Haiti hopes one day to have free and fair elections, but at the moment, it is not safe enough to do so. The State Department is weighing in and various groups of leaders from around the world are discussing how they can help make this happen, but no one sees a way through the violence with dramatic intervention.
Different solutions have been suggested, but nothing has worked yet. The Canadian government recently provided military transport equipment to Haiti in hopes of helping the police force, but the gangs just attacked and stole the vehicles for themselves.
Politically, sending material items is the easy thing to do, but it is singularly ineffective in Haiti. What is required is boots on the ground – people the gang members would fear. Even with such, it will take many years – as much as a decade – for civilian life to return to normal. So it’s going to require a long-term commitment as well as a large personnel commitment, neither of which is politically popular.
Attempts have been made to freeze assets and defund Haiti’s previous corrupt leadership, but that is also a long-term solution. They hid the money they stole long ago in secret accounts in other countries – there’s no way to track it. Similarly, those in charge of the gangs now won’t suffer from any lack of funds, as they’ll continue to make more money through drugs and kidnappings.
A short-term solution is what is needed because people are dying in the short term. Every minute that politicians continue to engage in talk without action, another child starves to death. This is an acute problem requiring granular solutions, rather than theoretical discussions in ivory towers. Until an overwhelming military force – personnel outnumbering the gang members – is sent to Haiti, the gangs will continue to steal everything that is sent in aid to use to their own advantage, further compounding the problem.
In addition to offering no hope for elections and a new government, the violence prevents vulnerable populations such as pregnant women, children, and the elderly from accessing adequate nutrition and healthcare. In a country with already extremely high maternal and child mortality rates, this assault on Haitian human rights is unconscionable. The precarity of human life in Haiti drives many to leave, often by dangerous means.
Fuel shortages, compounded by gang control of the central fuel depots, have contributed to a scarcity of clean water, which has caused the present cholera crisis. Many are sick and will die because of the lack of Haitian governmental infrastructure. The lack of fuel further destabilizes the fragile Haitian economy, which is in danger of complete collapse.
The spreading gang violence in Haiti undermines the stability of neighboring Caribbean countries. Violence along the border with the Dominican Republic is escalating and threatens to spill over the border. Other island neighbors are already overwhelmed with Haitian refugees fleeing the violence and are facing increasing economic pressure to sustain the influx.
Calls for civil discourse and internal Haitian solutions – including new elections – are appropriate only after security is established. Yes, Haitians need to decide for themselves what kind of government they desire and to rebuild leadership from within, but without outside support to ensure protection, this will not be possible. Strengthening the police force is required to reverse the ubiquitous gang-sponsored terror and allow democracy room to grow.
The solutions for Haiti have always been fraught. In this case, first and foremost, the international community must quickly help to establish security to stop the bloodshed and ongoing human rights violations. Only then, after peace has been achieved throughout the country, can Haitian civil society rebuild democratic principles and hold free and fair elections. To realize long-term success, Haitians must themselves control corruption and build critical infrastructure so their economy and population will thrive. But until people are free to leave their homes without being kidnapped or killed, we can’t expect to see any of that happen.
David Vanderpool, MD, is a surgeon who leads the international nonprofit, LiveBeyond. He has lived and worked in Haiti since 2010 providing clean water, nutritional support, and healthcare to the poor of Thomazeau, Haiti. The LiveBeyond base has a hospital that offers surgical, maternal delivery, and general medical services to the population. The LiveBeyond school provides excellent educational opportunities to the neediest children. The demonstration farm offers agricultural education to the area farmers to improve crop production.