Haiti on course to spiral into chaos – University of Miami: News@theU

Violent gangs control the country, cholera is spreading, and there are shortages of water and food, University of Miami scholars point out.

Haiti appears to be in a state of anarchy. Politicians have been killed, cholera is spreading, and armed gangs terrorize people and control the entrance to the main port—severely limiting the flow of fuel and other goods. Water and food are scarce.

Since the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, the country has spiraled into constant political and economic instability, experts have declared. In the past months, thousands of Haitians have taken to the streets to protest the government of Prime Minister Ariel Henry because of crime and high prices.

Two journalists were the victims of gang violence when they were killed, and their bodies burned. Last month, yet another journalist was killed by police while covering a protest. Eric Jean Baptiste, a politician and member of a minority political party, also was killed on Oct. 28 in an apparent gang attack.

To stem the turmoil, Henry has called for an international military force to be dispatched to the island country to try to stabilize the situation. However, according to political experts, many Haitians are against that move, saying that Haiti’s situation has to be solved by Haitians.   

Louis Herns Marcelin, Haitian-born professor of social sciences at the University of Miami College of Arts and Sciences and founder of Interuniversity Institute for Research and Development (INURED) and Irwin Stotzky, professor of law in the School of Law, share their thoughts on the future of Haiti.

Haiti seems to be in a state of anarchy. How would you describe the current situation?

Marcelin: Haiti is not only on the verge of collapsing but most of Haiti’s institutions have collapsed, including the justice system, because of corruption, impunity, and gangs who have controlled the system since last July. They even control the Supreme Court of Haiti.

Politics have been highly contaminated by criminality and drug trafficking to gain power. The private sector has collapsed. Most business leaders have left the country and of those who remain, very few can survive. For example, just last Friday, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, along with the Government of Canada, designated Haitian nationals Joseph Lambert (a sitting president of the Senate in Haiti) and Youri Latortue (a former president of the Senate there)—pursuant to Executive Order 14059 of December 15, 2021—as “Foreign Persons Involved in the Global Illicit Drug Trade.”

OFAC designated Lambert and Latortue for having engaged in, or attempted to engage in, activities or transactions that have materially contributed to, or pose a significant risk of materially contributing to, the international proliferation of illicit drugs or their means of production. Lambert and Latortue are just the tip of the iceberg. Haitians are waiting for a longer list of individuals who are part of a corrupt and morally abhorrent political and business class in Haiti who bear the responsibility of the collapse of the state and society in the country.

One of the consequences of the crisis is the obliteration of the existing middle class.

Stotzky: It is a very critical situation. They have gangs, which are refusing to let oil and food into the country. There is cholera (which was originally brought in by United Nations troops from Nepal and caused 10,000 people to die and almost a million to contract it). The situation has deteriorated since the assassination of Moïse. They are facing food insecurity, lack of access to clean water, and cholera—and this has affected women and children.

Gangs have control and are blocking free movement in the country, particularly access to the ports. Can Haitian police control these groups?

Marcelin: Most of the police force is compromised by two things: they are overrun, and they have no firepower to confront the gangs. The corruption of most officers is rampant. Some of them are part of gangs and others tip off the gangs. Many officers have been killed so the police force has been neutralized.

Stotzky: Many members of the Haitian police are part of the gangs and others do not have the arms to face the gangs. There is a great deal of corruption among the police force. One of the reasons the gangs are so powerful is because the elite in Haiti had already cut a deal with them. They used to work for the elite as military protection.

Should an international military force be sent in to control the chaos?

Marcelin: Haiti has had international interventions. We have had more than 10 in the past 30 years.

Haiti’s history with international forces has always been disastrous. The last United Nations force that was there left Haiti with victims of sexual assault and the cholera disease that killed more than 10,000 and infected 800,000, according to the Ministry of Health in Haiti.

It is a pattern of amnesia. Violence and intervention have never solved any problems. When international forces come to Haiti, they support the elite and those in power. The government officials will try to position themselves to be candidates in the upcoming election. It is a Catch-22.

Haiti cannot respond to the problems it has now without some international technical and lethal assistance. That assistance needs to be framed with a time limit and specific objectives not just to support the police, but to vet the police force and create new forces and support those who have been vetted. That intervention needs to support what we, INURED, have on the ground— community-based initiatives. It should not be a military intervention. 

Stotzky: Foreign intervention has done nothing but hurt Haiti. So, the Haitians are opposed to that and with good reason. One thing that could be done is for the U.S. to lift the Title 42 restriction that allows for the deportation of Haitians who make it to the U.S. More than 30,000 Haitians have been repatriated during this crisis. They should receive protected status until things are under control. There is a group called the Montana group, which consists of organizations from all sectors of Haitian life, and they have interesting ideas as to what they as a people can do to solve this. Haitians do not want foreign intervention.

Can the gang problem be confronted?

Marcelin: Gangs are a serious security issue but to approach them you have to distinguish between those who are hardcore criminal gang members and those who are in gangs because that is the only way they can survive. Social programs that target the families of those youth and can provide them with some path to a more hopeful future will be extremely powerful in transforming those youth. The gangs are an iceberg. Haiti has not invested in their youth, and they have never been given a reason to hope. The youth are disillusioned.

Since there is no legitimate police force or political system, the gangs have evolved as a network of criminals. And they are connected to political leaders and the economic elite. Attacking Haiti’s problems requires both a top-down and bottom-up approach.

Do you have any hope for Haiti?

Marcelin: History has shown us that imposed solutions are ineffective and even destructive. This is a crisis of monumental proportions that requires a long-term, sustained effort is undertaken by Haitians themselves and supported by the international community.

Stotzky: I have hope for Haiti if they allow Haitians to come up with a solution. If not, I do not have hope.