Haiti has been stuck in a permanent political and humanitarian crisis for years. Plainclothes police have now attacked the home of interim Prime Minister Ariel Henry while he was returning from the Summit of Latin American States (CELAC). Later, demonstrators, most of whom also pretended to be police officers, stormed the airport in the capital Port-au-Prince to receive the prime minister there.

According to the Haitian police union, suspected gang members have killed 15 police officers in the past two weeks alone. The angry officials accuse the head of government of not helping them; some even speculate that he is in league with the gangs. According to the Haitian human rights organization RNDDH, 78 security officers have been killed since Henry took office.

Ariel Henry was appointed the new Prime Minister in mid-2021 by then-President Jovenel Moise. However, just two days later, before Henry was sworn in, Moise was murdered. There is no parliament that could constitutionally confirm Henry in office because Haitians have not elected one since 2015.

The November 2021 general and presidential elections did not take place because Henry dissolved the election committee over allegations of bias. Since then it has remained with election announcements. That is why Henry is considered by many Haitians to be an illegitimate ruler. Quite a few suspect foreign machinations behind his takeover of power, as well as behind the assassination of President Moise.

Even before the president was assassinated, the political situation in Haiti was considered desolate. Years ago, the government effectively lost control of parts of the country to criminals. In the capital, Port-au-Prince, their gangs run more than half of the districts. In view of the catastrophic security situation, observers also believe that democratic elections are currently hardly feasible.

In October 2022, Prime Minister Henry asked the United Nations (UN) and friendly countries to send troops to fight the gangs to deal with the situation. Just earlier this week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stressed the urgency of sending armed forces to the Caribbean country to protect the population and secure avenues for humanitarian aid. But no one, it seems, wants to take on this: “The risks are high, the chances of success are doubtful,” says Judith Wareh from the German Science and Politics Foundation.

Even if it were possible to push back the gangs and secure critical infrastructure such as the port and important access roads, that would not be a permanent solution: “Nobody knows how you could leave the country if there is no progress in the political process.”

In addition, foreign troops would probably have to contend with considerable resistance – not only from the gangs, the International Crisis Group notes. The political opposition and large sections of the Haitian population reject any intervention. Experiences with UN operations are too bad. MINUSTAH blue helmets (2004 to 2017) took brutal action against members of the opposition, raped locals and participated in the sexual exploitation of minors. After the devastating earthquake in 2010, they brought in cholera; more than half a million people fell ill, up to 10,000 succumbed to the epidemic.

The political UN mission BINUH, which has been in the country since 2019, also suffers from this distrust. “Many people – also in other countries where the UN operates – do not necessarily differentiate between peacekeeping missions, other UN presences and other missions that are covered by the UN Security Council,” explains political scientist Storageh.

Add to this the narrative of racist US imperialism, rife in Latin America and also rallying Haitians against foreign interventions that have some connection with the world power in the north. Quite a few in Haiti assume that the assassination of President Moise was controlled or even carried out by foreign secret services.

“These massive reservations are certainly also a reason for the reluctance in countries that – such as Canada – could be considered for a mission in Haiti,” says Storage. The government in Ottawa gave the country aid worth 98 million US dollars (approx. 90 million euros) last year alone – among other things to strengthen security forces and the judiciary. In mid-January, it supplied the Haitian police with armored vehicles to use in their fight against the gangs.

The Haitian gangs carry out activities typical of gang crime: robbery, racketeering, drug trafficking, etc. In doing so, they fight for supremacy in relatively limited territories. According to a UN report, they also bully the population there with sexualised violence in order to spread terror.

However, many of the countless gangs are now organized into two large coalitions. Clashes last summer killed around 500 people, most of them civilians. The leader of the gang alliance “G9”, Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier, is on the sanctions lists of the UN and various member states.

Now it seems that with their spread and stronger organization, not only is violence increasing, but also their influence: “The gangs have always been politically instrumentalized – for example to manipulate elections or to eliminate political opponents,” explains researcher Storageh. “The question now is whether, as their power increases, they will break away from their clients and protégés in politics, even if they probably do not yet have their own political agenda in the narrower sense.”

The fact that the gangs are becoming more and more popular is also due to the country’s poverty. Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. The aid organization International Rescue Committee ranks the humanitarian crisis there among the ten worst in the world.

Author: Jan D. Walter

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The original of this post “After police killings: is Haiti tumbling completely into anarchy?” comes from Deutsche Welle.