As gang violence consumes Haiti, donor nations – including Canada – seem reluctant to get involved

Haiti has been teetering from crisis to crisis for a long time. But at no time in the recent past, perhaps not since the immediate aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, has the plight of the country seemed so desperate to so many people as it is today.

Caribbean leaders, traditionally opposed to outside intervention, are facing an influx of Haitian boat people fleeing what Bahamas Prime Minister Philip Davis calls “a failed state.”

The Dominican Republic has deployed its army on the border with Haiti to prevent the fallout of what its president Luis Abinader calls a “low-intensity civil war”.

“We need to act responsibly and we need to act now,” he said. “Thousands of people are dying.”

Gangs claiming control of up to 60% of Haitian territory kill hundreds of people a month.

Protesters march demanding peace and security in the La Plaine neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Friday 6 May 2022. The escalation of gang violence has prompted Haitians to organize protests to demand safer neighborhoods. (Odelyn Joseph / Associated Press)

Bob Rae, Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations, recently visited the country. He told CBC News that he found that “the gangs have taken over much of Port-au-Prince. The gangs are even taking over the courthouse.”

Canadian diplomats besieged in Haiti, led by Ambassador Sébastien Carrière, are taking refuge at home because it is no longer safe to travel the streets of Port-au-Prince.

“The embassy is closed to the public and we operate virtually through telecommuting, handling the current crisis and all,” Carrière told CBC News. “The streets have been calm yesterday and today, but the big question is what will happen tomorrow.”

Nobody wants to enter the quagmire

Haiti was certainly a topic of discussion as world leaders gathered in New York this week for the 77th UN General Assembly. But there were few signs from any country willing to commit to Haiti the kind of resources needed to restore some semblance of law and order to the capital.

And there was no sign that outside powers are ready to send their own people to strengthen Haiti’s national police, which are often ousted by gangs.

Haiti is no longer the world’s largest recipient of Canadian foreign aid, as it was ten years ago, but it remains the largest recipient of Canadian aid in the Americas.

Of Haiti’s traditional donors, only the United States has donated more than Canada since the Port-au-Prince earthquake.

And on Wednesday, Canada announced it would provide an additional $ 20 million to rebuild schools destroyed by the earthquake that hit Haiti’s southern peninsula in August last year.

The Canadian presence is a shadow of the past

Canada also contributed millions of dollars this year to the effort to train and equip Haitian security forces.

“We have spearheaded the creation of a $ 30 million UN security basket fund and are currently funding a third with more to come,” Carrière said.

But Canada’s human security presence in Haiti has shrunk to almost zero. A nation that once had over 2,000 military personnel in its Joint Task Force Haiti, as well as about 100 police officers, now has only two RCMP officers in the whole country.

And despite funding for foreign security, the gangs have been gaining ground since last year, when Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was murdered in his own bedroom.

Police transport the coffin of the slain Haitian president Jovenel Moïse at the start of the funeral to his family home in Cap-Haitien. (Matias Delacroix / Associated Press)

Moïse himself was deeply involved in the rise of gangs like 400 Mawozo – who kidnapped a group of US and Canadian missionaries last year – and G9, led by former police officer Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier.

Moïse’s Tet Kale (Bald Head) party has long used gangs as agents and stooges in the poor areas of Port-au-Prince and allowed them to amass arsenals of contraband weapons.

Many Haitians reject the claim that there is a battle for control between the government and the gangs. Rather, they see gangs and the government as a duopoly of power working hand in hand.

There is strong evidence of government collusion in some of Haiti’s worst gang massacres, including the use of government-owned heavy machinery to raze slum areas.

The prime minister seen as a puppet

To the extent that Haiti’s ruling elite have now realized the extent of their mistake in feeding such a monster, they have tried to curb the gangs – by raising the price of fuel (cutting a market source of income). black) and slowing is the steady flow of weapons and ammunition through Haiti’s porous and corrupt ports.

But gang leaders like Cherizier are no longer content with simply providing muscular and coercive votes to Haitian rulers; now he aspires to govern Haiti himself. And other Caribbean governments, eager to deal with anyone who might slow the flow of refugees on the rafts, have proposed negotiating directly with Haitian gang leaders rather than its dysfunctional government, led by many whom many consider to be a prime suspect in Haiti. assassination of his predecessor.

Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry speaks during a plenary session at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, June 10, 2022. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Interim Haitian President Ariel Henry has failed to deliver on his promise to hold new elections. In a country where nearly all elected officials have fallen beyond their mandate, few citizens accept the Henry government as legitimate.

Many see Henry in charge of foreign governments who make up the “Core Group” of the main donors: United States, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, Brazil, the EU and the UN. His approval took the form of a tweet from those ambassadors who withdrew the support of rival interim prime minister Claude Joseph, who promptly resigned.

A ‘new normal’ of fear

United States President Joe Biden saw his own Haitian envoy, Daniel Foote, resign in protest over the president’s support of Henry, and this week he received a letter from 100 different civil and religious groups in Haiti asking him to they asked for this support to be withdrawn.

Under Henry’s misguided government, the letter reads, Longanil Haitians have fallen into “a ‘new normal’ characterized by constant fear of kidnapping and violence, an almost total lack of accountability and a growing humanitarian crisis on every front. “.

Perhaps the only bright spot on the Haitian scene is the emergence of a new alliance of civil society groups, unrelated to traditional political parties, which has proposed a transitional government to allow for new elections.

A woman braids a girl’s hair at a school turned shelter after they were forced to flee their homes due to clashes between armed gangs in the Tabarre neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti on Thursday, May 12, 2022. (Odelyn Joseph / Associated Press)

Their plan is called the “Montana Agreement”, named after the Port-au-Prince hotel where it was negotiated. While several parties signed the deal, Tet Kale ignored it.

Last weekend, the Canadian ambassador met with representatives of the group.

“The politicians are talking,” Carrière said. “Hopefully they will finally arrive at that inclusive Haitian solution that we can all support and have been encouraging for almost a year.

“Haitian politics is multidimensional, with alliances moving like the wind in a severe storm. But people are suffering, so they need to act together.”

The intervention dilemma

Monique Clesca, a former journalist and United Nations official, is one of the Haitians who negotiated the Montana Agreement. She is working on getting others to sign up.

He agrees that Haitians need to find more consensus among themselves, but said foreign embassies have much of the blame for Henry’s legacy of “death and despair, sickness and misery … because that’s theirs. who put it there “.

The Catch-22 that currently haunts Haitian politics is that while no one wants to see more foreign dictates, foreign governments are the only actors with the power to kick Henry out of office – and foreign forces may be the only ones with firepower. to defeat and disarm the gangs.

But few in Port-au-Prince want to see the return of the US Marines. Perhaps even less do they appreciate that prospect in Washington.

United Nations peacekeepers from Brazil on the southern peninsula of Haiti in 2016 (Evan Dyer)

“It is shameful to have to say what I am saying, but we are in a battle to keep our sovereignty,” Clesca told CBC News from her Port-au-Prince home.

“Yesterday we were in a meeting and someone said, ‘You are talking about a possible intervention’, but we have been under foreign intervention for several years. We are a sovereign country but many Haitian intermediaries have surrendered our sovereignty to foreigners, so it is a very difficult, almost incestuous situation.

“Canada with [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau, France with [President Emmanuel] Macron, the United States with Biden would rather support someone who is slaughtering his people, who is allied with gangs, who is holding back the economy, who supports corruption and impunity, rather than hearing the cry of the Haitian people for democracy and out of respect for their human rights.

“They wouldn’t allow it in their homes, but they’re allowing it here and they’re pushing it here.”

Hands off the wheel

Bob Rae told CBC News that Canada wants to break the old cycle of foreign interventions that undermine Haitian sovereignty.

“We have to learn from some of the mistakes of the past, when there were interventions that did not have the full support of the Haitian people,” he said.

“The government is a provisional government and there are many people in civil society who feel strongly that things are not going in the right direction.

“When your capital is basically occupied by gangs of one kind or another, you have a real problem. But it’s not up to us to tell the people of Haiti what to do and how to fix it. It’s up to us to tell us how they think. that can be solved and what more can we do to be useful. “

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks as he sits with Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations Bob Rae at the United Nations in New York during a meeting of the Ad Hoc Advisory Group and Caribbean Partners on the situation in Haiti on Wednesday, September 21, 2022. (Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press)

On Wednesday night at the United Nations, Trudeau echoed that new interception message.

“We cannot continue to see outside elements, no matter how well-intentioned they are, trying to determine Haiti’s future,” he said.

“That’s why the conversation we had this morning, among other things, talked about how to ensure that there is responsibility, even for the elites and oligarchs contributing to the instability in Haiti that we are seeing right now, as we make sure. to be there to strengthen the civil society institutions and the necessary police institutions.

“But after many, many years and even decades in which the international community has tried to repair Haiti for Haitians, we must make sure that Haiti itself is driving the lasting change that we must see in that country a beautiful time that will be beautiful again.”