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‘Stay home, stay safe:’ Haitian Americans fret for relatives trapped by turmoil | Reuters

At Radio Soleil, the usual playlist of pulsing Haitian ‘compas’ dance music has been replaced this week with more somber tunes and political analysis as listeners across the diaspora reel from the shock of Haiti President Jovenel Moise’s assassination. Gracieuse Jean, 40, pauses while speaking to a reporter in the Little Haiti neighborhood of Miami, Florida, U.S., July 8, 2021. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Broadcasting from the station’s small Brooklyn storefront, director Ricot Dupuy has fielded calls suggesting dark theories about the assassins or sharing fears for a motherland becoming further disarrayed.

Many of Dupuy’s listeners were among the waves of Haitians who fled a country long plagued by the legacy of colonialism, poverty, coups and catastrophic earthquakes. They now live in apartment buildings lining the blocks around the radio station in Brooklyn’s Flatbush neighborhood or in Miami’s Little Haiti, home to the largest diaspora communities outside the Caribbean.

After Moise was shot dead early Wednesday, they have fretted over the WhatsApp text chats and audio memos they get from relatives back in Haiti who describe being cooped up in their homes as the nation is now all but locked down here.

Dupuy, who speaks in Haitian Creole with dabs of English on air, said his revised programming since Moise’s killing was meant “to reflect the sad reality of the country, not necessarily to shed tears over his death.”

“A lot of Haitians are happy that he’s gone, but they’re not rejoicing over his death because we don’t know who killed him,” said Dupuy, who shares the views of some Haitians that Moise was corrupt and autocratic.

Haitian police have killed four people suspected of carrying out the assassination and arrested six more, including two Haitian Americans, the elections minister said on Thursday. The motive is still unclear.

A state of emergency has been declared and the airport shut, while the neighboring Dominican Republic has closed its border.

In interviews on Thursday, many Haitian Americans said the turmoil left them feeling more helpless than ever for the troubled country, able to offer little more than prayers.

Rebeca Lafond, the constituent affairs director for a New York legislative district that includes Brooklyn’s Little Haiti, said she had watched her mother try to make contact with relatives back in Port-au-Prince while her father listened to Creole radio for news from back home.

“My mom is thinking, ‘Maybe I should send money?’” said Lafond, 23, who emigrated to the United States when she was 3. “But if you send money over there, they can’t leave their homes to get the money anyway because of everything that’s happening.” PLANS UPENDED

For Francois Pierre-Louis, a political science professor at New York’s Queens College, months of advocacy now seem threatened. He has been working through his religious aid group Faith in Action to get the U.S. government to send COVID-19 vaccines to his native Haiti, one of the few countries that have not begun vaccinating residents.

On Tuesday, his colleague received a voicemail from the White House confirming the United States would send a small shipment of vaccines to Haiti next week. The impact of the assassination on the shipment is unclear, Pierre-Louis said.

He signed a letter to the White House on Thursday stressing urgency.

“We have to move fast,” he said. “Now there’s a big vacuum.”

Moise’s death has generated confusion about who is the next legitimate head of state. The interim prime minister in Haiti has taken over the leadership role for now but not everyone agrees he should be in charge.

Before the assassination, the family of Romy Vilsaint - who died in May at age 12 - was trying to secure an emergency waiver through the U.S. State Department that would allow his mother and aunt to travel from Haiti to attend his funeral in Brooklyn on Saturday.

Kate Chaltain, an immigration lawyer helping the family, said the chaos had made a tricky situation even more so.

“Even if they were able to expedite it immediately, I don’t really know how they’d be able to get the necessary documents to his mom and his aunt. And even if they did if they would actually be able to get out,” she said.

Standing outside her apartment in Miami’s Little Haiti, Gracieuse Jean, 40, said it scared her that she was still waiting to hear from her brother and three sisters back in Cap Haitien.

“I want my people to come and live here,” she said. “But even if they want to apply for a visa, they can’t even try. Port-au-Prince is closed. It’s completely locked down. The whole situation is crazy.”

Jean Derival, a taxi driver in Boston who left Haiti 17 years ago, said he checked in on Thursday with his brother, mother and father back in the Caribbean.

Rather than discuss what was happening, he said he simply told them: “Stay home, stay safe.” Reporting by Jonathan Allen and Joyce Philippe; Additional reporting by Francisco Alvarado in Miami and Jessica Resnick-Ault; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Rosalba O’Brien

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