President Joe Biden’s sympathetic mention of the crisis in Haiti at the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday was unexpected, and welcome. But the question that Haitians and those who love Haiti are asking after painfully watching the country’s descent into anarchy is, “Now what?”
Biden did his duty — to an extent: “We continue to stand with our neighbor in Haiti as it faces political-fueled gang violence and an enormous human crisis,” he said. “And we call on the world to do the same.”
But the world, represented in that expansive U.N. hall full of leaders, likely did what it’s been doing for years under the weight of so-called “Haiti fatigue:” folded its arms as if to say, “You first, USA. Haiti is a mess.”
And they are right — to an extent.
Biden’s public recognition of Haiti’s woes is a spit into the wind. The Caribbean nation and its nearly 12 million people need real action — and they need it now. And whether the Biden administration likes it or not, the United States has to get its hands dirty, not just issue a worldwide suggestion to, “Go help Haiti.”
It’s no secret in diplomatic circles in Port-au-Prince that the United States strongly pushes back when others dare suggest measures in Haiti that it doesn’t like or support. But in doing so this time around, it has failed to come up with realistic alternatives.
For months now, Haitians seeking change have accused the U.S. of overstepping its bounds, always putting its finger on the scale to decide winners and losers in its domestic affairs, often backing those who do not have Haiti’s best interests at heart, observers say. These same accusers also want the U. S. to help put them in charge of their country’s future.
Meanwhile, suppose the administration were to intervene in Haiti with boots on the ground. It would be accused of American imperialism and possibly spark outrage at home for getting involved in another nation’s troubles.
But suppose the United States does nothing or continues its mantra that the people of Haiti should solve their own problems while waiting for the international community to answer its latest call-out? What will be the outcome in this volatile nation less than 900 miles from Florida, whose people are being strangled by violent gangs, staggering costs for food and fuel, and endemic corruption?
Dominican President Luis Abinader, whose country is Haiti’s closest neighbor, told regional leaders last week that what’s unfolding in Haiti “could be defined as a low-intensity civil war.” Haitians prefer the term “the Somalization” of their nation. To them, it best describes their plunge into a Somalia-style scenario where powerful criminal gangs block the roads, disrupt fuel deliveries and fan chaos. At the same time, people go hungry, the government crumbles and corruption and impunity reign.
The crisis escalated on Thursday with a prison break at Haiti’s only female prison. Multiple sources confirmed to the Miami Herald’s Caribbean Correspondent Jacqueline Charles that most of the women escaped from the facility located in Cabaret, just north of Port-au-Prince. Human-rights activists had been anticipating escapes as prisoners have continued to die from malnutrition as well as diseases spreading inside the overcrowded penal system.
The plan by the U.S. and Canada to help beef up the beleaguered 12,000-member Haitian National Police to enforce law and order doesn’t go far or deep enough. In the last year, many officers have left the country, like so many other Haitians who fear being killed or kidnapped.
At the United Nations on Friday, Canada and the United States will co-host a high-level donor event to raise money for the Haiti National Police. Both nations insist the force is the solution to the country’s raging insecurity and gang problems, reported Jacqueline Charles. But is it really enough?
Up to now, foreign diplomats from Port-au-Prince to Washington and elsewhere seemed to be at a loss. Abinader has called for the return of a United Nations peacekeeping force in Haiti to tamp down the chaos. Last week, he called for bold action.
“The crisis that overflows the borders of Haiti is a threat to the national security of the Dominican Republic,” said Abinader.
That’s because what happens in Haiti undoubtedly spills over to his adjacent country, too. And what happens in Haiti reverberates in Miami, where members of the diaspora are afraid of visiting their homeland for fear of being held hostage by a gang or killed in the streets.
More than a year after the assassination of their president, Jovenel Moïse, Haitians do not see a way out and are losing hope for brighter days.
Haiti is being crushed under a persistent political stalemate, gang violence and a worsening economy, all of them fueling popular revolt. But that revolt is also being aided by those with money bucking recent reform efforts by a weak interim government to clamp down on a lucrative black market for fuel; tax dodgers at the country’s seaports; and the illegal shipment of arms and ammunition that end up in the hands of vicious gangs.
Earlier this week, a top Biden aide acknowledged that economic interests are financing recent violent protests. Opposed to crackdowns, they are stoking the fires of real frustrations. Though the Biden administration rightly is paying attention in Haiti — while, at the same time, cruelly returning Haitian migrants to that cauldron of instability and violence — we, too, want to know: What’s next?
Will it continue to push for austerity and anti-corruption measures in Haiti without assisting in quieting down the troublemakers? Or will it leave it up to Haiti, a country where the courts aren’t functioning — and where they can’t even solve a presidential murder — to provide its own muscle?
The U.S. government has the power to make a difference, or at least give Haitians breathing room to regroup.
The United States has choices: It can push to send boots on the ground as Abinader and others have requested; it can help Haiti crack down on corruption by making arrests and issuing sanctions; or it can do more to force Haitians to the table to come up with their own solutions.
But what it can no longer do is stand by idly and watch Haitians suffer as their country burns. The Biden administration has to get its hands dirty, and fast.
An enhanced police force can help, but it’s not a solution to Haiti’s deeply rooted challenges. The United States cannot just settle for law and order. Haiti’s stability and progress must be the goal.