Haiti On The Verge Of Catastrophe As Violence Plunges Nation Into Chaos

Since late February, Haiti has seen its worst month of violence since fighting began in the Caribbean country in 2019. What originally began as a protest over assassinated President Jovenel Moise’s delay in relinquishing power has now transformed into a conflict that has triggered nationwide chaos. Violence in the last month has increased to unprecedented levels,  mainly in protest against the unelected Prime Minister and acting President, Ariel Henry, who refused to step down from power.

Over 200 gangs have taken over at least 80% of the capital of Port-au-Prince, while entire districts are being burnt to the ground throughout the country. Murder, rape, and shootings occur on a daily basis and have led to the displacement of tens of thousands of people. In response to this chaos, a council of Haitian political parties overseen by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) are looking to create stability, and fill the void left by Prime Minister Henry. Since the 12th March, Haiti has been left without a President or Prime Minister, as Henry resigned from his position due to escalating violence, and is currently in Kenya looking to establish a security mission to Haiti with the backing of the United Nations.

Port-au-Prince is under the control of Haitian gang boss Jimmy Cherizier (more commonly known as ‘Barbeque’), who said that in the next few days “things will get worse than they are now”. Cherizier is unconvinced that a council of political parties will find a solution to Haiti’s problems. He hopes to change Haiti’s political system and doubts that the council can bring about meaningful and lasting change.

Ariel Henry’s plan to send hundreds of Kenyan police officers to re-establish order in Haiti is a bold attempt at finding a solution, but it is more likely to increase violence in the long run. Cherizier has made it very clear that he would “consider them [the Kenyan police officers] as invaders.” Haitians would not accept this solution, and neither would many Kenyans. Ekuru Aukot, leader of the Thirdway Alliance party in Kenya, asked what President William Ruto would tell the nation when Kenyan officers “come back in body bags.”  While a solution to Haiti’s impasse may come with support from the international community, the problem is essentially Haitian. Therefore, a solution must also be found by Haitians themselves. Haitians will not have much patience for an unelected transitional council, and to have any success at all, the council would need to appease gangs that have rendered much of the country ungovernable.

Haiti has dealt with multiple catastrophes since it gained independence in a violent revolution in 1804. The US-backed Duvalier dictatorship, to pick one example, reigned unchallenged for twenty-nine years. Haitians endured corruption, death squads, health epidemics, and the murder of tens of thousands of people. In 2010, Haiti was struck by a devastating earthquake which killed around 220,000 people. An outbreak of cholera that same year killed another 10,000, leaving the country utterly devastated. Nine years later, in 2019, the current conflict began and left Haiti without leadership.

Following decades of instability, creating a lasting peace in Haiti will be a difficult challenge and there is no obvious solution at hand. Wherever this solution comes from, it is imperative that it is implemented in a democratic and peaceful manner. All parties must commit to these principals if they truly intend to prevent violence from dragging on into the future. This will be no easy feat, especially when dealing with the gangs controlling Port-au-Prince, but there is no other way.