Haiti on Brink of Anarchy Amid Hunger, Gang Violence and Power Vacuum

Haiti on Brink of Anarchy Amid Hunger, Gang Violence and Power Vacuum
Haiti on Brink of Anarchy Amid Hunger, Gang Violence and Power Vacuum

The United Nations Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) has faced many difficulties in maintaining peace and security in the country. The situation on the ground has been fraught with violence, gang-related activities, rampant corruption, and the absence of strong institutions to deal with the problem. In such a climate, the new government of Haiti is yet to be sworn in. And, amid the talk of a looming food crisis in the country, there is a looming threat of a political crisis as well.

As the 21st century draws to a close, Haiti remains one of the poorest countries in the Western hemisphere. Its poverty is largely the result of decades of dictatorship and political instability. But the country is also beset by other problems that have long plagued it. Haiti is now governed in a severe state of disarray, with a political crisis that could lead to a power vacuum.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Nearly half the island’s population is starving, gang members are blocking fuel supplies to the capital and chasing tourists away from pristine beaches. Unlike neighboring countries, a vaccine against Covid-19 has not yet been introduced in Haiti.

A country that has been plagued by poverty and unrest for most of its history is now facing its worst crisis in a generation after President

Jovenel Moise

was killed in his home last week in a mudslinging attack for which police hold responsible two dozen foreign mercenaries and a 63-year-old doctor they say wanted to be president.

Although Claude Joseph, the interim prime minister, claims to be Haiti’s legitimate leader, the Biden administration appeared to distance itself from him on Monday after an American delegation visited the island over the weekend.

He and two other men with claims to power were seen by officials from the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department and the National Security Council: Ariel Henry, who was appointed prime minister by Moise but has not yet taken office, and Senate President Joseph Lambert, the NSC said Monday.

What emerged from his trip was a lack of clarity about the future of political leadership, the White House spokesman said.

Jen Psaki.

told reporters. She said the government is still contacting some leaders in Haiti to see how we can help.

The United States has avoided expressing support for one leader over another. Last week, a State Department spokesperson

Ned Price.

Sir, I want to thank you for your support. Joseph said the U.S. was in contact with Mr. Joseph to cooperate and designate him as the sitting president.

The American visit could be a precursor to an agreement between Messrs. Joseph and Henry to work together to stabilize the country and prepare for new elections, Mr. Henry told The Wall Street Journal on Monday, describing his conversations with Mr. Joseph.

The Petion Ville market in Port-au-Prince on Sunday, four days after the assassination of the Haitian president.


Matthias Delacroix/Associated Press

The United States reaffirmed that it would not send U.S. troops to Haiti, as it had done in 1994 to restore deposed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power. And U.S. officials have told Haitians that maintaining democratic institutions and holding elections are essential to restoring peace here.

But talk of elections seems a pipe dream for many people in a country on the verge of collapse. The late Mr. Moise has been ruling by decree for the past two years and parliament is not functioning. The chief justice died of covid-19 last month.

To make matters worse, the election authorities were appointed unconstitutionally last year, according to Pierre Esperance, a leading human rights lawyer.

Esperance, who has worked closely with U.S. lawmakers in the past, said U.S. officials are applying pressure, pressure, pressure for this year’s elections. But we can’t hold elections in this situation. There is no constitutional solution.

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He said the United States and its allies should negotiate a dialogue between Haitian civil society groups and disparate political parties to reduce tensions and restore order. Nearly 70 people participated in the 2015 presidential election. The runoff has been postponed several times, and in 2016 Mr. Moise won out of nearly 30 candidates.

The succession battle that followed Mr. Moïse’s death promises to make the task of appointing leaders in Haiti’s fractured political establishment more difficult than usual. Even the scum of politicians seem ready to fill the power vacuum.

The political uncertainty arose after police announced on Sunday that they had arrested Christian Emmanuel Sanon, a Haitian doctor, for allegedly being a key figure in the murder of Mr Moses. Authorities said Sanon, who lived in Florida until June, was seeking the presidency. But a lot of people here didn’t even know him.

I have no idea who this man is, explained André Michel, leader of a coalition of opposition parties, the leadership crisis in Haiti.

He accused the current government of collaborating with gang leaders and corrupt businessmen and said Mr Moïse’s decrees undermine what little democracy remains in Haiti. Mr. Joseph’s government could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Michel feared the worst for his country without the help of the United States and the United Nations, whose role is to maintain peace on the ground and encourage political leaders to work together.

We are talking about a full restoration of the state, Michel told his party office on Monday. Without power, he sweats and waves a folder of kraft paper around his desk, yelling at his assistants to fix the generator.

Haitians in front of the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince on Monday.


Matthias Delacroix/Associated Press

Getting the politicians involved will only be the first step in a long series of tasks needed to get the roads under control. In recent months, rampant violence, including house burnings by ruthless crime syndicates, has driven thousands of Haitians from the cramped slums south of Port-au-Prince, a mass displacement that the UN has called a growing humanitarian disaster.

For many Haitians, elections and even the prospect of stability in their country seem a pipe dream as gang wars, political collapse and unemployment make daily life a nightmare.

Whitney Sejour, a 25-year-old saleswoman, said she sees bodies lying in the street almost every day on her way home from work.

I try to keep my head down and move on, said Sejour, who described how this has affected her mental health.

But when I go to bed at night, I cry, she says. The whole country needs psychological expertise. I’m not asking to get rich. I just want stability.

Others improvise to survive. Nickenson Amos, a 30-year-old man trying to support his two young children, said he uses what little money he has to buy gasoline when it is available.

As gangs have rendered the main fuel routes in the south of the capital impassable, Mr. Amos spends his days standing outside the city’s closed gas stations with a can of gasoline, waiting for them to reopen. Once they do, he buys gasoline and sells it to desperate motorists at five times the price.

The net profit is still minuscule. Now that crime is no longer under control, few customers dare to go out on the street.

This is a terrible situation, said Amos, who added that he hoped for a military invasion from abroad to restore order. If they don’t come, we’ll need a miracle.

Crisis in Haiti

Other WSJ articles on the fallout from Jovenel Moïse’s murder, selected by the editors.

-Vivian Salama and Courtney McBride in Washington, D.C., contributed to this article.

Write to Kejala Vyasa at [email protected].

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