Saturday, March 16, 2024

Opinion: Why gangs hold so much power in Haiti. March 15, 2024

Opinion: Why gangs hold so much power in Haiti 

Opinion by Garry Pierre-Pierre, Fri March 15, 2024

Editor’s Note: Garry Pierre-Pierre is the founder and publisher of the Haitian Times, a New York-based English language publication serving the Haitian diaspora. He was part of the New York Times reporting team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for reporting on the first World Trade Center bombing. He is also the co-founder of the City University Graduate School of Journalism‘s Center for Community and Ethnic Media. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion at CNN.

The leaders of the unrest today include Jimmy Cherizier — the colorfully nicknamed “Barbecue” — but there are others who are arguably just as influential and equally ruthless. Another shady character in the mix is Guy Philippe, a former soldier who led  the coup that ousted Aristide from power in 2004. Philippe, now positioning himself as a presidential candidate, returned to Haiti recently after serving six years in a US prison for money laundering and other illicit activities.

But the outlaws that have overrun Haiti’s capital and mounted highly coordinated attacks on law enforcement and state institutions cannot lead Haiti into a more stable and prosperous future. Cherizier has said his goal was to overthrow Henry’s government. He and other gang leaders appear to have succeeded. What now?

Henry says he will formally step down once a new prime minister and cabinet are in place. At a meeting in Jamaica this week, the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) said it had agreed to set up a transitional council to lay the foundations for elections in Haiti. 

But as commendable as the goal of the democratic franchise is, does anyone think that elections will fix what’s broken in Haiti? Will they end the grinding poverty there? Restore the dilapidated infrastructure? Will balloting prevent the resurgence of the next group of thugs that decides to take control of the country at gunpoint?

The US role

Many Haitians who would like to see their country back on its feet recognize that any solution will require sustained and deliberate involvement by the US and the broader international community. Yes, Haitians are haunted by the history of past military incursions by Uncle Sam, and ruefully recall the last failed UN mission which led to the spread of disease that caused thousands of deaths and saw acts of criminality by the same Blue Helmets sent to provide order. But sadly, Haiti is a country that has little to no other viable options.

It hurts to say it, but Haiti is a broken state. The kind of order and the investment of resources necessary to fix it simply are not achievable by the current government — or any future one, under the current conditions. Quelling the violence and reinstating order demands a holistic approach outside of the capacity of the Haitian government. Ending the chaos will only be possible with US diplomacy, influence and know-how.

Any future steps must prioritize the safety and security of the Haitian people by shoring up law enforcement, fortifying judicial institutions and addressing the root causes of gang recruitment. The government is unable to do any of that and appears unlikely to be able to in the near future either.

Haiti needs help combating corruption and loosening the stranglehold that the country’s oligarchic masters have on its economy. Efforts must be made to enhance governance and to nurture and train potential leaders from the bottom up, as a way to forge ties between the government and the people they govern. It’s the best way to ensure that Haiti is never again ruled by strongmen and kleptocrats.

Only the US and international community can divert the flow of guns and ammunition from the hands of criminal gangs. The US has shown with the results obtained by agencies like the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Drug Enforcement Agency in other violence- and corruption-plagued parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, that it is uniquely qualified to take on this challenge. Only with the help of Washington — the kind of assistance Henry requested a year-and-a-half ago — can the situation in Haiti be stabilized, paving a path toward or sustainable progress and development.

At some point, of course, it will be necessary to address the socioeconomic roots of gang affiliation. Access to education, vocational training and economic opportunities offering viable alternatives to a life of crime via community-based initiatives will be essential. But none of that can commence in earnest until the violence is quelled. Once it is, that restoration of peace, and additional assistance from US development agencies and international nonprofits can help lay the foundation for a Haitian government with a genuine commitment to reform and reconciliation, working hand in hand with civil society and the global community.

After decades of watchful waiting, so many Haitians are desperate to see their country advance. An acquaintance of mine there recently confided to me that because of the current upheaval he has only a two-week reserve of petrol to sustain his business; the unrest has made it impossible to obtain more. He remains sequestered in Haiti however, because he knows that leaving would mean his business would be looted and pillaged.

It used to be said that when America sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold — so great is its might and influence. What if some of that vast power were deployed in a systematic and sustained way to help a country roughly the size of Maryland and less than two hours off its shores.

What if one of the wealthiest nations in the world turned its attention to finally ending, once and for all, the misery and desolation of the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere? Although formidable challenges lie ahead, the path to peace and stability in Haiti is possible with the right kind of help from Washington.

By addressing the underlying causes of violence, Haiti can emerge from this current upheaval to become at long last the peaceful, competently governed republic its citizens deserve and fervently believe it can be.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Search This Blog

ARCHIVE List 2011 - Present