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Monday, February 6, 2023

After a year of ‘unprecedented crisis’, what will Haiti do next?

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For Haiti, 2022 started much like it did late last year amid widespread violence and political instability. Over the past 12 months, the situation has improved little. Haitians are facing a wave of gang attacks and kidnappings, fuel and power shortages, a deepening political impasse, and a deadly cholera epidemic. “You never know what will happen tomorrow,” said Judes Jonathas, senior program manager at Mercy Corps Humanitarian Group. Jonathas told the news portals in October that gang violence hit the streets of Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, where he lives. “We kind of live every minute. We go out and don’t know if we’ll come back,” he said. Gang violence is not a new problem in the Caribbean nation, but he has been criticized, especially after his assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July 2021 exacerbated months of political unrest and created a power vacuum. It is on the increase. Haiti’s de facto leader, Prime Minister Ariel Henry, whom Moise chose for the post just days before he was killed, has faced a crisis of legitimacy, with some Haitian civil society groups urging him to hand power over to an inclusive, transitional government – a demand he has rejected. Armed gang leaders also have used pressure tactics – including fuel terminal blockades – to force Henry to resign.

The Haitian authorities regained control of the Varreux Terminal in November, allowing petrol stations to reopen and prompting celebrations in the streets – a rare bright spot amid simmering concerns over the power armed groups wield in the country. As gang violence reached crisis levels in Port-au-Prince in October, Henry – the Haitian prime minister – appealed for an international armed force to be deployed to Haiti to restore order and secure a humanitarian corridor to allow fuel and water deliveries in the capital. Washington-led efforts to mount “a non-UN mission led by a partner country” to Haiti have stalled since then, as President Joe Biden’s administration so far has failed to get another nation to agree to lead such a force, US media outlets reported. Instead, the US and its allies, notably Canada, have imposed a series of sanctions against Haitian politicians and others over their alleged support for gangs and other destabilizing activities, such as drug trafficking and government corruption. Meanwhile, Haitian health officials continue to grapple with the outbreak of cholera.

Caused by drinking water or eating foods contaminated with cholera bacteria, the illness can trigger severe diarrhea, as well as vomiting, thirst, and other symptoms, and can spread rapidly in areas without adequate sewage treatment or clean drinking water. Over the past year, rising numbers of Haitians have left the country, seeking asylum and opportunity elsewhere in Latin America and the United States. Thousands have made long journeys on foot, including across a perilous jungle passage between Colombia and Panama are known as the Darien Gap, after finding employment and visa opportunities scarce in countries like Chile and Brazil. Others have taken boats in hopes of reaching the coast of Florida. More than a year after a gang of armed mercenaries stormed Moise’s Port-au-Prince home and assassinated the Haitian president, the country’s investigation into what happened appears to have stalled. Dozens of people, including several Colombian citizens, have been arrested as part of an ongoing investigation into the July 7, 2021 attacks. But the process is progressing slowly. Many questions and theories remain as to why Moyes was killed.

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