Diaspora

Haiti: In the throes of a crisis – Observer Research Foundation

Haiti is currently facing one of its worst crises in history. The need of the hour is practical intervention from the international community.
Haiti has been going through a major hunger, and security crisis since a massive earthquake of 7.2 magnitude hit the country a year ago, on 14 August 2021. Around 4.5 million people are reported to be experiencing acute food insecurity in the country. Inflation levels in Haiti have hit 26 percent, with food prices increasing at a rapid rate because of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Along with these economic woes, the country has seen violent clashes between armed groups since June 2021, impacting the social and economic life in the capital city of Port-au-Prince. There is rampant dread and fear amongst the people in Haiti.
The roots of the gang violence can be traced to the assassination of the President and have surged out of control in the recent past, with spillover effects into the country’s economy, food, and oil security with the transport routes being affected as well.
In 2018, the government of Haiti announced that it would slowly eliminate fuel subsidies in the country, which led to widespread civil unrest at the time. These protests increased in 2019 and then again in 2021 against Jean-Charles Moïse’s government and his proposed constitutional referendum. The police responded to these demonstrations with excessive force. This political build-up ultimately led to armed men breaking into President Moise’s private residence in Port-au-Prince, killing the President, and injuring his wife. A mere five weeks after this, the country saw a massive earthquake which killed over 2,000 people, razing entire neighbourhoods. Gang violence and political instability increased manifold after this, plunging Haiti into a severe crisis. In recent times, street demonstrations are expanding in reaction to poor governance, insecurity, fuel shortages, and price increases. An estimate by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) states that over a third of the capital city is under the control of gangs. The roots of the gang violence can be traced to the assassination of the President and have surged out of control in the recent past, with spillover effects into the country’s economy, food, and oil security with the transport routes being affected as well.
Haiti, being a hazard-prone country, has faced back-to-back crises such as a massive earthquake in 2010, a hurricane in 2016, and another earthquake in 2021. The country has also seen its agricultural sector slowly weakening, leaving it dependent on imports for more than 50 percent of its food consumption. In the 1980s, the Haitian rice tariff was brought down from 30 percent to almost zero which bankrupted the farmers of the country. In addition to this, the country has seen constant gang violence throughout its history. In the current international scenario, with the war in Ukraine causing fuel prices to soar, the economic condition of Haiti has further deteriorated. The rising prices, combined with the fuel subsidies paid by the government have made fuel costs unsustainable in the country.
The country has also seen its agricultural sector slowly weakening, leaving it dependent on imports for more than 50 percent of its food consumption.
Haiti’s challenges can be understood to fit into three broad baskets. Firstly, the government currently is being run extra constitutionally with a non-functioning parliament and no more than a few viable public institutions. Secondly, the citizens’ security has become virtually non-existent with half the country living under the control of criminal gangs with strong political connections. Finally, the country is suffering from dire economic conditions. One out of five children in Haiti under the age of five is suffering from acute malnutrition in Cite Soleil in Port-au-Prince. Any one of these challenges would be immensely daunting on its own for a country. The fact that these have all unravelled and descended upon the country together has further pushed it into one of the worst crises in its history.
The Organization of American States (OAS) recently released a statement claiming that the international community was responsible for the crisis that is ravaging Haiti today. It stated that the“last 20 years of the international community’s presence in Haiti has amounted to one of the worst and clearest failures implemented and executed within the framework of any international cooperation.” While it was encouraging for the organisation to acknowledge the international actors’ role in the current crisis that Haiti is facing, the fact that it went on to state that only the international community can fix this crisis is problematic. It stated that the ‘core group’ or Haiti’s self-appointed guardians consisting of ambassadors from countries including the United States (US), France, Spain, Brazil, Germany, Canada, and the European Union, along with representatives from the United Nations and the OAS must provide resources to pay the bill and help Haiti find its way out of this crisis.
Expecting the core group to lift the country out of the political and economic devastation that it is currently facing is pretty ironic given that the group has repeatedly turned to the criminally minded factions across the world, amongst whom many are Haitians, expecting them to provide stability to such crisis-torn nations. The criminal factions in Haiti have only responded to the core group with increased corruption, instability, economic and social destruction and gangs with their kidnapping, rape, murder and mayhem, thus, tremendously adding to the woes of the average Haitian. As if this was not enough, the country does not even have a functioning justice system currently to be able to process cases against these gangsters. Besides, Haiti already has an overcrowded prison system. Educated Haitians consider leaving their country as the only viable option, with many seeking asylum in the US. However, the Biden administration has accelerated the repatriation of Haitians.
The international community has been such an integral part of the Haitian political and economic scene that it seems hard for any of the stakeholders, domestic or foreign, to see a way forward without outside assistance and guidance for the country, despite the historic record of failure.
The UN Integrated Office in Haiti’s Special Representative pointed out the need for structural reforms to tackle gang violence, address impunity and corruption, strengthen the justice system, and to be able to sustainably transform the economy. The international community has been such an integral part of the Haitian political and economic scene that it seems hard for any of the stakeholders, domestic or foreign, to see a way forward without outside assistance and guidance for the country, despite the historic record of failure. This is particularly significant given the current silence in the international community vis-à-vis the situation in Haiti. From the US’ decision to send back around 26,000 Haitians to their home country and an uptick in illegal arms smuggling to Haiti, to the OAS doing nothing more than releasing an unclear statement with no solution remotely in sight, there is little hope for the country from the global commune. The UN Security Council recently extended the operations of the UN Integrated Office in Haiti by one year. This might seem to be a positive action on paper but has done little in reality. There is a dire need for a reassessment of a ‘Haiti-led solution’ by diplomats and other international stakeholders. The need of the hour for Haiti is urgent and practical international interventions to avoid a further deterioration of the already crisis-ravaged nation.
Another key aspect in understanding and moving towards a solution for the Haitian crisis is to recognise the role played by the US in the country. It is also pertinent in understanding why the country remains this politically unstable despite an infusion of over US$5 billion in aid just in the last decade. Whilst the US refused to recognise the country’s independence from France for decades, it has even at times tried to annex its territory to conduct diplomacy through threats. The US should take the lead in the international community and support a grassroots commission of leaders for building a new provisional government in Haiti as a first step towards rebuilding the nation’s deep-rooted instability.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s).
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Akanksha Singh has done her BA. LLB(Hons.) from Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University. She is currently pursuing her Masters in Diplomacy, Law and Business from O.P. Jindal Global University.
Set up in 1990, ORF seeks to lead and aid policy thinking towards building a strong and prosperous India in a fair and equitable world. It helps discover and inform India’s choices, and carries Indian voices and ideas to forums shaping global debates. ORF provides non-partisan, independent analyses and inputs on matters of security, strategy, economy, development, energy, resources and global governance to diverse decision-makers (governments, business communities, academia, civil society). ORF’s mandate is to conduct in-depth research, provide inclusive platforms and invest in tomorrow’s thought leaders today.

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