Haitian community leaders in South Florida renew calls to aid country. ‘A frustration that is boiling inside.’

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The worsening crisis in Haiti has leaders in South Florida’s large Haitian American community alarmed and searching for solutions that never seem to come.

“Every day in Haiti people are being murdered, are being raped, killed. Houses, properties are being set ablaze in total impunity. This is what Haiti is living today,” Frandley Julien said Monday. “This is the most severe crisis Haiti has seen in more than 100 years.”

It’s so bad, Julien said, that every morning when he wakes up he immediately checks WhatsApp “to make sure that everybody is still alive.” His father lives in Haiti.

Julien, who regularly appears on Haitian radio and television, is a former prosecutor who practices law in North Miami Beach, which has a large Haitian American community.

“When the phone rings from Haiti, we hesitate before we pick up,” Julien said Monday in a video news conference, explaining that was not unique to him, but the “experience of everybody in the Haitian community.”

State Rep. Marie Woodson, D-Hollywood, who was born in Haiti and has relatives there, said people are going hungry because the gang-fueled violence is so pervasive they can’t leave their homes to get food.

Others have been thrown out of their homes by gangs, and forced to live on the street, she said.

“The situation in Haiti really weighs on my heart. It’s also deeply frustrating,” she said. “I feel helpless.” The U.S. and the rest of the international community, she added, “cannot afford to turn a blind eye to Haiti anymore.”

Julien and Woodson appeared with former U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a Democrat running against U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla.

It’s an issue that hits close to home for many in Florida where, Woodson estimated, the Haitian community numbers about 500,000, most of whom she said are first-generation Americans who, like her children, were born in the U.S.

Besides his family ties to Haiti, Julien sees the results in his practice as an immigration attorney. One client recently told him that “it’s better to be undocumented (in the United States) than dead (in Haiti),” Julien said.

Woodson called for compassion to people who flee Haiti and make it to Florida.

“These are human beings. Those are mothers, those are fathers. They are not fleeing Haiti just because you want to leave Haiti,” she said. “If it was your family or anybody else who were in this situation, you would use compassion, you would reach out and see how you can help instead of just standing by to send them back to what they are leaving.”

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Mucarsel-Powell immigrated from Ecuador to the U.S as a teenager, along with her mother and sisters. “I know exactly what it feels like to fear for the safety of your home country and for the family that you left behind.”

Even though Haiti is about 700 miles from South Florida, Mucarsel-Powell said “you’d think that it doesn’t even exist sometimes based on the way that our leaders have completely turned a deaf ear to the Haitian community.”

Mucarsel-Powell said the impact of the crisis extends beyond the Haitian community in the U.S. “The instability in Haiti not only is threatening the lives of its citizens, but it’s also posing a security risk to the United States.”

She called for federal humanitarian spending, U.S. government support for law enforcement in Haiti, and for the Organization of American States to organize joint support for Haitian people.

There’s some politics at play, as both parties have sought in recent years to build support among Haitian Americans who are citizens and can vote.

Mucarsel-Powell cited the widely reported practice of Haitian gangs buying weapons in Florida and smuggling them back to Haiti. She said Florida, with its Republican-controlled government, needs to make it more difficult for criminals from other countries to buy weapons in the state.

The Mucarsel-Powell camp criticized Gov. Ron DeSantis. And Scott, the Republican she hopes to unseat, used it to criticize President Joe Biden.

In an interview that aired Sunday on the WTVJ-Ch. 6’s “Impact” program, Scott said the situation in Haiti is Biden’s fault, though he didn’t explain how.

“It seems like everything Biden touches falls apart,” Scott said. “His foreign policy has completely failed us.”

Scott said he stands with the Haitian people, and praised Florida’s Haitian community, but didn’t directly answer a question about what actions he’d take.

“I think we need to understand what we can do to bring peace and stability and opportunity for the Haitians. We have a great Haitian community in Florida. I do everything I can to be helpful to them. But this is, this is just devastating what’s happened with these gangs, and the death and, and all this stuff. So we’ve got to look at this very seriously to see what we can do,” Scott said.

Anthony Man can be reached at aman@sunsentinel.com and can be found @browardpolitics on Bluesky, Threads, Facebook and Post.news.