By Lisa Zengarini
The Bishops of Haiti have voiced their heartfelt concern for the suffering of the Haitian people caused by the “general deterioration” of the situation in the ountry.
In a message released on July 29 the Haitian Bishops Conference (CEH) once again raised the alarm on the ever-increasing gang violence in the country marred by "corruption, widespread insecurity, kidnappings, extreme poverty and interpersonal distrust”.
Violence has been mounting over the past weeks, especially in the capital Port-au-Prince, where the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption was severely damaged on July 27 by an arson attack during gang clashes. According to the United Nations, 471 people have died or are missing due to the violence in the last decade of July.
Haiti, one of the poorest nations in the world, has been contending with a downfalling economy, political instability and a rising insecurity for years, and the situation has further deteriorated after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise, on July 2021, and the devastating earthquake that followed in August. Since then gang-related killings, turf wars, extortions and kidnappings, have increased even more also targeting the Catholic Church, an institution that has long been a pillar of Haitian society with several religious kidnapped for ransom.
Archbishop Max Leroy Mésidor of Port-au-Prince, told Vatican News that the violence has forced people in the capital to flee their homes and Haitians have lost all trust in public authorities. He added that criminal organizations often have political connections and that gang violence may be reduced also through reducing poverty in the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods.
In their message the Haitian Bishops decry the powerslessness of State and law enforcement institutions, allowing gangs to carry out their criminal acts “with impunity”, but also note the lack of reaction from the Haitian people. “Gangs kidnap, destroy, kill, burn and then challenge the established powers, who seem totally overwhelmed by what is happening”, the prelates write.
The bishops, therefore, once again urge the restoration of the authority of the State, and “immediate action” to disarm gangs, so that the police can carry out its operations against the perpetrators of violence and a “climate of trust and serenity” can be restored.
The Haitian Church further demands border controls to reduce the illicit trafficking of firearms , small weapons and ammunintions used by criminal organizations and the effective prosecution of perpetrators and sponsors of illegal activities .
“We ask ourselves: why does the State not act to restrain criminal activities with the necessary rigour within the rule of law, so criminals can do no harm? Is it impossible to neutralize the sources that supply arms and ammunition to groups and individuals, or do untouchable people benefit from them?”
Bishops then call on all stakeholders in of Haiti – entrepreneurs, politicians, representatives of institutions and civil society – to work together against the scourge of insecurity “in all its forms”. “In this way – they say – we will contribute to the change we all desire. We can no longer continue to live as potential victims of the gangsterism that reigns in the country, nor can we accept it”.
“The time has come to wake up from our torpor, to say with all our strength: no to insecurity! No to kidnappings! No to the legalization of the activity of armed gangs! No to any project of annihilation of the state!.”
Concluding, the message encourages all Haitians to pray “incessantly and confidently to the Lord for the liberation of Haiti ".
“In this tragic moment in the history of our dear country, we particularly need to pray to solicit the omnipotent intervention of God and the maternal intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Perpetual Help.”
By Lisa Zengarini