By J.D. Gallop and Emily Walker Florida Today
After years of monitoring social and economic turmoil in Haiti, members of Palm Bay’s small but influential Haitian community were jolted Wednesday by news that the nation’s president was assassinated.
“It’s very unfortunate and saddens my heart,” said Donny Felix, Palm Bay City Councilmember and president of the Haitian American Association of Brevard.
Felix, who was born in the nation’s capital, Port Au Prince, said he received a call about the deadly attack about 5:30 a.m. Wednesday.
“Haiti has been going through so much, the political unrest, economic trouble…now we are concerned about the potential for more instability.”
Haiti’s president, Jovenel Moïse was assassinated early Wednesday in his private residence by gunmen speaking English and Spanish, according to government officials. Other reports said that the assassins claimed to be with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the Miami Herald reported.
Moïse’s wife was also shot and wounded during the attack, officials reported.
About 5,000 to 7,000 residents in Palm Bay have connections to Haiti, Felix said. The city, which has 12 Haitian congregations and a number of businesses run by Haitian Americans, also fosters economic ties with the Caribbean nation.
Angelica Jean, a cook at the Divine Grace Caribbean Cuisine off Emerson Drive in Palm Bay, came to the U.S. from Haiti a few years ago. She said the president was “more like family” than a president.
“Haiti has been going through a lot of things recently,” she said. “It’s very difficult, it’s very hard. Haiti’s suffering from the situation that happened.”
Luiss Jean-Baptiste, a barber at Untouchable Barber Shop next door to the restaurant, said he was shocked when he heard the news Wednesday morning.
“I think it’s hitting hard for every Haitian,” he said.
Jean-Baptiste is from the Bahamas, where his parents immigrated from Haiti.
Last month during Caribbean Heritage month in Palm Bay, Haiti’s general counsel in Orlando spoke at a city-sponsored panel about developing further ties with the nation of 11 million people.
Jefferson Clinton Blaise, a 22-year-old entrepreneur and community activist born and raised in Haiti before moving to the U.S. at age 8, said the assassination left him stunned. The political attack also raises a lot of questions about the immediate future for a nation rich in resources but struggling to uplift its poorer citizens.
”I had a dear friend in Haiti call me to tell me what happened. It really hurts my heart,” the Palm Bay resident and Eastern Florida State College student said.
“But now the question is who is the next person who will take over,” said Blaise of the precarious political situation facing the nation. “The people have lost hope but Haiti must go on.”