How can the world stop Haiti’s ‘descent into hell’? Let Haitians lead.
Last April, the Most Rev. Max Mezidor, the archbishop of Port-au-Prince, in denouncing a rash of gang violence and kidnappings said, “For some time now, we have been witnessing the descent into hell of Haitian society.”
The surge of violence that has plagued the country for most of the last two years has now also consumed Haiti’s “de facto” president (“de facto” because many Haitians, including the Haitian bishops’ conference, held that his term ended in February 2021). His murder has provoked a social and constitutional crisis for the Americas’ second independent republic.
With the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse by hired foreign mercenaries, Haiti could easily become the Somalia of the Caribbean. That a number of these mercenaries have themselves been killed by police further raises suspicions.
You would think that professional commandos would know not only how to get to the president but also how to successfully elude capture and escape. A Haitian proverb says, “Voye wòch kache men,” which translates, “The rock thrower hides his hand.” If chaos is to be avoided and Haitians have a chance at a future of hope, those hidden hands need to be exposed and brought to justice.
Will a military intervention by the United States or the United Nations save Haiti from becoming an irredeemably failed state?
This is especially necessary so that this crime does not impede the process of resolving Haiti’s ongoing social and political problems. The bishops of Haiti in the aftermath of Mr. Moïse’s assassination have called on all sectors of society to put aside personal pride and to return to the table to dialogue for the sake of the common good. A consensus on a credible electoral process needs to be forged and, to that end, a transitional government that is seen as legitimate by a majority of Haitians must be established.
But will a military intervention by the United States or the United Nations save Haiti from becoming an irredeemably failed state? The first U.S. occupation of Haiti after the 1915 mob killing of President Vilbrun Guillaume Sam resulted in some infrastructure improvements (through forced labor), but it arguably left Haiti worse off. Successive interventions including an extended U.N. peacekeeping mission have likewise failed to improve the lot of the Haitian people and have contributed little to strengthening the state’s weak institutions. As Mr. Moïse himself admitted in an interview some years ago, the government of Haiti has no effective presence in more than 30 percent of the country.
The long-suffering Haitian people have endured the predations of the state as well as its impotence—Haiti has yet to administer its first dose of the Covid vaccines. Even Haitians who opposed the Mr. Moïse’s attempt to remain in power deplored his assassination, but they were also angered by the fact that the perpetrators were “blan,” that is, foreigners.
It is clear that intervention that offends Haitian sovereignty has never worked, and it will not work now. Haiti is a graveyard of foreigners’ good but ill-fated intentions.
The Haitian people are resourceful enough and resilient enough to find Haitian solutions to Haitian problems, if allowed to do so.
From late 2018 through 2019, the political opposition as well as civil society challenged the government’s drift toward dictatorship in mostly democratic ways—through sit-ins, strikes and mass demonstrations (sometimes led by religious). The support of the U.S. government for Mr. Moïse’s continued rule by decree allowed him to rebuff their calls for a transition to fair and transparent elections. At the same time, armed gangs in Port-au-Prince’s poorer neighborhoods were permitted to run rampant, terrorizing the populace with impunity.
Who is behind the Moïse assassination? One should ask “cui bono?” Mr. Moïse had boxed himself into a corner as his presidency careened toward dictatorship. He was coming to the end of his options. Perpetrators of his murder, Haitian intellectual Lionel Trouillot suggests, must be sought “in the network of mafia alliances, in private conflicts, or in the fear of some of his allies of losing everything with him.”
In the immediate aftermath of the 2010 earthquake that killed some 300,000 people, the Haitian people conducted themselves with remarkable serenity despite the depth of their grief. Days before international relief agencies and others arrived on the ground, the Haitians themselves were organizing their tent encampments, providing security, helping each other, rescuing the injured and more. There was no rioting, no widespread looting.
The Haitian people are resourceful enough and resilient enough to find Haitian solutions to Haitian problems, if allowed to do so, as long as those “hidden hands” are not allowed to continue to throw rocks to thwart the common good and break the fragile bonds of fraternity. That Haiti becomes the Somalia of the Caribbean remains a possibility, but it is not an inevitability.
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