Editorial: The Haitian Crisis
As the unipolar world collapses amidst a flurry of sanctions volleyed at each other by ‘opposing’ blocs of an increasingly multipolar world, the unanimously adopted UNSC resolution calling for the end of violence in Haiti and imposing sanctions on certain gang leaders was an example of an increasingly rare diplomatic event wherein members came together to act in the interest of the "greater good". While this resolution could aid in alleviating the crisis by limiting the resources available to Haitian gangs, the follow-up resolution that is currently being prepared by USA and Mexico which seeks to obtain UNSC approval to authorise a “non-UN international security assistance mission” to Haiti is less likely to succeed and could even be disastrous for Haitians. To understand why such drastic action is being considered, one first needs to understand the scale of the crisis in Haiti.
Haiti has witnessed recurring spells of violent anti-government protests since 2018. In August 2022, the latest iteration of these protests broke out in response to fuel shortages, gang violence and rampant inflation. The protestors demand a better quality of life and the resignation of Ariel Henry, the acting President of Haiti. Port-au-Prince, the nation’s capital and home to nearly 3 million of the nation’s 11.7 million citizens, has seen the worst of the aforementioned problems owing to the fact that gangs control over 60% of the city. When these gangs go head to head, residents of the localities where these conflicts occur are often killed or are forced to flee. In 2022 alone, two separate instances of gang-related conflict resulted in the deaths of over 450 Haitians. The gangs also consider kidnapping to be an important source of revenue which has resulted in around 755 kidnappings between January and September 2022. Human rights defenders in Haiti have observed that the police often deploys a strategy of non-interference when faced with inter-gang conflict and have argued that in addition to being outgunned by these gangs, the state shirks effective action because they are bonded by corruption. This corruption coupled with the general breakdown of the Haitian state owing to a succession of natural disasters and long-term socioeconomic crises has resulted in a situation where gangs are more powerful now than they ever were before. The G9 coalition of gangs led by Jimmy Cherizier has used this power to shut down the principal fuel terminal of Haiti, the Varreux fuel terminal, either directly via blockades or indirectly through turf wars near the terminal. These actions were responsible for the exacerbation of fuel shortages in the country which resulted in the suspension of transport facilities and difficulties in obtaining clean water. To compound this crisis, on October 2nd, Haitian officials declared that cholera had returned to the shores of Haiti. As the arrival of cholera coincided with Barbecue’s blockade which restricted the availability of potable water, it can be argued that the blockade is the reason why authorities have not been able to manage an epidemic that has already claimed 136 lives.
Both domestic and external actors have played a role in bringing about the present state of affairs in Haiti. The previous paragraph details how criminal gangs (the first set of domestic actors) have contributed to the breakdown of security in Haiti. These gangs are linked to the political fabric of the country in multiple ways. One such way is the propaganda strategy employed by some gangs wherein they portray themselves to be the champions of the people in an effort to justify their criminality. For example, the resignation of the unpopular Ariel Henry was one of the main demands made by the G9 coalition of gangs when blockading the Varreux fuel terminal. Besides this link, the second set of domestic actors – the political elite – also finds themselves bonded to the first via the more traditional links of corruption. However, this link between the two sets of domestic actors is tenuous as is made visible when politicians find themselves on the receiving end of gang violence. Therefore, Haitian criminal gangs can be characterised as violent entities that often co-opt politics and politicians in an effort to advance their own self-interest.
The political leadership of Haiti has exacerbated the crisis by clinging on to power even while lacking the legitimacy to do so in the eyes of the majority of Haitians. This illegitimacy is not limited to Henry’s government and includes that of his predecessor Jovenel Moise. Anti-government protests first broke out in 2018 in response to increases in fuel prices but they quickly mushroomed into larger anti-corruption protests when it was revealed that one of the reasons for the price hike was stolen state oil revenue. Moise’s legitimacy issues were compounded when he effectively dissolved Parliament and began to rule by decree in 2019. In 2021, he invited the ire of protestors when he argued that he had one more year of his presidential term remaining due to his late entry to office and would therefore not demit office until 2022. He was assassinated later that year by mercenaries. Henry, his replacement, was first selected to be the Prime Minister by Moise and then appointed as the President after Moise’s death. In other words, Henry has not been elected to his present office. One of his first actions was to fire the chief prosecutor investigating Moise’s assassination when he started looking into Henry’s possible role in the plot.
Both Henry and Moise have remained in power largely due to the support they enjoy from the CORE group which is an alliance headed by the USA and includes France, Canada, UN and OAS representatives. This is the first set of external actors who bear responsibility for the crisis. USA has regularly intervened in Haitian politics in order to install ruling dispensations that are more pliable to American interests. Both Moise and Henry enjoyed US support because they have demonstrated themselves to be aligned to American interests with Moise snapping ties with Venezuela on Trump’s orders while Henry currently supports the CORE group proposal to send foreign troops to Haiti. The second set of external actors are multilateral bodies like the IMF and the UN that ignited the fire. The IMF called on Haiti to cut fuel subsidies in order to avail a loan required to ensure that Haiti met its debt repayment commitments. This external pressure contributed to Moise cutting fuel subsidies. The UN is cheerleading the next invasion of Haiti even when it has refused to take responsibility for bringing cholera to the shores of Haiti for the first time in a century through an epidemic that killed over 9000 people.
Right now, there are 2 routes out of this crisis. The first is the strategy outlined in the US-Mexico UNSC resolution. Negotiations are currently underway among members of the CORE group to iron out any concerns that they may have about a possible intervention in Haiti. This strategy is premised on the belief that an intervention will bring short-term stability which can then be utilised to bring about lasting peace by stamping out the gangs, revamping economic policy and holding elections to shore up legitimacy. However, a glance at the failure of interventions in Haiti which were justified as efforts to restore stability should be enough to argue against this strategy. There is another option that is more broadly supported by Haitian society. The Montana Accord is the result of broad civil society discussions involving civic leaders, journalists, economists, entrepreneurs, and former political leaders. It envisions setting up a provisional government for a period of two years to bolster security so that free and fair elections involving a large section of Haitian society can be conducted. Most recent Haitian elections have been marred by low turnout due to insecurity which has added to the illegitimacy of many Haitian governments. Henry has refused to entertain this strategy highlighting the tenuous claim of there being no legitimate way to elect the interim heads of government. The US continues to maintain that Henry’s camp must be a part of any future solution even when he has limited legitimacy to occupy his present seat rather than fully supporting the Montana Accord.
The only way out of this crisis that does not kick the can down the road is one that enjoys the support of Haitians. Haitians are viscerally opposed to foreign military interventions but would appreciate external support in ushering in a legitimate democratic government. Therefore, it is incumbent on the CORE group to place the Montana Accord front and centre of any non-interventionist policy to solve the Haitian crisis. Haiti has been the neo-colonial playground for Western countries ever since it managed to secure its independence through the first successful slave revolution in 1804. It is beyond time for the CORE group and its allies to let Haitians chart their own political future and stop interfering in the political processes of resource-rich Haiti in an effort to maintain their hegemony over the nation.