Haiti: the forgotten country on the brink of civil war 

Gaia Durante Mangoni is a third-year International Relations student at King’s College London. Her areas of interest lie in humanitarian aid provided to conflict-affected regions, post-conflict peacekeeping in politically and economically unstable countries, and the relevance of neutral humanitarian organisations. 

Haiti is on the verge of collapse. The Caribbean country is sinking into a state of mayhem that is often compared to the one that followed the disastrous earthquake in 2010. The current crisis is multifaceted: the dramatic political, institutional, social, economic, health, humanitarian, and food emergency, cannot be left unnoticed. Yet, this chaos has not appeared out of the blue. It is indeed a protracted situation of internal political vacuum and instability, economic collapse, and social unrest. The assassination of former president Jovenel Moïse in July 2021, a Haitian entrepreneur who led the country from 2017 to 2021, was the cherry on top of an already turbulent situation. 

On September 11th, the current Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who rules by decree and has therefore not been elected by the people (there haven’t been elections in Haiti since 2016), announced an increase in fuel prices. This led to a spike in the price of gasoline, diesel and kerosene, sparking protests, raids, and violence – bringing turmoil to Port-au-Prince and other cities. The protagonists of this widespread violence are gangs, such as the so-called G9 Family and Allies, which now control vast territories, occupy the major cities and supervise strategic communication links (roads especially). The main objective of these factions is the accumulation of wealth, which accounts for extreme poverty affecting a growing number of people. 

Gangs are a historical phenomenon in Haiti. However, their capacity to buy weapons is relatively recent. In fact, the power and influence of these rebel groups have increased exponentially since their intensified use of illicitly imported weapons, mostly coming from the US. These weapons then fall into the hands of unprofessional youth and children, who due to the lack of education opportunities in the country, have no option but to join these criminal groups to earn a living. The actions of these gangs include rapes, kidnappings, robberies, lighting fires in the streets and building barricades to capture further strategic areas. It truly is a war of conquest. After the PM’s announcement, armed gangs seized control of the main coastal infrastructures and the country’s largest fuel terminal in Varreux, consequently blocking the distribution of fuel and further increasing its costs. By controlling the fuel terminal in Varreux they are essentially able to hold the country ‘hostage’ and deprive it of oil. In a country where almost everything works with power generators, the shortage of oil is a severe restriction to most activities. Without generators, hospitals, healthcare centres, schools, and offices are shut down. 

Moreover, the number of internally displaced people is impressive, with citizens fleeing from one neighbourhood (or rather a slum) to another, seeking refuge in supposedly less violent parts of the capital. Without gasoline, these refugees remain trapped in their shacks, unable to use cars to escape.

The lack of drinking water must not be omitted either. It has become a luxury product accessible only to those who can afford it. Most of the inhabitants drink once or, if lucky, twice a day. This should be added to and is very much accountable for, the wave of cholera affecting the country, a painful deja-vu if we recall the same pandemic that cost 10,000 lives between 2010 and 2019. Violence and dehydration are two of the main causes of people’s deaths. Corpses are left in the middle of garbage dumps, and the hygiene conditions in which people live are evermore critical. Infections and lack of water – the perfect scenario for the appearance and rapid spread of the Vibrio cholerae bacterium, are adding fuel to the fire. 

Haiti, meaning the “land of high mountains” in Taíno, has also had to deal with natural calamities, given its high mountains located exactly above the underlying San Andreas fault, which causes devastating earthquakes. The island is also significantly exposed to other atmospheric phenomena, such as hurricanes. These disasters harshly damage agriculture and impede Haiti from having sufficient agricultural production. It is a paradox that this Republic is among the countries most affected by food insecurity, despite its abundant rural resources. Its current inability to feed itself autonomously accounts for its need to import most of its food products from abroad.

The greatest fear now is the real and looming threat of the situation crumbling into an out-and-out civil war. Such a combination of economic, social and political vulnerabilities has plunged the country into profound institutional anarchy, a perfectly Hobbesian state of nature. This havoc has brought PM Henry to ask for the support of the international community, particularly for the delivery of humanitarian aid and some form of security through the deployment of “specialized armed forces”. The option of a UN Peacekeeping Mission has been rejected in the first place by the population, given the highly controversial presence of MINUSTAH (Mission des Nations Unies pour la stabilisation en Haïti) from 2004 to 2017. This operation was responsible for the unwitting transmission of cholera in the country in 2010, and the ‘blue helmets’ were at the heart of a vast scandal of sexual exploitation in which they turned out to be the perpetrators. Haitians thus fear that an intervention from outside would once again penalise their country and would open the door to an imposed system of governance. They would rather prefer the reinforcement of local Haitian National Police units, which are now the most exposed to gang attacks. 

The international community has merely responded by sanctioning one of the most influential gang leaders, Jimmy Cherizier, and the UN has called for the necessity of sending an international action force, which still has to land on the island. 

This massacre is being carried out in the utmost silence of the media, abandoning this country in oblivion. The world seems to have forgotten that once the basic conditions for human dignity and respect are missing anywhere on earth, then the dignity of all humanity is jeopardised.

Image credit: https://edition.cnn.com/2022/09/12/americas/haiti-gas-hike-intl-latam/index.html 

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