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HAITI IN UNREST: BARRY STUDENTS SHARE TALES OF FAMILY AND FRIENDS

By Isabel Pulgarin


Neissa Rousseau, a freshman biology major and the vice president of the Bar­ry Haitian Student Organization (HSO) moved with her father to West Palm Beach from Port-au-Prince — three days after President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in July 2021.


“My flight was scheduled to be the day he was assassinated,” she said. “A lot of offices were closed… so, I was not able to travel that day. So, my flight was delayed, like, three days after that.”


While Rousseau finished high school and lived with her aunt in Palm Beach, her older brothers—one a Marine and the other studying criminology—also moved to continue college in the States a few months later while her parents, her father a doctor and her mother a lawyer, traveled back and forth as they worked in the capital. But, recently, neither of them have been able to work due to the unrest.


“We were always planning on coming to the US, it was just a coincidence that the day I was coming the president was assassinated,” she said.


Rousseau could be considered one of the lucky ones.


On Feb. 29, groups of politically and economically backed gangs set fire to police stations, took control over international airports, stormed Hai­tian prisons unleashing inmates, and have effectively destabilized a country that has a GDP of about $33 billion in purchasing power. Compare this to Mark Zuckerberg’s net worth of over $58 billion.


For the past few weeks, more than 53,000 Haitians have fled Port-au- Prince due to the criminal uprising that has cut off this Caribbean capital from the world.


The pressure from these gangs forced the resignation of the country’s prime minister, Ariel Henry after these groups blocked him from the country and the violence forced the airports to close. He resigned under the condition that there be a transitional presidential council in place. But experts say these gang leaders should have a say, too.


“Even if you have a different kind of government, the reality is that you need to talk to the gangs,” said Robert Fatton, a Haitian politics expert at the University of Virginia. “If they have that supremacy, and there is no counter­vailing force, it’s no longer a question if you want them at the table. They may just take the table.”


In the United States, according to the Migration Policy Insitute, the Haitian population grew between 2010—the year of their catastrophic earthquake— and 2022 by 144,000 to about 731,000. All either entered legally through the few pathways available or illegally by crossing the southern border or by sailing to South Florida, where the state holds 49 percent of all Haitians.


For Rousseau, leading up to her family’s decision to leave, she said it was the realization that the unrest “was going from bad to worse.”


“We were able to go to school and then tomorrow you can’t go to school because it’s on lockdown, because of protests everywhere and people are go­ing and stealing stuff from markets and businesses,” said Rousseau.


She remembers her teacher giving a chemistry lecture and having to end the lesson abruptly because tear gas wafted into the building from protestors outside her school.


This instability has been felt by school­children for some time, specifically in the capital.


Furthermore, Haiti currently has no elected officials and held its last election in 2016.


Barry’s HSO, staffed by Haitian and Haitian American students, are heart­broken by the state of their motherland.


For Haitians living in the U.S. under temporary residency, Homeland Secu­rity Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas says the Biden administration has no plans to renew Haiti for Temporary Protected Status that ends August 3. That would mean these residents must find another way to stay in the U.S. legally or else they become undocumented.


Recent Barry grad turned Barry coordi­nator for campus events and Greek life, Gabrielle Russell, has an uncle in Haiti who is working as a surgeon. Body­guards escort him from work to a secure compound.


“The government is bad, or the lack of government is an issue, and the gang vi­olence is bad. But the people are good. The land is still good. And I wish more people would see that and not villainize and victimize, not just Haiti, but all countries that have to go through some type of governmental overpowering,” she said.

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