Haiti-Puerto Rico

Mutual Aid: The Untold Stories of Haitian and Puerto Rican Solidarity

The Caribbean has a long history of natural disasters and tragedy resulting from it as expected from a region prone to hurricanes and earthquakes. However, there is a degree of solidarity between these islands despite national borders, linguistic and cultural differences. In times of disaster befalling one nation, the peoples of these islands help each other despite our differences. One of these is Puerto Rico and Haiti as both share a history in this regard.

On January 12th 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti only 16 miles west of Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital. As one of the many humanitarian relief efforts at the time, the Puerto Rican community had organized a humanitarian relief effort consisting of food, water, medical supplies, generators and sundries, which resulted in what was called the “Barcaza de Esperanza” or the “Barge of Hope” in English.

Daniel Marcano, one of the dock workers who volunteered to load another barge of supplies, had told CNN at the time: “God, he has a purpose for us. If we do this for Haiti, Puerto Rico will be blessed.”  There would be a second “Barge of Hope” after hurricane Matthew would hit Haiti as well.

Though information on aid to Puerto Rico from Haiti appears to be few, there are still those who have aided Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, such as a Haitian volunteer from Greenheart who helped them in their reconstruction of their sustainable forestry project. There is also a group of Haitian pleneros which composed a plena –a music genre native to Puerto Rico– dedicated to Puerto Ricans seeking strength to move past the painful experience and to help each other recover as a community.

Haiti now finds itself in a new phase of its crisis as violence and instability wreck havoc across the country. Gang warfare has broken out, with 80% of Port-au-Prince controlled by gangs. One in five Haitian families are at risk of hunger, and much of the youth have no jobs, education or hope for the future.

One of those communities aiding Haiti in this crisis is located in Puerto Rico. In an almost poetic fashion, the historic Catholic church “Iglesia San Mateo de Cangrejos” located in San Juan opened their doors to Haitian refugees escaping the crisis; this church used to be the church that welcomed freed or runaway slaves.

At the head of this is a Haitian-borne priest, Father Olin Pierre-Louis, who helps them adjust to life in Puerto Rico. According to the Miami Herald, Father Pierre-Louis told them, “A Black woman who died eight years ago, at 106 years old, and whose whole family lives here, told me that it is not a coincidence that I came here.”

However, he has noticed a larger uptick in Haitian arrivals that he hadn’t seen in years. This increase is a departure from previous years, as a growing number of Haitian migrants come to Puerto Rico to escape the current crisis.

With violence widespread, Haitians make the voyage to the neighboring Dominican Republic or the longer voyage to Puerto Rico in search of a better life. On the way to Puerto Rico, smugglers leave from the Dominican Republic towards Mona Island and drop them off there, where they are often told that they have reached Puerto Rico.

However, Isla de Mona is an uninhabited island, as are the islands of Desecheo and Monito. As stated by Al Jazeera, “From October 2021 to March [2024], 571 Haitians and 252 people from the Dominican Republic were detained in waters around Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, according to US Customs and Border Protection. Of the Haitians, 348 landed on Mona Island and were rescued.”

The Haitian diaspora in the United States call for American aid but are suspicious of American unilateral intervention. They also call for fairer treatment for Haitian nationals seeking asylum or emigration to the United States. Some are not hopeful as funds for the Kenya-led multinational peacekeeping as funds were withheld in Congress as debates ensued over the operation’s logistics, length, and goals. 

Despite the holdup from Congress, the Biden administration approved a $60 million military assistance package to Haiti, which has been met with criticism from lawmakers. From an international perspective, it is still important for people in the Western Hemisphere to aid and support Haiti in this crisis in order to try to bring the much-needed stability desperately longed for in the country. Though not directly involved via boots on the ground, the United States has an important role to play and it is one that has to be done right.

Though Haiti is a country which has had a troubled history for much of its existence, the international community should nonetheless strive to aid the country in these dire and chaotic times. No people should be fated to a future fraught with uncertainty and violence. Readers in the continental United States are encouraged to contact their representatives in Congress and show their support for Haitian aid as well as a new foreign policy towards Haiti, especially one that aims to bring the needed political stability and economic prosperity in order to make a safer and more stable Caribbean.

 


Derek Roldan | Latin American Correspondent

Derek Roldan Torres is a Puerto Rican senior student who is currently studying at the University of New Haven, pursuing an International Affairs degree. Through his research and writing, he wishes to bring to attention the political issues the Caribbean and Southern Cone currently faces and the stories it holds. Through the Caribbean, Cuba tends to dominate the American news cycle while some stories in Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and etc. go relatively underreported by comparison. Through the Southern Cone, the region proves to be an especially important battleground as its economic importance increases. In reporting and researching these regions, he hopes to increase the understanding of these regions and their importance to the United States and the wider world to an English-speaking audience.