Haiti is spiraling out of control and the world seemingly keeps looking away.
Gangs are controlling more and more territory in the country, and gang-related violence is increasing: The number of victims of killings, injuries, and kidnappings went up by 28 percent between January and March compared to the previous quarter, according to the United Nations. Inflation is soaring, and food has become expensive; nearly half of the population — 4.9 million — are suffering from acute hunger. Schools and hospitals have shut down due to the widespread violence.
Such dangerous conditions prompted UN Secretary-General António Guterres to declare in April that violence in Haiti had “reached levels comparable to countries in armed conflict.” Guterres called for “the deployment of an international specialized armed force.”
As dire as the status quo is in Haiti, that would be a mistake.
The reasons why that wouldn’t work are multidimensional but they have to do with the roots of the current crisis, which are longstanding, as a new report on human rights and the rule of law in Haiti from the Boston-based Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti makes clear.
“We have been sounding the alarm on a catastrophic human rights and security crisis for over two years,” Sasha Filippova, a senior staff attorney at the institute, said in an interview. “There’s a tendency, especially outside the Haitian press, to date the crisis in Haiti to the assassination of Jovenel Moïse in July of 2021. But that’s incorrect in many ways. So many drivers of the current crisis were already in place: impunity, the use of gangs for political violence, state capture, corruption, etc.”
Insecurity is linked to chronic impunity “for perpetrators of grave human rights abuses and other violent crimes,” lack of access to justice for victims, and undemocratic governance, the report notes. “Sometimes there are efforts by [Haitian Prime Minister Ariel] Henry, the US government, and others to focus on insecurity as if you could address it in isolation, and the reality is you cannot,” Filippova said.
The report also challenges some of the persistent narratives about Haiti and Haitians. “The standard tagline has been ‘Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere,’ but that takes away the dignity and agency of Haitians,” Filippova said. “This [report] recognizes all the ways in which Haitians are incredibly capable of driving their own future,” such as establishing a legitimate transitional government that would adhere to fundamental human rights, which was already underway with the so-called Montana Accord, authored by Haitian civil society-led group. “But there are many impediments created by international actors over time and in the present moment.”
She is right. For instance, international actors, including the US government, keep propping up the current Haitian leadership, “which is directly responsible for the corruption, impunity, and incompetence that underlies almost every component of Haiti’s crises,” according to the report.
The Biden administration launched a humanitarian parole program earlier this year, but the program has not functioned as it should for Haitians. “On the one hand, there’s the humanitarian parole program, which explicitly recognizes the unlivable conditions in Haiti,” said Filippova. “On the other hand, the US is cutting off every vehicle to asylum, preventing the most marginalized people from getting access to it. Most Haitians can’t get a passport, and experience abuse when they try to — there are stories of women being extorted for sexual favors when they try to (get one) — or are just otherwise precluded from making use of the program.”
Biden’s program has become prohibitive for most Haitians in another significant way. US-bound flights from Haiti have become less frequent and much more expensive, as The Miami Herald reported in April. A Haitian government official told the Herald that it has been in talks with airlines. A one-way, one-stop flight from Port-au-Prince to Logan Airport on July 1 is priced at $1,056 with Spirit Airlines and $1,104 with American Airlines.
I've written about @AmericanAir & @JetBlue & their fares from #Haiti since the "Biden" humanitarian program began. But I have to say it again, this is insane. Even supposed low-cost carrier @SpiritAirlines is charging over $1K one-way from Okap to FLL compared to $118 from DomRep— Jacqueline Charles (@Jacquiecharles) June 13, 2023
I asked American Airlines to comment on the high fares and a spokeswoman said in a prepared statement: “Ticket prices fluctuate for a variety of reasons, including date of purchase, travel season, number of seats available during that date, special fares, etc.”
Geralde Gabeau, executive director of the Immigrant Family Services Institute in Mattapan, told me that after some Haitians have been approved for the parole program, “they have to wait two or three months because they don’t have the means to come,” she said. “It’s a burden on every single family; it’s another form of injustice.”
For Haitians, it’s another form of international isolation. It feels like the world is extending one hand to help them but the other hand takes more away from them. Above all, Haitians deserve — and desperately want — true empowerment and self-determination. Why is that so hard for the international community to understand?