Haiti: A Failing State heading towards Anarchy
Haiti’s President was assassinated back in 2021, with the nation having no elected government official left in office. The nation is plagued with gang violence and poverty, rendering it in a state of lawlessness.
Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, is currently in a state of turmoil, with the last of its elected government officials concluding their time in office and no election in sight while gangs take over the capital. Over the decades, gangs have increased in quantity and power so that the local police force can no longer control them nor protect its citizens from kidnappings, homicides, and gang rapes. Since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse on the 7th of July 2021, the government has been left in the hands of Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who is failing to control the nation of 11.8 million people - one-third of which is under 15 years of age. Haiti’s population is not only suffering from gang terrors but also from severe health issues like high perinatal and infant mortality rates, as well as economic issues, with around 80% of the country’s population living in absolute poverty.
Gangs control much of the country’s capital, while poverty and a cholera plague have caused turmoil for Haiti
The underlying causes of Haiti’s desolation are complex and stem from several factors, including devastating natural disasters; however, fundamentally, they are human-made. Colonial exploitation, unplanned urban development, and corruption created political dysfunction, weakening the state’s power, enabling gangs to take over large parts of the capital. Control and safety are two matters that Haiti has little of, with a severely understaffed and underpaid police force. Thus, Haiti has one of the world’s lowest police-to-civilian ratios, creating a security vulnerability that has allowed gangs to rise in power and number. Gangs are increasingly attacking the police, with 18 police officers killed within 16 days of January 2023.
The country’s devastating insecurity is further demonstrated by the assassination of the country’s President Jovenel Moïse. Moïse was assassinated in his home by alleged Colombian mercenaries on the 7th of July 2021. An assassination that, despite the US having arrested several suspects, no one has been tried for – neither for the killing nor for ordering the assassination. The treasonous killing was followed a month later by yet another fatal 7.2 magnitude earthquake, leaving over 2,200 Haitians dead and adding to the ever-increasing power vacuum that is being filled by rivalling gangs.
A long history of gangs in Haiti
Gangs have existed in Haiti for decades. The longstanding poverty, devastating natural disasters, high unemployment rates, and corrupt politics are breeding grounds for economic desperation that resulted in individuals turning to crime to survive. Tied with corrupt politicians, bureaucrats, and high-level businesspeople who exchanged goods and deeds, gangs flourished. They often supply the gangs with weapons, money, or political protection in return for the gangs doing the ‘dirty’ work. As an impoverished country, the opportunity to make money resulted in these gangs growing and multiplying to an estimated 200 armed groups. Gangs that have since decoupled from their past patrons and, to continue financing their operations, have had to diversify their traditional criminal activities, including money laundering and drug trafficking. The decade-long financing of gangs by the country’s political and economic elite is a fundamental cause of why Haiti’s downhill spiral was long underway prior to the assassination of the country’s president.
Gangs terrorising a whole nation
This power and security vacuum in Haiti which gangs are competing for impacts all Haitians, who are terrorised daily by heavily armed gangs that roam the cities and countryside - further escalating the country’s humanitarian crisis. Gang terror in Haiti includes kidnappings, sexual violence, homicide, police killings, internal displacement, and forced emigration. This is most notable in the capital Port-au-Prince which saw almost 100,000 residents be forced to flee their homes due to the insecurity brought forth by the gangs.
According to the UN, kidnappings have been ever-increasing as a major income for gangs, with more than 1,100 reported cases occurring between January and October in 2022. Most kidnappings result in the victims returning alive as long as the ransom is paid. However, they are often tortured, with men being burned with plastic and beaten up, while women and girls are subjected to gang rape. In some of these cases, the kidnappers even call the relatives of the women and girls for them to hear the gang rape being carried out.
A cry for help
From kidnappings, gang rapes, homicides, and a failing police force, Haiti is heading towards anarchy with no security for the impoverished Haitians to access. The country also had its humanitarian aid worsen when on the 2nd of October 2022, a new outbreak of Cholera was reported. A breakout that the WHO describes as an exacerbated disease due to the complex humanitarian crisis that is hindering any response measures. The increasingly uncontrollable circumstances has resulted in the country’s PM Ariel Henry asking for international military aid on the 7th of October.
This is a decision that, traditionally, Haitians would not have agreed to. Foreign interventions in the country are contested not only due to the devastating impacts of colonisation, slavery, and corruption but also the UN’s role in prompting a deadly cholera outbreak in 2010. Nepalese UN peacekeepers spread the bacterial infection from a leaking sewage pipe at a UN base, triggering an epidemic killing around 10,000 Haitians. Nonetheless, a recent survey shows that up to 70% of Haitians support the call and need for external security assistance, particularly residents in gang-controlled areas including the capital.
Alongside the UN asking for international military aid, the UN has also released a report documenting the horrific humanitarian devastations occurring in the country. The report calls for urgent international help and attention to assist Haiti in providing security and humanitarian aid. Most notably to stabilise the widespread insecurity and to end gang violence. Volker Turk, from the UN Human Rights Commission, visited the island describing it as a ‘living nightmare’ for the Haitians. Turk pleaded for the international community to consider sending specialised armed forces to Haiti to reinstall law and order. Since this call for aid, the US and Canada have increased their support. Both countries have coordinated and imposed sanctions on individuals accused of enabling illegal gang activities, as well as the US arresting individuals suspected of being linked to Moïse’s assassination. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada would deploy some of their Royal Canadian Navy vessels off the coast of Haiti. A pledge for Canada to provide military presence on the ground has not been stated; Trudeau commented on the severity of Haiti’s conditions and that he would support a ‘Haitian-led’ solution.
What is the future?
What this ‘Haitian-led’ solution will be is to be determined. No plan exists to stabilise the ungoverned and terrorised country. The world seems to only be able to focus on one crisis at a time – currently, Russia’s war on Ukraine. For global issues like climate change and national crises like in Haiti, this inability to spread sincere attention across multiple problems can be disastrous and shows the weaknesses and limits of the current international relations model.
Unless more countries listen to Haiti’s plea for help, this nation will continue to cascade further into total lawlessness, with generations of Haitians losing their homes and national identity due to worsening gang violence and a worsening humanitarian crisis. The calls for international aid and security will only continue to increase, as it will only be with international help that Haiti has a chance to change its trajectory. To build a future in which it can establish some form of protection for its people, provide humanitarian aid, host elections and reverse away from its current destiny of anarchy.
Evangelia Wichmann is currently completing a Bachelor of Arts in International relations/politics and French at the University of Melbourne as well as a Diploma in Chinese Studies. Fluent in German, French, and Italian, Evangelia hopes to work in developing countries in humanitarian aid next year before continuing to study international relations and how to best address female rights and climate change within foreign aid.