Haitian musician Jean Jean-Pierre says most people he knows who live in Port-au-Prince avoid leaving their homes unless they need food or other essential supplies.
The reason? Violence. Murder. Gangs.
“When you do go out you are so aware of everything – a car behind you, a motorcycle behind you. You never know if a vehicle just wants to pass you, or pass you and force you to stop for a kidnapping because it happens so often,” said Jean-Pierre, 69.
“They catch you and demand $200,000. Where do I get $200,000 from?”
The Caribbean nation has long been in turmoil.
But over the last few years on every metric from territory controlled by gangs to kidnappings, from homicides to the number of police killed, from social unrest to economic conditions, the situation has deteriorated.
The recent chaos could complicate U.S. foreign policy on drug trafficking and immigration and a United Nations report released recently concludes that increasingly sophisticated weapons being smuggled into Haiti from the U.S. – and more specifically, from Florida – are adding to the chaos.
Why is Haiti such a mess?
Gangs now control much of the capital Port-au-Prince following President Jovenel Moïse’s 2021 assassination. His killing was orchestrated by a group of foreign mercenaries, mostly Colombians and a few Haitian-Americans, according to charges brought by the U.S. Justice Department. The gangs use commercial terrorism, sexual violence, massacres, extortion and kidnappings to accumulate power and fund their operations. Acting President Ariel Henry, a former neurosurgeon, has appealed for armed foreign intervention to help stabilize the country.
There are few signs it’s about to happen.
An estimated 200 gangs now hold sway in Haiti, around 100 in Port-au-Prince alone, according to the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, a Switzerland-based group. The U.N. says 60% of territory in the capital is controlled by gangs.
The U.S. repatriated more than 21,000 Haitians in 2022, according to data collected by the International Organization for Migration, a U.N. agency. They are being returned to a country where thousands have been displaced and murder is common.
The U.N. says kidnappings recorded by Haiti’s police in 2022 soared by 105%, to 1,359 victims, compared to the year earlier. Homicides were up 35%, to 2,183. Accounts of gangs using sexual violence to humiliate and consolidate power are proliferating. There are about 9,700 active-duty police officers in Haiti, but the U.N. says a “significant number of them” may in fact be members of gangs.
“Haiti is a failed state,” said Daniel Foote, a former U.S. envoy to Haiti who resigned from the role in September 2021. His resignation was driven in party by frustration over what he said was a “deeply flawed” U.S. policy toward the country, including an “inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees.”
The U.S. detained 7,175 Haitian migrants in 2022, a nearly 700% rise since 2019, according to data from the U.N.’s Office on Drugs and Crime.
Foote said that successive U.S. administrations have mostly looked at Haiti through a national security prism that focuses on immigration – in terms of how many Haitians are trying to get to U.S. soil, the so-called boat people. “What they don’t realize is that with the gangs in control – without a credible counterforce – a trafficking hub has been created right in the Caribbean. Drugs, arms, people – these are going through Haiti to the U.S. whether it’s via Haitian gangs or Mexican and Venezuelan ones.”
The Gangs of Haiti: Who’s in control?
Haiti: a timeline
Haiti’s history and development have been blighted by colonization, by foreign interventions, catastrophic natural disasters and disease epidemics, non-functioning political systems, organized crime and corruption.
SOURCES Haiti’s U.S. Embassy; BBC; Associated Press
Haiti in chaos as economy tanks and violence soars
Daily life has spun out of control since Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry announced a rise in fuel prices last month, after which protests erupted across a country already in the grips of an economic crisis. (Oct. 6)
Published 10:06 am UTC Mar. 11, 2023 Updated 10:06 am UTC Mar. 11, 2023