Garry Pierre-Pierre was asleep at his home in New York when he got the call from a reporter in Haiti that Haitian President Jovenel Moïse had been assassinated.
“It took me a minute to process the information because I did not see that coming,’’ said Pierre-Pierre, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who founded the Haitian Times after leaving the New York Times in 1999. “We know that Haiti is a very volatile place, but we haven’t assassinated a sitting president since 1915.”
Pierre-Pierre, who joined FIU faculty and members of the Haitian community for a conversation on Haiti last week, said there were many questions still to be answered.
“The killing of a sitting president is not a small thing,’’ he said. “This is a defining moment for us, for Haiti.”
As the world watches the turmoil unfold, organizers of Reflections on Haiti at FIU said it was important to provide a more nuanced perspective of the situation than what might be seen on cable news.
“We’re looking forward to a conversation that will help add layers to what has been in the news and the typical knee-jerk reaction in the U.S. and elsewhere to Haiti,’’ said Chantalle Verna, an associate professor of history and international relations at FIU who moderated the event. “There are a lot of misperceptions about Haiti that are really counterproductive.”
Though unexpected, the assassination was not entirely shocking given recent events, said Nadève Ménard, professor of literature at the State University of Haiti and a visiting scholar of Haitian Studies at FIU’s Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center (LACC).
“We have seen unprecedented events, armed gangs parading in the streets, waves of kidnappings and murders, for weeks, months and years now,’’ said Ménard, who is based in Haiti. “From the perspective of one who is living in Haiti and is living through all of this, it seems like this is what we were headed toward.”
She cautioned that it was important not to cast Haiti as a violent nation or Haitians as more violent than others.
“I do not think we can claim that Haitians have some kind of privileged relationship to violence or that a cycle of violence is inherently or exclusively Haitian,’’ she explained. There are many individuals and organizations in Haiti who are working hard toward a better future, she added.
“We have seen solidarity movements over the past few years and marches where young people are getting involved, and I see that as encouraging,’’ she said. “People are not indifferent to the violence. This is not how we want to live.”
The event was the first in a series of events on Haiti being presented by LACC as part of its Haitian Studies Program of Excellence and co-sponsored by the Dorothea Green Lecture Series at the Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs.
“When this tragic news broke, I knew we had a special obligation to go beyond the shocking headlines and address this pivotal moment responsibly, with a level of sensitivity and respect owed to Haitians across the globe,’’ said Liesl Picard, associate director of LACC. “The best way to do that was to work closely with our Haitian colleagues, amplify their voices and share their informed and diverse perspectives. We need to hear about Haiti from Haitians. I hope many others follow suit.”
Counteracting the rampant speculation and misinformation on social media is important as well, said Constantin Chèry, an independent journalist and an assistant principal in Miami Dade County Public Schools.
“There are so many questions to be answered and there is a lot of shock for everybody,’’ he said. “It’s an international crisis, and we have to get to the bottom of what happened.”
Calls for international intervention – including from the United States – have to be considered carefully, the panelists noted. Any outside intervention must be coordinated with organizations on the ground in Haiti to be effective.
In the end, Haitians must decide what is best for Haiti, they said.
“It is up to us,’’ Pierre-Pierre said. “I’m tired of having these intellectual conversations about what we want Haiti to be. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get going.’’
Luis Guillermo Solis, former president of Costa Rica and the interim director of LACC, said he was “moved and impacted” by the testimony given during the event.
“These observers enriched a discussion that can’t be successful without a leading role and active participation by key representatives from Haitian society at large,’’ he said.