Diaspora

Grip of gangs on Haiti adding to instability, misery amid crises – Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Elections are being planned to replace assassinated Haitian President Jovenel Moise, and humanitarian aid is being rushed to those hit by the earthquake and subsequent tropical storm. But it’s clear there will be no solution in the country until the government can tame the gangs.
The misery of Haiti, facing natural disaster on top of political crisis, has been amply documented. But to grasp the challenge, one must look in the once-teeming neighborhood of Martissant, now hollowed-out, abandoned and covered in gray dust. The buildings are abandoned, the cars burned out, the trash piled high into barricades.
It’s a choke point in the hands of rival gangs who’ve driven thousands from their homes, closed a major hospital, shut down fuel distribution routes and barred farmers from the markets.
Nothing moves without the gangs’ consent.
“In Haiti, more than a failing state we have a non-existent state,” said Joseph Harold Pierre, an economist.
As Mathias Pierre, minister of elections until recently, put it, the armed groups are essentially terrorist organizations that have taken over entire neighborhoods and are using the local populations as human shields.
Haiti is the poorest and the most unequal nation in the Americas. Since 2018, gross domestic product has fallen 18% to $13.4 billion, according to the World Bank. Per-capita GDP is just $1,176 — its lowest level since 2010 — and on par with Cambodia and Kenya. Nearly 60% of the population lives in poverty, and nearly half the population, or 4.4 million, need immediate food assistance and 1.2 million suffer from extreme hunger, according to the World Food Program.
Julien Bartoletti, the head of Doctors without Borders in Haiti, suggests thinking about Haiti as a war zone. His organization was forced to shut down its 15-year-old hospital in Martissant this summer after it came under gang gunfire. At least three staff members have been kidnapped, one murdered and dozens are among the 20,000 Haitians who’ve fled due to gang threat.”You have front lines, with gangs against gangs,” he said. “In Martissant, you have an area with no people and destroyed houses. It’s empty.”
Pierre, the economist, said that between 2016 and 2020 gang violence likely cost the country $4.2 billion per year, or 30% of its gross domestic product, as it scared off foreign investors and caused fuel shortages that paralyzed parts of the country and sent inflation soaring.
According to the National Human Rights Defense Network, there are more than 90 gangs in the country, likely with thousands of members and far more powerful than the police. Rape and kidnapping are common. Pierre Esperance, the group’s executive director, said gangs, a fixture since the 1990s, grew powerful and emboldened under successive administrations that undermined state controls.
“Haiti has regressed in terms of the rule of law, because all key state institutions were destroyed under the Jovenel Moise administration,” he said. “The police, the judicial system, all of them. We have no functioning institutions.”Since 2018 the courts have operated about four months out of the year, he said, and impunity is rampant. He also said international partners provide aid but do little to fight corruption.
Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who has been on the job less than three months, put it gently when he told the Organization of American States that criminal violence is one of the forces driving the “chronic instability that has bedeviled us.”
Print Headline: Grip of gangs on Haiti adding to instability, misery amid crises
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