Haitians Suffer as Country is Overrun by Gangs

By Emily Thompson

Haiti is facing a worsening humanitarian crisis as the central government collapses and gangs have almost completely taken over the Caribbean nation, causing death and destruction along the way.

The international community has made some effort to help quell the violence there but not enough is being done, although the United Nations Security Council last week did approve the addition of four suspected Haitian gang leaders to its sanctions list.

The U.N. slapped sanctions on Renel Destina, believed to be the main leader of the Grand Ravine gang; as well as Vitel’homme Innocent, understood to head the Kraze Barye gang; Johnson Andre of 5 Segond; and Wilson Joseph of 400 Mawozo, according to a Reuters report. The U.S. Treasury Department also applied sanctions to these four gangsters.

Survivors say Andre and his gang are directly responsible for 1,035 cases of sexual violence in 2022 alone, the Treasury Department said in a statement.

The Treasury said Destina, a key ally of Andre, was responsible for killings, robberies, rapes, looting and burning down homes, and has also been indicted for kidnapping U.S. citizens in 2021.

Joseph and Innocent are both indicted for roles in the kidnapping of U.S. citizens in October last year, it added.

Haitian officials have been pleading with the international community for aid and assistance including police forces to fight the gangs responsible for the violence throughout the country.

But sanctions are not enough and the gangs are destroying lives across Haiti.

A report published last week on Dec. 5 called for a multi-national force to deal with the humanitarian situation in Haiti.

“The situation in Haiti is cataclysmic. We are continuing to receive reports of killings, sexual violence, displacement and other violence — including in hospitals,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said in a statement accompanying last week’s report.

The support mission “needs to be deployed to Haiti as soon as possible,” he said.

The report detailed how criminal gangs rampage through “rival” villages in Bas-Artibonite, raping and executing local people, and leaving them in a constant fear of kidnapping for ransom.

The gangs are also looting farmers’ land, crops and livestock, and destroying irrigation canals, while attacking those bringing food to markets. Up to 45 percent of the district’s population was food insecure as of September, the report said.

This level of violence is horrific. 14-year-old girls are being raped and impregnated, people are mutilated and murdered in the marketplace, and the world looks the other way. At least 3,960 people have been killed, 1,432 injured and 2,951 kidnapped in gang-related violence this year, according to the UN.

In a move that could unleash further upheaval in a country already reeling from gang violence and political instability, notorious coup leader Guy Philippe returned to Haiti after the U.S. government repatriated him.

The political vacuum created by the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse has been filled with nothing but chaos, death, and destruction and it is unclear whether Philippe will be able to bring calm and the rule of law to the country.

Philippe was a charismatic leader who was instrumental in the 2004 rebellion against former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and had powerful ties to police, politicians and the business elite, according to an AP report.

In September, the Biden administration announced a $65 million aid package to support the Haitian police in their efforts against gang violence. This initiative was part of a broader call by the White House for the U.N. Security Council to endorse the deployment of a multinational security force in Haiti.

Following this, in October, the U.N. Security Council approved a mission led by Kenya to address the situation in Haiti. The mission plans to deploy around 1,000 police officers, predominantly from Kenya, with additional support from other nations.

Some House Democrats aren’t pleased with this decision.

U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, whose Boston-based 7th District is home to one of the largest Haitian diaspora communities in the country, has called on the Biden administration to end U.S. support for an armed foreign intervention in Haiti and instead to encourage negotiations leading to a Haitian-led democratic political transition.

Pressley was joined in her call by Democratic Reps. Yvette Clarke (N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), Barbara Lee (CA), Jan Schakowsky (IL) and Jim McGovern (MA).

But negotiations don’t seem to be an optimal solution now as gang leaders appear uninterested in handing over power. What this means is that a multi-national force is probably the best option to confront the gangs, push them out of civilian areas, and defeat them militarily.

Haiti’s civilians deserve a better life led by a democratic leadership that can provide Haitian youth with a better future.

Image: Pixabay

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