2021-07-12 07:05:37 UTC
By Maria Abi-Habib, 7/8/21, New York Times
The streets of Haiti had been clogged for months with angry
protesters who burned tires, stormed banks & robbed stores.
Gangs, with the sometimes tacit permission of the police,
have been kidnapping nuns, fruit vendors & even schoolgirls
And then on Wednesday, the country slid deeper into turmoil,
when a convoy of gunmen brazenly rumbled up to the home of
the president, Jovenel Moïse, in the middle of the night &
shot him dead.
Almost every time Haitians think their circumstances can't
get any worse, it seems the nation takes another ominous
turn, & it's now teetering on the verge of a political void,
without a president, Parliament or functioning Supreme Court.
The country’s morass has for decades put it near the top of
a list of nations, such as Afghanistan & Somalia, that have
captured the world’s imagination for their levels of despair.
In the shadow of the richest country in the world, people
wonder: How could this happen to Haiti?
Haiti’s troubled history goes deep, lying in its roots as
a former slave colony of France that gained its independence
in 1804 after defeating Napoleon’s forces, & later suffered
more than two decades of a brutal dictatorship, which ended
Then, after a powerful earthquake devastated the country
in 2010, an influx of foreign aid & peacekeeping forces
appeared to only worsen the country’s woes & instability.
Haiti’s failures have not occurred in a vacuum; they have
been assisted by the int'l community, which has pumped
$13 billion of aid into the country over the last decade.
But instead of the nation-building the money was supposed
to achieve, Haiti’s institutions have become further
hollowed out in recent years.
When the president let Parliament’s term expire last year,
it left Haiti with 11 elected representatives — Moïse &
10 senators — for its population of 11 million, eliciting a
strong condemnation but little repercussion from Washington.
For the next year & a half, until his assassination, Moïse
increasingly ruled by decree.
Haiti is less a failed state than what an analyst called
an “aid state” — eking out an existence by relying on
$$billions from the int'l community. Foreign govts have been
unwilling to turn off the spigots, afraid to let Haiti fail.
But the money has served as a complicating lifeline —
leaving the govt with few incentives to carry out the insti-
tutional reforms necessary to rebuild the country, as it
bets that every time the situation worsens, int'l govts will
open their coffers, analysts & Haitian activists say.
The aid has propped up the country & its leaders, providing
vital services & supplies in a country that has desperately
needed vast amounts of humanitarian assistance. But it has
also allowed corruption, violence & political paralysis to
Although they deny it, Haitian politicians, including the
govt, have traditionally relied on gangs to sway elections
in their favor & to expand their political turf. In the last
3 years of Moïse’s term, more than a dozen massacres by gangs
linked to the govt & police forces have killed over 400 people
in anti-govt neighborhoods & displaced 1.5 million people,
yet no one has been held accountable for the crimes.
When a political or human rights scandal erupts, the
U.S. govt issues paper tiger-like condemnations.
Instead of embracing the long road to reforms & creating a
system that works, Haitian civil society leaders contend,
the US has propped up strongmen & tied the fate of the
nation to them. Many Haitians repeatedly denounced the US’
support of Moïse but said they had little power to stop it.
“Since 2018, we've been asking for accountability,” said
Emmanuela Douyon, a Haitian policy expert who gave testimony
to the US Congress earlier this year, urging Washington to
change its foreign policy & assistance approach to Haiti.
“We need the int'l community to stop imposing what they
think is correct & instead think about the long term &
stability,” Douyon said in an interview.
The US needs to condition aid to Haiti on its leaders
cleaning up & reforming the country’s institutions, Douyon
& other analysts said. And powerful figures need to be held
accountable for the violence & corruption that permeate
every aspect of the country.
“There will be a lot of calls for int'l intervention &
sending troops, but it’s important that we take a step
back & see how int'l intervention has contributed to this
situation,” said Jake Johnston, a research associate for
the Center for Economic & Policy Research in Washington,
who coined the term “aid state.”
“There’s already been $$billions spent on so-called nation-
building in Haiti, which has only contributed to the erosion
of the state & politicization of these institutions,”
Johnston said. “To now say we need to do more of this,
well, that won’t work.”
The assassination of Moïse on Wednesday punctuated yet
another chapter in the country’s violent decade. The
assassins who raided Moïse’s compound killed a president
who was brought to power in 2016, winning the election
with only about 600,000 votes. Just 18% of voters cast
ballots, & there were widespread accusations of fraud.
Yet the US propped up the unpopular & controversial
leader, supporting Moïse amid calls for his ouster in
2019 when it was discovered that int'l aid given to the
govt had gone missing.
Moïse insisted in Feb that he would stay on for an extra
year as president because he had been prevented from
taking the post for that long while the electoral fraud
accusations were investigated. Despite demands from civil
society leaders that he step down, Washington supported
him. Critics said his holding onto the office was unconsti-
tutional, & anger boiled over on the streets, throwing
the capital Port-au-Prince into more uncertainty & violence.
Another failure of US nation-building has been playing
out 1000s of miles away from Haiti, in Afghanistan, where
the US tried for 20 years to wrest control of the country
from the Taliban before exiting the country. The Afghan
military abandoned their bases or surrendered to the
Taliban en masse as the US withdrew its troops. There,
the int'l community provided over $2 trillion in
assistance since 2001.
The nation-building exercises that the US & its int'l
partners have embarked upon in Haiti & around the world
have done little to create functioning states, instead
creating a system where questionable actors with little
national support — like Moïse — are propped up, the
easiest way to achieve short term stability.
In Afghanistan, the US has relied on warlords & strongmen
to achieve their objectives, who often politicize and
undermine institutions, leaving a vacuum when they are
inevitably assassinated or overthrown.
Civil society leaders in Haiti & Afghanistan have both
urged the US to help these countries build up their
institutions and secure the rule of law, creating demo-
cratic systems that outlive any one political leader and
provide long-term stability.
With continued American backing, Moïse had grown
increasingly autocratic, passing an antiterror law late
last year that was so broad it could be wielded against
Earlier this year, he declared he would write a new
Constitution, giving broad powers to the military and
allowing future presidents to run for a 2nd consecutive
term. He scheduled a referendum on the Constitution and
a national election for Sept, despite warnings that holding
an election amid so much violence would suppress voter
turnout and bring the same political figures to power
that have helped cause Haiti’s struggles. Yet the US
supported Moïse’s plans.
“It’s hard to think of the present moment as an opportunity
as it'll likely create more chaos,” said Alexandra Filippova,
a senior staff attorney with the Institute for Justice &
Democracy in Haiti, an organization that provides legal
representation for victims of human rights abuses.
“If the U.S. and other int'l partners are serious about
helping Haiti,” Filippova added, “they need to listen to
Haitian civil society and take the hard road: building an
actual foundation for democracy.”