Diaspora

Opinion: Here's why San Diego and Tijuana have a stake in … – The San Diego Union-Tribune

Rudolph is an international law and human rights attorney and a former human rights officer at the U.S. Department of State. He lives in La Jolla.
Massacres. Rapes. Kidnappings. Ransoms. Most of us would associate these things with a far-off place like Syria or Somalia. But these occurrences increasingly are becoming associated with a neighboring Caribbean country located between south Florida and Puerto Rico. Haiti, which experienced a devastating earthquake in 2010 that killed 200,000 people, is at risk of becoming a failed state. The term “failed state” has in the past been used rather informally. But there are actual criteria referenced for when a state reaches such a nadir. These criteria, however, are not universally accepted. Nevertheless, they exist, and they can be helpful in understanding what is happening inside a country experiencing such convulsions. The indices, from the Fund for Peace, are: 1) the loss of control of territory; 2) an erosion of legitimate authority; 3) the inability to provide public services; and 4) the inability to interact with other states as a full and functioning member of the community.
First and foremost, some 150 gangs currently operate in Haiti and control 60 percent of the national territory. But they are not just holding land. These gangs are in the business of extorting the police and kidnapping innocents. (They are even, according to credible accounts, responsible for assassinating the president.) The most recent and heartrending example is the group of American and Canadian missionaries held for ransom. This control is widespread and well-known, making much of Haiti a no-go zone.
Second, a failed (or fragile) state experiences an erosion of legitimate authority. This can mean many things, but mostly it means that laws are no longer respected, judicial decisions are ignored or flouted or the police are seen as representing an out-of-touch elite. The important factor here is that legitimate authority is undermined. Haiti’s prime minister, Ariel Henry, recently attempted to lead a ceremony to honor Gen. Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Haiti’s independence hero. But Henry fled the scene in the face of overpowering gunfire from Jimmy Cherizier, Haiti’s most notorious gang leader. Add this to the assassination last year of President Jovenel Moïse, and you begin to suspect that things are spiraling out of control.
Third, a fragile state struggles to provide basic public services. Basic public services include police protection, rubbish collection and street maintenance. Manuel Orozco, the director of the Center for Migration and Economic Stabilization, said, “Haiti is practically like Somalia, where state failure makes these criminal organizations more visible on the streets.” In addition, many transport routes through Port-au-Prince have been barricaded by local gangs, leading to a paucity of fuel and food.
Finally, a failed state is in many ways incapable of interacting effectively with other states. This means there might be a slew of authority figures making multifarious pronouncements about the government. This can make it difficult to establish diplomatic relations. Given the recent assassination of President Moïse and the somewhat disputed way in which Prime Minister Henry rose to power, this final element is a real concern. After all, the Moïse assassination was motivated in part by a sense that the president had overstepped his authority by insisting that he had the right to rule beyond the end of his constitutional term.

The term “failed state” is controversial and has at times been misused to justify invasions of states that are perceived as security threats precisely because of the “failed” status. Moreover, Haiti’s history and record of struggles with economic and political development stem, at least in part, from successive American interventions.
Notwithstanding these concerns, it’s clear that Haiti is at serious risk of collapsing into a dystopian reality. If you doubt this, you simply aren’t paying attention. And if you doubt the ability of these troubles to affect our own political system, recall the thousands of desperate Haitians who not long ago appeared in Texas and on our very own San Diego-Tijuana doorstep. According to the San Diego County Resettlement Agencies Report for the federal government’s fiscal year 2021-2022, there have been 1,429 resettlements here in San Diego County, making Haitians the largest group after Afghans. These are personal success stories, to be sure. But if Haiti continues to experience chaos and disorder, the number of Haitians in Tijuana will doubtless increase and add additional pressure on overwhelmed shelters, the ultimate consequence of which will be a crush of people seeking entry into San Diego.
We must do whatever we can to prevent Haiti’s further degeneration. Whether an altruistic intervention by the U.S. is possible is largely irrelevant. “It’s already upon us; the next step becomes biblical, with people falling off anything that can float,” Daniel Foote, who served as the U.S. special envoy to Haiti in 2021, said.

When your neighbor’s house is on fire, you don’t haggle over the garden hose.

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