The Unrest in Haiti: Country in Crisis

By Jayla S. Carr

Political History

Haitis political challenges can be traced back to its revolutionary past. Following independence, the country faced the daunting task of establishing a functional government amid the ruins of colonial rule. The unmountable debt given to the Country of Haiti from its former colonial power, France, coupled with internal power struggles, set the stage for a volatile political environment that persists.

Haiti has a long history of corrupt leaders, the most notorious of whom were Francois Duvalier, also known as Papa Doc, and his son Jean Claude-Duvalier (Baby Doc), who ruled the country from the 1950s to the 1980s. The Duvalier family was known for its extravagant spending and mishandling of Haiti’s funds. Their regime was characterized by authoritarianism and totalitarian rule, and they used techniques such as extortion, repression, and embezzlement of government funds to maintain their grip on power.

Following the reign of the Duvaliers in Haiti, the country became even more susceptible to natural disasters, especially earthquakes and hurricanes, which further increased its economic vulnerabilities. The devastating earthquake that occurred in 2010 drew attention to the precariousness of Haiti’s infrastructure, leading to widespread destruction and loss of life. The subsequent challenges in rebuilding efforts imposed additional strain on the nations already fragile economy, further impeding its capacity to provide essential services and support its citizens. The earthquake has left many citizens, even years later, without stable housing or work.

Since then, Haitis government has experienced numerous periods of political instability, marked by changes in leadership, coup d’états, and challenges to governance structures. Frequent government changes have hindered the establishment of long-term policies and sustainable development initiatives.

Armed soldiers running away from protestors
Armed soldiers running away from protestors. Credit: Richard Pierrin/Getty Images

Present Crisis

Civil unrest was ignited in Haiti in 2018 when the government announced its intention to eliminate fuel subsidies. The situation was further exacerbated by several contributing factors, including the misuse of loans from Venezuela, social inequality, substandard living conditions, and, well into 2020, the poor management of the COVID-19 pandemic. President Jovenel Moïse faced criticism for seeking to extend his term amid allegations of police brutality, human rights abuses, and violence against protesters. Following Moïses assassination in 2021, the country’s period of crisis has only been exacerbated.

The country has been overrun with gangs and has excelled to new levels, with the gangs taking over and now moving into the country capital, Port Au Prince, a prison near the country capital, and letting out 4,000 prisoners. Many of the country cities were already not safe due to brutal violence such as sexual assault and killings happening daily. Two hundred thousand plus citizens have been displaced from their homes due to the escalating violence. Haiti is home to over 4 million citizens, but the number of police in the country is around 13,000. This massive imbalance of police to citizens has made it very hard for Haitis Political Officials to establish any order within the country.

A white building with domed roofs and a green gate
A white building with domed roofs and a green gate. Credit: Wikipedia

State of Emergency

Haiti declared a State of Emergency on March 3rd, The United States evacuated its Embassy, and the Regional leaders of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) held an emergency summit to discuss the Haiti crisis and establish a framework for a stable political transition. Furthermore, the President of Guyana, Irfaan Ali, commented on the meeting and let it be known that at the summit, plans were agreed upon to create a 7 to 9-member transitional government comprised of Haiti’s major political parties. The council will be in place and responsible for selecting a new prime minister. Recently, According to NBC News, the council has stated that its creation is almost complete. The group hopes to restore Haiti and put it back on the path to legitimate democracy.

According to Al Jazeera, over 200 gangs are operating in Haiti, with two of the most extensive coalitions claiming Port-Au-Prince as their territory. The most infamous and the one who is making news waves is the leader Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizer of the G9 gang, a former Haiti police officer who has been pushing for the resignation of Haiti Prime Minister Ariel Henry, whom former President Moise appointed. As of March 12, 2024, at the height of the violence and within days of the country calling for a state of emergency, Prime Minister Ariel Henry announced that he would be stepping down and “leave immediately after the inauguration of a new council.” However, Jimmy Barbecue does not like the idea and will resist the implementation unless he is given a seat at the council table. He has stated that the corruption of the “traditional politicians” has not done Haiti any good and are the ones “damaging the country.”

Since the state of emergency was announced the United Nations has estimated that 53,000 Haitians have fled the capital of Port-Au-Prince in March. Also, 1.64 million men, women, and children are facing severe acute malnutrition due to the rise of gang violence has only exacerbated the crisis.  The percentage of those who rely on humanitarian aide for food has only increased. Before the crisis, Haiti’s urban and rural communities had long relied on their city and town markets, which are sustained mainly by the work of Madan Saras, the women of Haiti who buy, distribute, and sell food and other essentials in these markets, serving as the lifeline of the communities. Still, unfortunately, they have become targets for gang violence, especially in recent times. The gangs seek to assert their power over the towns, and thus, the markets have become a hotbed of criminal activity, which has contributed to the decimation of Haiti’s economy. This is just one example among many of the challenges the people of Haiti face.

A group of people holding a flag
A group of people holding a flag. Credit: Guerinault Louis / Anadolu via Getty Images

Path of Uncertainty

Still, despite the council’s creation, a finalized plan has yet to be developed to assure Haiti and its citizens of a peaceful and stable environment. Kenya’s plans to assist the country and bring in military aid have been stalled, and the country’s future is uncertain. The government has been distressed for many years, and the plan to restore stability will require continued effort.

Several organizations are assisting the people of Haiti in the amid unrest. Here are a few of them:

Hope for Haiti Foundation

Hands up for Haiti

Global Giving has information about several ongoing projects in Haiti aimed at assisting citizens.

Cleaved and Clamored: The Crisis in Cameroon

On Tuesday, November 5th, the Institute for Human Rights co-sponsored an event alongside Cameroon Humanitarian Relief Initiative to present Herman Cohen (former United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs) and Dr. Fontem Neba  (Secretary General of Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium). During their panel discussion, Cohen and Neba discussed the history of Cameroon, ongoing Anglophone discrimination, and potential resolutions to end the conflict.

As one of the most prominent voices advocating for Anglophone rights, Dr. Neba spoke directly about the atrocities taking place in Cameroon because he was recently detained for nine months after being charged with terrorism. Followed by its establishment as a federation in 1961 and an illegal referendum in 1972 that unified the Francophone majority (~80%) in the north and Anglophone minority (~20%) in the south, Cameroon has endured significant conflict. With political power most harbored in the north, Anglophone Cameroonians have experienced pressure to assimilate and prevention to secede, which led to a civil war in 2016 that has been riddled with human rights violations. More specifically, the Cameroonian military has permeated the south with their influence by committing heinous acts such as destroying Anglophone schools, burning crops, and murdering separatists. As a result, these acts have led to famine, homelessness, and institutional instability throughout the south. Additionally, thousands have been jailed for speaking out against the Franchophone government, while approximately a half-million are internally displaced and another 40,000 have sought refuge in Nigeria.

Neba describing Cameroon’s geographic division. Source: UAB Institute for Human Rights

Cohen then spoke about the crisis in Cameroon by drawing parallels with Eritrea which Ethiopia turned  a province before it eventually became an independent country. Although, the international community has been passive about the events unfolding in Cameroon. One exception is none other than the Trump Administration, which signed an executive order last month that effectively removed Cameroon from the African Growth and Opportunity Act. As a result, this action prevents Cameroon from profiting off duty free sales to the U.S. Additionally, south Cameroonians have found an Anglophone ally in Nigeria, making the prior impervious to defeat, while north Cameroonians have been increasingly critical of their government because they are not benefiting from the country’s strong economy. Thus, Cohen argues the U.S. is in the unique position to mediate a resolution. However, the Trump Administration has adopted an isolationist position, which currently places the U.S. distant from potential negotiations. Following, he suggested that the Cameroonian diaspora in U.S. should write letters to their local representatives and urge a cease-fire agreement.

After their presentations, Cohen and Neba took questions from an appalled audience. Addressing a question about the realistic options in our current political environment, Cohen insisted the United Nations Security Council must initiate negotiations and that it must be settled between warring factions; his personal suggestion is that they return to a federation relationship. Additionally, Cohen responded to a question that mentioned the role of former colonial powers, where he mentioned that Great Britain is currently distracted by Brexit, while France, despite reluctance from southern Cameroonians, is taking initiative to mediate the conflict. When asked how geopolitics, namely natural resources, influence this conflict, Neba claimed south Cameroon is rich in cocoa and timber as well as a fevered, educated populace. Although, he argued the region cannot become economically independent because their oil supply, which is on the border, is property of the government. In response, a passionate audience member, and Cameroon native, insisted south Cameroon, much like other small countries, can be independent without an oil industry.

Cohen answering an audience question. Source: UAB Institute for Human Rights

Cohen argued this crisis has potential to become a “Rwanda situation”, but, thankfully, a potential resolution doesn’t require money or soldiers. However, the current trajectory of this crisis primarily lays in the hands of Cameroon (who is persistent on military intimidation), Nigeria (who has enabled separatists in the south), and the U.S. (who has implemented economic sanctions). Thus, these conflicting narratives put human rights advocates in the position to highlight this pressing issue whether it be mentioning it on social media, writing to your local representative, or donating to humanitarian relief.