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Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.

UNIVERSITY PRESS

Hope for Haiti: Haitian students, alumni share fears over the country’s gang violence

As violence takes over the nation, its political and economic stability remains uncertain.
Saint Vil shares a photo of her family’s old neighborhood where her childhood home once stood, located in Carrefour Feuilles in Port Au Prince, Haiti.
Saint Vil shares a photo of her family’s old neighborhood where her childhood home once stood, located in Carrefour Feuilles in Port Au Prince, Haiti.

 FAU alumna Manika Deneus, 23, is grateful that the Biden’s administration’s Humanitarian Parole Program allowed much of her family to leave Haiti. 

Gangs control significant portions of Port-au-Prince and other parts of the country since the death of former Haitian president Jovenel Moïse in July 2021, and Deneus’ family faced the threat of violence before moving to the United States.

“My mom’s experience was terrible…she was living in her home peacefully for 12 years until the gang started taking over that area,” said Deneus. “They were literally kidnapping our own neighbors and asked their families for ransom.”

FAU is home to Haitian students, Haitian-American students and the children of Haitian immigrants. Deneus is one of many concerned about unrest in the country, which she visited a great deal during her youth.

The program allows up to 30,000 immigrants from Haiti, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela to come to the U.S. to work and live legally for two years. To be eligible, those applying must pass a background check and have a U.S. sponsor.

Background

The culture of gangs in Haiti was originally birthed during the reign of Jean-Claude Duvalier aka. “Papa Doc”, Haiti’s former president (1971-1986) who utilized paramilitary gangs to uphold his dictatorship.

According to UNOCHA (United States Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), 5.5 million Haitians require humanitarian assistance due to extreme violence conducted by gangs armed with military-grade weapons, whose territory grows rapidly even into rural neighborhoods.

A November 2023 report released by the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Office and the UN Integrated Office in Haiti said gangs are engaging in sexual assault, kidnapping, and many other offenses. Haitian politicians and other representatives have consistently vocalized a need for international help with a longstanding security crisis.

According to a recent report by the UN, more than 8,400 people fell victim to gang violence in Haiti over the last year. The number represents a 122% increase year-over-year, and researchers say 83% of the violence occurred in the nation’s capital, Port-au-Prince.

This results from extensive corruption from a practically non-existent government system after President Moise’s assassination. The country still remains in a political and economic deadlock as the country has yet to elect another president and offers limited employment opportunities.

“We forget that this is the result of more than 200 years of foreign interference in Haiti after independence…Violence has been set as almost a structural part of Haiti,” said Carla Carlagé, an FAU professor of French and Francophone Studies.

FAU’s Haitian community is disheartened

South Florida has been for decades a location for Haitian migration given its proximity to Haiti, and FAU specifically has an extensive population amongst staff and students from the Caribbean nation. Many have direct ties to family members who remain in the country unable to seek asylum elsewhere.

Wellinta Saint Vil, 23, an executive board member of the Caribbean Students Association, claims gang members recently burned down her childhood home in Port-au-Prince this past year. Having moved to the United States at three years old, she fondly remembers the house she returned to yearly as a child. That house — which belonged to her grandmother was gone in the blink of an eye.

Wellinta Saint Vil as a toddler in front of her former family home, one that had been passed down for generations.

“It really affected me,” Saint Vil said. “To know that basically my family, God forbid, could have been in the house, you know, they all could’ve died.”

She is fearful as her uncles and aunts still await permission to enter the country through Biden’s Administration’s parole program.

“It’s hard to think about,” Saint Vil said. “Especially knowing that there’s nothing that you can do over here to help them. It makes you feel helpless.”

Carlagé suggests the initial collapse of the economic state could have contributed to the mental exhaustion of formerly enslaved people not being “eager” to go back to farming one of their most economically important crops, sugar.

“You have a kind of almost structural violence that has plagued the history of Haiti ever since it was ‘discovered’ by Europeans,” she said. “After such a long war, the economy is in ruins…now how do you rebuild the economy? Someone who was enslaved and forced to work in the sugar field…is not eager to go back… it’s a challenge.”

Saint Vil thinks coordinated efforts to reach government officials could go a long way toward raising awareness for the issues in Haiti.

“Other students involved in Haitian or all kinds of organizations can write letters to our Florida  representatives, explaining the situation that’s going on,” says Saint Vil…”If you’re getting 300 letters or emails regarding the same topic, I feel like that will garner a lot of attention.”

A symbol of hope

Haitian Government officials have requested aid of foreign police forces, but according to Carlagé, corruption makes finding non government institutions that showcase genuine purpose dedicated to Haiti’s progress tricky. 

“The problem is that you don’t have institutions, really, that are trustworthy,” says Carlagé. “Corruption and the NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) in Haiti are extremely problematic.”

Saint Vil sees a possible connection between long-standing economic instability and said corruption. “There’s no way to control if you get paid…If a gang member gives you $1000 to something bad when you have a family to feed, you’re gonna do it,” she said. “This is all a direct result from poor governance.”

One solution could be the assistance of international powers through the direction of the United Nations, but many Haitians are still hesitant, given the country’s history.

According to an article by the Associated Press (AP), Haiti has undergone three major foreign military interventions led by the United States and the United Nations. The U.S. occupation consisted of unpaid forced labor known as “corveé” where U.S. officials made Haitian natives build roads and other infrastructure stated by the AP.

“I would say I’m a little conflicted,” says FAU alumna and former Fanm Kreyol member Christela Lucien, 23, regarding foreign interventions. “Interventions may help, but it depends on how they go about it…it might be best for them to help out the Haitian police force by training, giving them resources and materials that can help instead of immediately resorting to said countries sending their armies.”

Regardless of the turmoil, the Haitian people continue to persevere through the violence, with some even fighting back in an apparent rise of vigilante justice around the country where local groups have sought out gang members to fight. Hundreds of volunteers have also contributed to a canal construction project as a result of a drought near a town called Ouanaminthe.

Regardless of pushback from the Dominican Republic, the country intends to lay out a waterway that is 1.5 miles long and nearly a yard wide. It is expected to facilitate water for more than 7,000 acres of fertile land, covering the entirety of the Maribaroux plain. This plan has been illustrated as a symbol of hope to the people and their relatives in South Florida.

“I think it shows that they’re resilient, You know?” states Lucien. “No matter what the circumstances are, they always find a way.”

Gael-Lynn Laguerre is the copy desk chief for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or DM her on Instagram @gael.lynn.

 

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About the Contributor
Gael-Lynn Laguerre, Copy Desk Chief
Gael-Lynn Laguerre is a senior multimedia journalism major. She is a  staff writer for Strike Magazine Boca’s editorial team. Laguerre is also involved with the Glenn W. And Cornelia T. Bailey SEA Scholar program as a newsletter writer for the FAU Marine Lab. In her free time, she enjoys fashion, poetry and the beach.

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