As featured in Edition 38, available here.
BY ALICE STANDEN (2nd year - History and Sociology - Bristol, UK)
On July 7th 2021, President Jovenel Moïse was found dead in his home after unidentified gunmen stormed his property in Port-au-Prince. Moïse served as president from February 2017, and dealt with opposition and unrest for most of his term as head of state. Prior to his assassination, Haitians had been demonstrating for his removal from office for over a year and arguing that the economic crisis in Haiti proved his poor leadership skills. Currently, nearly 60% of people in Haiti live below the poverty line.
Haiti is an island situated in the Caribbean Sea, which has a rich political and cultural history. Following the Haitian Revolution, it became the first nation which was both free from slavery and ruled by former slaves. Political instability and crippling debt are largely due to the international community. From the money demanded by France following the nation’s insurrection, to the ostracisation by other countries who wanted to discourage rebellions in their own colonies, to the occupation by the US in the early 20th century; economic and political problems formed the backbone of the nation.
These problems were only exacerbated by a severe earthquake in January 2010, which left 300,000 people dead and up to 1.6 million homeless. Furthermore, the United Nations (UN) has been criticised for causing the following cholera outbreak that infected over a million people, which it has refused to take any responsibility for, financial or otherwise. While the international community provided short-term emergency relief, there were virtually no provisions put in place for long-term recovery from the natural disaster. It was reported in 2017, the same year Moïse took office, that there were still 2.5 million Haitians in need of humanitarian aid.
Haiti’s economic crisis only grew worse under President Moïse, making it hard for citizens to access food and fuel. The country also suffers from endless corruption, with the ex-president allegedly being involved in a $2 billion fraud scheme, involving Haiti’s political and business leaders. Even Moïse’s death is murky, accompanied by secrecy and corruption, with little being uncovered about the culprits and conflicting reports about the assassination; some have even accused the president’s own security guards. What is known is that the 51 year old was shot 12 times in the head and torso, had several bones broken, and had his left eye gouged out by his killers.
Prime Minister Ariel Henry was sworn in as the new head of state at the end of July, and was thrust into a national emergency immediately after assuming the position of prime minister. An earthquake on August 21st, 2021 left the island "physically and mentally devastated” and no doubt brings back memories of the earthquake that shook the island a decade ago. Officials estimate there are 600,000 people requiring emergency assistance, but aid has once again been slow to arrive from external groups, due to both the ongoing tropical storm and local gangs.
Henry has stressed that his priority is to “restore order and security” to Haiti, although this will no doubt prove difficult dealing with a natural disaster on top of the economic crisis and the recent assassination of his predecessor. This earthquake is just the most recent of natural disasters to hit Haiti in recent years, the last notable one being Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
The nation is devastated, having been faced with problem after problem, and is in desperate need of external aid. So, how should the world respond to Haiti in crisis?
One thing that has been made clear by the earthquake in 2010 is that short-term aid only provides relief after the initial disaster. Long-term strategies must be put in place in order to support Haiti, both to help the people there and improve the infrastructure of the country. That doesn’t mean that autonomy should be stripped from the island entirely, for instance another country ruling by mandate would likely cause more problems than it would resolve. Instead, Haiti should receive long-term support from the international community. Any so-called “help” should also be vetted by more than one group to avoid situations like the cholera outbreak caused by the UN in 2010, and to make sure that any aid does in fact benefit Haiti.
Haiti has been neglected by the rest of the globe for far too long, especially considering the majority of problems faced by the country were caused by outside intervention in the first place. The assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, possibly a form of vigilante justice against a corrupt ruler, and the natural disaster currently taking a toll on the island should be a wake-up call for the rest of the world: Haiti should not be ignored any longer.
IMAGE: Flickr / The National Guard