In the last few days, the gang violence that has become a way of life in Haiti has worsened. With gangs controlling the streets, people are being prevented from leaving their homes. Haitians have lost access to food and water, schools are closed, and the UN estimates nearly 5 million people in the country are experiencing food insecurity. On Friday, the UN Security Council unanimously passed a resolution, proposed by the U.S. and Mexico, to set up a “sanctions regime” to target gangs in Haiti.
Ariel Henry, Haiti’s unelected prime minister, came to power in July 2021 after President Jovenel Moïse’s assassination, with support from the U.S. and other foreign powers. On October 9, Henry called for foreign military intervention to help him curtail the gangs. Since then, the U.S. and Canada have sent armored vehicles and other military supplies to Haiti. However, many Haitians in Haiti and among the diaspora have protested this request, given the U.S.’s and UN’s track records of repeated military occupations since Haiti’s independence in 1804 (1915-1934; 1994-2000; 2004-2017), which have hurt Haiti and its people. Demonstrators have protested for weeks against Henry’s government over unemployment, ongoing violence and the high price of gas.
Even before Moïse’s assassination last year, Haiti was in a state of chaos. Haitians were already suffering due to corruption, gang violence, kidnappings, disregard for the rule of law and more than two centuries of exploitation by the close-knit 1 percent of elites who have long controlled the country’s economy — including through foreign meddling under the guise of help. During the last few weeks and months, however, the situation has been exacerbated. The prices of fuel and food are now extremely high, and gang leaders directly connected to business and political elites are running Haiti, including blocking major ports, thereby preventing basic supplies from entering the country. As if that were not bad enough, cholera is spreading.
Haiti is now in a state that could be called a civil war between civil society and the following groups: the countless number of gangs in the streets; the elites who are mainly parasites sucking the blood of average people yet who are supported by the U.S. and other powerful countries, including France and Canada; and the government. The gangs are being armed by both Haitian elites and foreigners who are the masterminds behind the scenes. These gangs are connected to international actors through money laundering, drugs and guns. Haiti does not produce guns. How is it that so many guns are able to enter the country, to the point that there are armies of gangs?
The English language lacks words to explain this horrific and complex situation. Haitian Creole, a language that emerged from revolution, contains more apt terms: Peyi lòk or peyi bloke refers to a movement to prevent the country from functioning on all levels. Sometimes it refers to a group of gangs who may be supported by the oligarchy (whether the government, the elite or both) or by a political opposition group. The intention of creating peyi lòk is to terrorize the population and prevent them from living. Peyi lòk contributes to a humanitarian crisis by undermining the economy. Schools are closed, government revenues are diminished, and it can be impossible to pay already underpaid civil servants.
I have colleagues who teach at the state university in Haiti who have not been paid for months. Meanwhile, already strained, understaffed, undersupplied hospitals have cut back on services due to the lack of fuel. Doctors are not able to go to work, pregnant people cannot reach hospitals to receive prenatal care, and children, some of whom only get a meal at school, are further malnourished. Banks and supermarkets have had to limit their hours. The situation also fosters gender-based violence as gang members use rape as a weapon.
Meanwhile, the leader of one of the largest gangs, former police officer Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier of the “G9 Family and Allies” gang, claims that “his gang is more of a political community than an organized crime group,” and argues, “The gang in this country is not those men with guns you can see here. The real gangs are the men in suits. The real gangs are the officials in the national palace, the real gangs are the members of the opposition.” Despite this rhetoric, Cherizier and his followers behave like any other gang, orchestrating death and terror in an effort to win power. He is currently holding the nation’s largest fuel terminal hostage, demanding the resignation of acting Prime Minister Ariel Henry and $50 million in ransom.
Thus, Haiti is being annihilated as a result of injustice, inhumanity, greed and the unwillingness of the elites to share power. The majority of Haitians are not members of any gang, nor tied to elites. They want to be able to live their lives in peace.
Following Moïse’s assassination, the U.S. and other so-called “friends” of Haiti have helped Henry stay in power. This support for his government is enough to keep him in power because the U.S. and the Core Group — consisting of ambassadors from Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, the European Union and the U.S., and representatives from the UN and the Organization of American States — are the ones calling the shots in Haiti. Despite allegations of corruption and economic mismanagement committed by members of Henry’s government, and Henry’s implication in Moïse’s assassination, the U.S. has continued to prop up his government.
And now Henry’s corrupt, illegal, immoral government has asked for help from the very colonizers who occupied Haiti, because he is both unable and unwilling to listen to the people, who want real democracy. Henry has completely refused a proposal from a coalition of civil society organizations to find a Haitian solution to the multiple crises that have been devastating the country for years and have worsened over the past 15 months. The coalition has a transition plan that includes full involvement of Haitians from all walks of life in creating a path toward democracy through negotiations, dialogue and political accountability. The plan includes proposals for dealing with the gang situation, which has disrupted the country’s economy at all levels. On October 17, the date that commemorates the assassination of independent Haiti’s first emperor, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, thousands of Haitians marched in various cities, including the capital of Port-au-Prince, Cap-Haïtien and Les Cayes, to protest the possibility of yet another foreign intervention. Dessalines must be turning over in his grave!
These events cannot be separated from Haiti’s history as a colony of France. The nation has been crushed by the debt that France forced it to pay after it obtained its independence in 1804 and abolished slavery. And this was precisely what France hoped to achieve. When the U.S. government refused to recognize Haiti’s independence, this — what we see in Haiti today — was, in fact, precisely what it hoped would happen.
When the U.S. occupied Haiti in 1915 — on the pretense of helping to create stability — it instituted forced labor, generated more violence and further destabilized the country. This was a crucial turning point that would determine future state institutions and patterns of U.S. control of Haiti throughout the rest of the 20th and 21st centuries, resulting in ongoing occupations. Now, we have neoliberal, neocolonial, capitalist, patriarchal vultures both within and outside of Haiti, those Haitians and non-Haitians alike who arm gang members in order to maintain control and destroy the people.
The UN, the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) and the Core Group have exerted control behind the scenes under the guise of support, diplomacy and helping to maintain stability in Haiti. In fact, their presence only exacerbates the challenges faced by the Haitian people. The UN has blatantly contributed to gender-based violence and poverty by refusing to deal with the so-called Petit MINUSTAH, hundreds of Haitian children born of sexual assaults by foreign UN peacekeepers on Haitians. It has refused to take real responsibility and pay reparations for the cholera outbreak tied to the UN peacekeeping mission, a tragedy that killed over 10,000 Haitians. The UN has offered only empty apologies.
Foreign intervention is dangerous because it is generally one-sided. When the U.S., Canada and other members of the Core Group support the power of an illegitimate government instead of the will of the people, Haiti and Haitians are rendered invisible in the eyes of the world. Haitian Creole has another word for this phenomenon: dedoublaj. A concept deeply rooted in Haitian history, dedoublaj refers to the idea of the milat elite (a Haitian creole term generally referring to light-skinned Haitians who hold the country’s wealth and power) who used dark-skinned presidents as figureheads. It is rumored in Haiti that Jovenel Moïse was killed in part because he refused to accept the role he was assigned in the dedoublaj.
The international community is playing the politics of dedoublaj; they say they want to support Haiti, but that support comes with many strings attached. What they actually want is to support the leaders who seek to exploit Haiti.
Former U.S. Special Envoy to Haiti Daniel Foote, who resigned from his post last year over U.S. deportation policies, has been blunt about U.S. foreign policy in Haiti. “American foreign policy still believes subconsciously that Haiti is a bunch of dumb Black people who can’t organize themselves and we need to tell them what to do or it’s going to get really bad,” Foote told The New York Times. “But the internationals have messed Haiti up every time we have intervened. It is time to give the Haitians a chance. What’s the worst that can happen? They make it worse than we have?”
In fact, Haitian civil society groups have created coalitions and proposed concrete steps to move forward. But the international community, Haiti’s so-called “friends,” have not recognized these efforts. During President Moïse’s last year and a half, the “Commission for the Search for a Haitian Solution to the Crisis,” composed of civil society organizations and political parties, was working on a national proposal. Weeks after Moïse’s death the commission produced the August 2021 Montana Accord, which proposed a transition period that would give Haiti time to organize elections. Likewise, the recent Manifesto for an Inclusive Dialogue Toward a Peaceful Transition to a Democratic and Prosperous Haitian Society, created by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the watchdog organization Observatoire Citoyen de l’Action des Pouvoirs Publics en Haiti (“Citizen Observatory for Action by Public Authorities in Haiti” or OCAPH), offers practical solutions that Haitians have generated to resolve the crisis. (The involvement of NED in supporting the Manifesto has drawn some scrutiny due to the group’s ties to U.S. interests, but this does not undercut the fact that many Haitian civil society groups are involved with the Manifesto and backing its recommendations.)
On the one hand, the international community is encouraging different political factions to find a national consensus to benefit the country, while on the other hand it is refusing to endorse the Montana Accord or the Manifesto. Without foreign nations’ support for concrete solutions, their pledges to allow Haitians living in Haiti to find a Haitian solution to the crisis are empty rhetoric.
If the international community respectfully, openly and honestly supported these proposals from Haitian civil society with no strings attached, Haitians in Haiti and the diaspora (which economically contributes to over half of the country’s GNP through remittances) could begin a national dialogue to address this layered crisis that includes security, political, economic and climate issues.
International interventions and occupations have never fostered stability in Haiti. Why not try something else? Change can only come if Haiti is able to decide for itself what happens next. This vision for the future must come from the Haitian people, and cannot be imposed by outsiders who do not understand Haiti’s culture, language or history, and are enmeshed in their own colonial, imperial histories.
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