‘We don’t know yet what’s next’: Bostonians react to assassination of Haiti’s president

In this Feb. 7, 2020, file photo, Haiti's President Jovenel Moïse speaks during an interview at his home in Petion-Ville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Sources say Moise was assassinated at home. AP photo Dieu Nalio Chery

Greater Boston’s Haitian community this morning awoke to shocking news that Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse, 53, was assassinated overnight after armed men assaulted his private residence near Port-au-Prince. His wife was also reportedly shot and wounded in the attack, which happened around 1a.m., according to news reports.

More than 86,000 Haitians reside in Massachusetts, mostly in Boston, Somerville, Malden, Randolph and Brockton, according to federal figures. Boston is home to roughly 25,000 Haitians, mostly in Dorchester and Mattapan, and they make up 3.7 percent of the city's overall population.

Ruthzee Louijeune, a 34-year-old lawyer and advocate from Mattapan who is running for Boston City Council at-large, said she woke up to multiple messages relaying news of the murder.

"We all woke up early this morning in shock,” she told the Reporter. “There is great concern about what the days ahead will look like in terms of safety, stability, and security for the Haitian people.”

“Those of us with family in Haiti are particularly concerned for their welfare. Haitain people deserve to know peace, fair and free elections, and a government that can meet their basic needs,” said Louijeune.

Julio Midy, a Boston Public Schools teacher who hosts a popular show on the Haitian-focused Radio Concorde, has been relaying news about the event to his audience this morning. “I was shocked about it, but I got dressed, went to the radio, and did my job,” Midy told the Reporter.

Midy added: ““Some people would’ve never imagined something like this would happen, others anticipated it because of the way the president was running the country, because of his speeches and antagonistic attitude.”

Still, Midy said: “He made many enemies, but nobody thought something like this was possible.”

Linda Dorcena Forry, the first Haitian-American woman elected to the state Senate and now a vice president at Suffolk Construction, said the assassination was a “devastating blow” to Haiti and its people. Dorcena Forry, a Dorchester resident, is married to Reporter editor Bill Forry.

“My condolences and prayers go out to the Moise family. No matter what your political affiliation, violence is never the answer and will only make the problems facing Haiti worse,” Dorcena Forry said in an email to the Reporter. “There needs to be justice brought to bear not only for the Moise family but for the county as a whole to move forward, there must be accountability and punishment for those that organized and committed this heinous act.”

U.S. government officials should be prepared to “offer all measures of support and guidance” to ensure the situation doesn’t worsen, she added.

Haiti has been embroiled in a constitutional crisis in recent months linked to a dispute over the duration of Moïse’s term in office, which opponents argued should have ended in February. The government’s legislative branch was dissolved during Moïse’s term and his critics claimed that he was intent on holding onto power in defiance of Haiti’s constitution.

The security situation has worsened in recent weeks, with mass killings reported in the nation’s capitol city and at least two journalists murdered. Kidnappings have become so rampant in the country that the US Department of State issued a red-alert travel advisory on June 16 warning US citizens to not travel to Haiti.

Massachusetts Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, who is part of the House Haiti Caucus, released a joint statement from the group saying the assassination "stands as a clarion call for swift and decisive action to bring political stability and peace" to Haiti.

"We also call for full transparency and an independent investigation into this criminal act," the caucus said. "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.”

The caucus, formed in May, also includes Rep. Val Demings of Florida, Rep. Andy Levin of Michigan, and Rep. Yvette Clarke of New York.

In his own statement, US President Joe Biden called the assassination "horrific."

"We condemn this heinous act, and I am sending my sincere wishes for First Lady Moïse's recovery," he said. "The United States officers condolences to the people of Haiti, and we stand ready to assist as we continue to work for a safe and secure Haiti."

On Wednesday afternoon, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said on Twitter that Haitian people "deserve stability, calm, and a true voice" in government. "We should do everything we can to support the people of Haiti and the U.S. must support a timely, Haitian-led, peaceful transition to a democratically elected government," he said.

Much of the discussion in Boston’s Haitian community has already shifted to what role the United States— Haiti’s largest donor nation and the controlling interest in the region— may do as events unfold.

“To analyze it critically, the political situation of Haiti has entered a new chapter, and we don’t know yet what’s next,” said Julio Midy, the schoolteacher.

“Unfortunately, whenever Haiti has a vital decision to make for its development, Haitians do not have the last word,” said Julio Midy. “The international community, especially the United States, has the last word.”

Josué Renaud, president of the Mattapan-based New England Human Rights Organization, said that the country has been “devastated.”

“We condemn the violence which took place in Haiti and resulted in the assassination,” Renaud said. “We denounce it and it should not have happened.”

“This is a divided nation, but we hope the interim government will be able to walk with everyone,” Renaud said. “The country is so devastated and has low resources, what we have we need to preserve. People should remain calm, that’s our appeal.”

Charlot Lucien, a longtime leader in Boston’s Haitian community who leads the Haitian Artists Assembly, called Moïse’s murder “an attack on the dignity of human life, a step backward on the road to democracy and a stain on the country's standing.”

“While I strongly disagreed with recent policies and decisions of this administration and contested its legitimity, I condemn in a heart beat any attempts on the lives of its representatives, the same way that I condenm and mourn recent killings of people in the slums of the capital over the past two years, or the recent assassination of two prominent journalists at the beginning of July,” said Lucien.

On Wednesday morning, a photograph that purported to show the bloodied body of the dead president was circulating among customers and passersby on Blue Hill Avenue. From boutiques to bakeries, expat vendors and customers passing through Mattapan Square lamented the sudden circumstances of Moïse’s killing and barter for snippets of rumors they may have missed.

Others exchanged whispers that First Lady Martine Moïse has also died— which is not the case. She was wounded but survived, according to the latest reports from reputable journalists who cover Haiti routinely.

Ketlie Paul, the owner of Keton Boutique in Mattapan Square, said she still doesn’t understand what political aim the assassination accomplished. She visited Port au Prince for two weeks in January and has long known of the region’s precarious politics, but, for the first time in decades, she fears for the safety of her nieces and nephews back home.

“We’ve been here so long, but we are Haitian, and whenever there is instability or problems of course we are concerned,” she said.

Paul, who has lived in the United States for 35 years, said she heard the news of the president’s assassination from a friend. Flooded with reports and concerned phone calls, the rest of her morning was a blur. She’s been waiting to sign for a UPS package since yesterday, but only remembers her indignation once the delivery man is halfway through her door.

“It’s sad, and it shouldn’t be this way. Killing someone doesn’t resolve anything. In fact, right now there is no permanent government and there's more uncertainty about the future of Haiti than before,” she said.

Material from Associated Press was used in this report.