The tens of thousands of Haitians and Haitian Americans living here in Massachusetts have already lived through a lot of difficult history before President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated. Haiti has a tragically long history of political violence and instability on top of the natural disasters that have devastated the country in years past. There's also a long history of outside intervention in the country, too often in ways that have not helped the people of Haiti. Arun Rath spoke with Alix Cantave on GBH's All Things Considered Thursday, who's a program officer at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the former associate director of the Trotter Institute at UMass Boston. The transcript below has been lightly edited for clarity.

Arun Rath: First off, we're watching all these news reports with a lot of intrigue, a lot of confusion, frankly, for the Haitian people who are on the ground, you know, living there. What do they know about what's going on? What's their experience?

Alix Cantave: I was in the court this morning with a few colleagues at the foundation I work with in Haiti and just asking them about how they're doing. They're just as confused about the situation as we are. They're not getting enough information. There's a lot of suspicions about what's going on, a lot of suspicion, but also a lot of different theories. So, they are looking for information and clarity about what's going on as well.

One thing that's clear about folks in Haiti, it's the need for justice for the family of the president, for the country. And I think Edwidge Danticat, in his article that came out in The New Yorker, made that very clear. There is a need for justice in terms of what's going on, but there is also a need for justice for the people who suffered during President Moïse's rule. So people are looking for information and clarity.

Rath: And for people in Haiti, where do they get their information? What do they turn to for news?

Cantave: I think they tune into the media. They tune in to the international media, social media, what's happening in social media, local Haitian media. I think there's a search right now for clarity and information.

Rath: And I know that any time you have any kind of expat community, especially in this day and age, there's a lot of back and forth. Obviously, we have a huge Haitian community here in Massachusetts — in the Greater Boston area — Haitians and Haitian Americans. I'm guessing that the phone calls like you're having with your colleagues and relatives is something where you're being repeated a lot across our state.

Cantave: It's happening a lot. And I think us, Haitian Americans and Haitians in Boston, we've got to be careful about information we’re receiving, how we're processing the information, and there's so many different theories and speculation as to what happened. And the truth is, Arun, I don't know for sure — if ever — what exactly happened. There's so many different players, so many actors involved. We just have to process and filter the information that we receive and be careful not to react too quickly.

Rath: There's been calls from within Haiti for assistance from the outside and particularly from the United States, but as you well know, there is a fraught history of the U.S. getting involved in Haiti and U.S. relations with Haiti. Biggest one in my mind — this is going back practically 30 years now — was the refugee crisis, which I know about from all my trips to Guantanamo, having seen where they formerly kept Haitian refugees in Guantanamo. With that kind of troubled history, how are Haitians both here and in Haiti — what is the feeling towards the United States and the possibility of the United States involvement?

Cantave: I think the feeling within our state is not good, right? It's not good because of, just what you shared, Arun, not just in the past 30 years but even before that, right? Since the 1950s, in the U.S. occupation of Haiti, and then so on. I do think this, what's happening now, is an opportunity. It's an opportunity to rethink U.S.'s relationship with Haiti, as it is an opportunity to rethink social political discourse in Haiti itself. It's a time to reflect and to really think about: what is it that we can do different? Unlike many of my compatriots, friends and even family, it is a reality — Haiti is part of a global geopolitical reality. That's not going to change. I think the key question for us is, what is the role that — the, just, geopolitical reality in key partners like the U.S. — need to play in Haiti? This is a time to reflect on that relationship, and how can we come up with a strategy, with ideas, that will really benefit the Haitian people? In ways that the system — in terms of the political, economic, social structure — have not done that before.

I think this is an opportunity to think about: how do we strengthen local institutions? Both civil society institutions, as well as government institutions. To really serve the benefit in the interests of the majority of the Haitian people. I think that's where we are, I think there's an opportunity for it and I do hope that — and I'm sure friends and colleagues in the Boston area would agree — this is a time to reflect and to see: how can we put the country on a different path, a path towards social, political and economic development? And we need — the country needs — strategic alliances to get there, but not the kind of relationship we had in the past.

Rath: Right. And not to dwell on that, but talking about that relationship and how things might be different, I mean, people have said — with some weight to the argument — that U.S. policy towards Haiti has been, frankly, racist. I mean, thinking back again to the refugee situation in the late '80s and '90s, you know, it was Bill Barr, who was in George H.W. Bush's Justice Department, arguing before the Supreme Court that Haitian refugees basically didn't have rights at that time. And then again, obviously, we saw him in the Trump administration more recently. Now we do have a different president, a completely different approach, one might think, to policy. Do you have a sense yet of how things might be different now?

Cantave: You know, we had a meeting at the foundation in May, all of our grantees working in Haiti. And Michèle Pierre-Louis, who's the former prime minister of Haiti, said something really meaningful. What she said was that, Haiti was the first country to affirm that Black lives matter. It has been paying the cost ever since, right? And I think that's very significant. And this is something that we all need to reflect on because Haiti is not a poor country, it's an impoverished country. And part of the impoverishment has to do with this notion that Haiti had the audacity to end slavery, to end colonization and to affirm that Black Lives Matter.

And I do think there's a unique opportunity for the Biden administration to really reconsider the U.S. relationship with Haiti and to really break from the past. Because when you look at U.S. relationship's with Haiti, I think you are absolutely right, it wasn't that long ago that, you know, the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee from the South — I'm trying to remember his name [Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina] — really just had this animosity toward Haiti. This was in the '80s. It wasn't that long ago. So, I think the Biden administration has an opportunity to really rethink and to put U.S.-Haiti relationship on a different path.

Rath: Alix, it's been really fascinating speaking with you, and powerful to think about, about history in that way, in this context. Thank you so much.

Cantave: Thank you.

Alix Cantave is the program officer, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the former associate director of the Trotter Institute at UMass Boston.