Haiti Caucus, said there has to be accountability.
“The assassination of Haitian President Moïse was a horrific act and stands as a clarion call for swift and decisive action to bring political stability and peace to a nation in crisis,” she said. “We are extending our condolences to his family and loved ones. We are also praying for First Lady Martine Moïse. We also call for full transparency and an independent investigation into this criminal act. We remain committed, more than ever, to working diligently alongside the Biden Administration in support of ushering in an equitable, inclusive Haitian-led democracy. One that reestablishes rule of law, reinforces institutions of Haitian-led governance, and centers the safety and human rights of every Haitian citizen.”
In Everett, some of the emotions are logistical challenges. For instance, Rev. Desrosiers said they have been doing a lot of work on the upcoming Temporary Protective Status (TPS) rulings that came out earlier this year, as well as pending Haitian passport applications and official Haitian document requests – like birth certificates. Those things are now on hold and very uncertain for those here in Everett and other communities.
“All that is at a standstill,” said Desrosiers. “No matter what ideology you have or if you don’t support that administration, you can’t feel good about this and it causes people many problems as well. We can’t do anything with those applications, and there is little we can do about that. We’re still pushing, but right now the priority in Haiti is the investigation.”
She said they are looking towards churches and foundations to help, and for cities to do help in meaningful ways – such as in providing some sort of identification for people that are stuck in a bind due to not being able to get documents or legal information from the Haitian government.
Additionally, most of the Haitian Americans in the community have family members still in Haiti, and others have significant investment in businesses and vacation homes there. The tie is also strong for those in Everett because many go back several times a year to visit with their children – something that might not be possible anymore if the country descends into chaos.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to go back,” said Alcy. “My family has a beautiful beach house there and I like to go there for a week and relax and see family. The whole diaspora has invested in Haiti. Most Haitian Americans when they go to Haiti have a house there and that is at risk now. Where do we go? I’m worried that my children may never be able to go back and see the country where they are from.”
Harkening back to her faith, and the strong faith of Haitian Americans in the United States, Rev. Desrosiers said the community should never lose hope.
“When everything seems lost and everything is so sad, there’s always hope,” she said. “In the middle of chaos, there is always hope.”