Brooklyn’s Haitian community worries about latest political crisis back home

Haitian President Jovenel Moise gestures at his arrival to the National Palace during his inauguration ceremony in Port-au-Prince
Brooklyn lawmakers say Haitian President Jovenel Moïse’s refusal to step down threatens Haiti’s fragile democracy.
REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares

As many of the estimated 300,000 Haitian-Americans in the New York City area worry about the latest political crisis in Haiti, two federal city lawmakers are urging the United States to condemn what they said were anti-democratic actions taken by Haitian President Jovenel Moïse.

Brooklyn Rep. Yvette Clarke, together with Queens County Democratic Party Chair and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Gregory Meeks, led a group of lawmakers over the weekend in penning a letter to US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken expressing concern that Moïse’s refusal to step down as president threatened Haiti’s fragile democracy.

“His extra-constitutional decrees — including the establishment of a domestic intelligence force, the unilateral appointment of key officials, and the harsh criminalization of acts of protest — must be called out for exactly what they are: attempts to hold onto the Presidency at the expense of the democratic process,” the letter, sent Feb. 6, reads.

The letter’s co-authors— Congressmembers Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Albia Sires (D-NJ), Andy Levin (D-MI), Alcee Hastings (D-FL) and Darren Soto (D-FL) — joined Clarke and Meeks in urging Blinken to support a democratic transition government led by the Haitian people.

Moïse has led Haiti since February 2017 after winning the country’s elections in November 2016. Although his term officially ended on Feb. 7 at the insistence of Haiti’s opposition judiciary, he has refused to vacate the office. This sparked unrest in the Caribbean nation and a coup attempt Monday morning.

“The human rights situation in Haiti is equally perilous. Civil rights are under siege, and those who advocate for them are often facing literal attacks. Seemingly state-sanctioned violence targets those who challenge the state. Victims of such violence have no path towards accountability and justice. Meanwhile, Haiti remains gripped in a cascade of economic, public health, and political crises,” the letter reads.

State Assemblymember and Kings County Democratic Party Chair Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, a prominent voice in New York’s Haitian community, welcomed the letter.

“The people of Haiti want a stable, democratic government that abides by its constitution. Many people believe that President Moïse has served his term and it ends today, while the President maintains that his term ends next year, in 2022,” she said. “I also believe it is the will of Haitian-Americans here in Brooklyn, and in the United States, that our loved ones abroad are no longer denied a voice in their government.”

Ricot Dupuy, station manager of the popular Nostrand Avenue-based Haitian-American Radio station Radio Solel, said local Haitian-Americans are growing more concerned about loved ones back on the island nation, which is often characterized by its political instability.

“There is a lot of government-supported kidnappings and widespread rebellion, which the police which the government controls are brutally putting down,” said Dupuy. “The police brutality in America is kid stuff compared to what they are doing in Haiti. What’s happening there is police brutality on steroids.”

Dupuy said the United States should step in as soon as possible or risk not only more bloodshed but another wave of refugees. 

“If the US doesn’t intervene and stop what’s going on, that could be the logical consequence,” he said.

As of 2018, Brooklyn was home to more than 90,000 Haitian-Americans — the third-highest concentration in the United States, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

Additional reporting by Clarissa Sosin and Stephen Witt

This story first appeared on KingsCountyPolitics.com.

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