Civil unrest is growing in Haiti as the government seeks international help to crack down on gang violence and alleviate a worsening humanitarian crisis.
The Caribbean nation has made international headlines since the 2021 assassination of former president, Jovenel Moise. But last month, daily life began to spin out of control in the nation due to multiple crises, including fuel blockades and a cholera outbreak.
The Haitian government has turned to Canada and other nations for help. Here’s how Haiti got here, and what’s happening now.
Haiti’s political instability has simmered since last year’s slaying of Moise, who had faced opposition protests calling for his resignation over corruption charges and claims that his five-year term had ended. He dissolved the majority of parliament in January 2020 after failing to hold legislative elections in 2019 amid political gridlock.
With global inflation soaring this year due to several factors, including Russia’s war in Ukraine, Haiti has been hit hard. Last month, Prime Minister Ariel Henry announced the end to fuel subsidies, causing prices to double.
As a result, a coalition of gangs, which have a significant presence in the country, blocked the entrance to a major fuel terminal, leading to fuel shortages in what UN officials said last week was a reason why more than four million Haitians are facing acute food insecurity.
Hospitals have cut services and businesses, including banks and grocery stores, have reduced their hours as the country runs out of fuel.
Clean water is also scarce, leading to a worsening cholera outbreak that has left hundreds hospitalized and dozens dead. Haiti’s last cholera outbreak was in 2010 as a result of United Nations peacekeepers introducing the bacteria into the country’s largest river by sewage. Nearly 10,000 people died and more than 850,000 were sickened.
In recent weeks, sporadic looting and gun battles between gangs and police have become increasingly common; frequent protests have been staged in different parts of Haiti demanding Henry’s resignation.
The Haitian government has turned to Canada and the United States for help, asking both nations to lead an anti-gang strike force to improve the security situation in the country. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has proposed “a rapid action force” to help Haiti’s police confront the gangs, without saying that the United Nations itself should lead such a force.
“Since when did riots in a country justify foreign intervention?” said Jean Saint-Vil, a Haitian-Canadian activist.
“We need the Canadian government foreign policy to finally do the right thing and truly stand by the people, and by that, we don’t mean Canada going in as Tarzan to go save the natives from themselves.”
On Saturday, U.S. and Canadian military aircraft delivered tactical and armored vehicles and other supplies purchased by the Haitian government.
According to a readout of a Monday call involving Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Incident Response Group released Tuesday, they discussed “additional diplomatic, humanitarian, and stabilization options to support the Haitian people during this crisis.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly told reporters in Ottawa on Tuesday the government is “considering several options,” including sanctions “because we need to make sure that the people perpetrating this violence and benefiting from it need to be held accountable, because impunity is not an option.”
Agreeing with Saint-Vil, Dani Nedal, an associate political science professor at the University of Toronto, said Canadian forces shouldn’t take part in a foreign mission in Haiti.
“The idea that a new security mission or a new peacekeeping mission or security force coming to Haiti is going to solve the problem I think is misleading and potentially problematic. There’s a lot of misgivings in Haiti about foreign militaries coming into the country to support the government for good reason,” he told Global News.
For example, he cited the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSTAH, which operated in Haiti between 2004 and 2017. It was the subject of harsh criticism over problems including its role in the 2010 cholera outbreak.
“I don’t think that the United States and Canada and other countries sending security forces … is going to be seen positively by the majority of locals,” Nadel said.
At the UN Security Council Monday, the U.S. and Mexico said they’re preparing a UN resolution that would authorize an international mission to help improve security in Haiti.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the proposed “non-UN” mission would be limited in time and scope and be led by an unnamed “partner country” with the “deep, necessary experience required for such an effort to be effective.”
She said the resolution being worked on was a “direct response” to requests from the Haitian government and Guterres’ proposition. The Security Council is also considering a sanctions package.
Both Russia and China raised questions about sending a foreign armed force to Haiti.
In Washington, U.S. lawmakers introduced a bill on Monday to investigate and punish any political elites colluding with the gangs, but President Joe Biden’s administration has appeared skeptical of sending troops to Haiti, which has a long history of U.S. military intervention.
If the proposed UN resolution were to go through, Saint-Vil feels foreign forces will likely be met with “strong resistance by the population.”
“Haiti needs reparations, not invasion,” he said, referring to the 2010 cholera outbreak during the previous UN mission. He also called for the international community to crack down on weapons being smuggled into Haiti. In August, U.S. investigators said they noticed an uptick in the amount and caliber of weapons being smuggled to Haiti from Florida in recent months.
“How do these weapons get into the enclaves of the street gangs when these guys are in conflict with each other?” said Saint-Vil.
“They are rival gangs, and these gangs barely have the opportunity to leave their enclaves, so that means the weapons go to them.”
Ulrika Richardson, resident and humanitarian coordinator for the UN system in Haiti, told Reuters in an interview last week Haiti needs help addressing long-term issues that have led to the instability, such as “impunity” and “corruption.”
“Right now, they’re just thinking that we need to address the security condition, and that’s the priority … but it might not address the underlying problems that have driven this and will probably drive flare-ups of violence again in the future.”
— with files from The Associated Press and Reuters
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