The ongoing protests, the situation of instability and crisis in Haiti risks sparking off a civil war by the end of year, while the rest of the world remains indifferent. In the Caribbean Republic, which is also one of the poorest countries in the world, the spotlight is generally only on natural disasters such as earthquakes, cyclones or cholera. A violent anti-government uprising against President Jovenel Moïse, in power since 2017 with no intention of resigning, has been underway for over five weeks now, but signs of unrest were already evident in June last year and in February 2019.
The protests were organised by the opposition but were triggered by fuel shortages, price increases due to a 20% inflation rate, corruption and widespread poverty. The riots escalated into violence, with barricades along the roads, burning tyres, and overturned trucks. So far, at least 19 people have died, with 200 injured.
At the end of September the Bishops’ Conference of Haiti, with its ten bishops, denounced the situation, blaming political leaders for their irresponsibility. Caritas Haiti went even further, demanding that the government resign due to its inability to cope with the crisis. Meanwhile, humanitarian workers are forced to remain at home. They cannot plan their activities, social projects are being delayed. They cannot travel across the country because of the many gangs that extort money to car drivers and because of the shortage of petrol. In the capital Port-au-Prince food and basic necessities are still arriving, but in the more remote provinces they are starting to be in short supply. “This situation resembles the civil war of 2004 – Alessandro Cadorin, coordinator of the Italian Caritas projects in Haiti, told SIR from the capital Port-au-Prince -. At the moment there is a standstill, but the situation is expected to deteriorate by December. People circulate with weapons, shootings can be heard. Truck-loaded products are dumped in the middle of the streets to block traffic on the main city access roads. There is a high level of insecurity. The European Union has already evacuated its staff. “We are not a target so far – he pointed out – but of course there is greater delinquency and this situation of anarchy entails increasing risks.”
Plundering and wreckage even in the Caritas offices. The chaotic situation fostered the formation of new gangs that terrorize entire districts of Port-au-Prince and other areas of the country, such as Port Sond in the Artibonite Department. The diocesan Caritas of Les Cayes was completely ransacked, power units were destroyed. “A huge disaster”, added Cadorin. Other non-governmental organizations have also been the victims of attacks. A team from the Catholic relief service ( United States Caritas) was targeted by seven armed men: they stole materials from their warehouses. “Barricades are starting to be a worrisome business,” he remarked. “The situation has spiralled out of control and it is hard to understand how to cope with it.”
“We live from day to day but it’s very hard. The Country is on the brink of an armed conflict, at social level it’s even worse than the way it was after the earthquake.”
A complex Country. President Moïse’s decision not to step down – it is rumoured that he plans to continue to govern by decree at the end of the parliamentary term in December – is probably backed by the United States. Even though Moïse has lost the support of a good part of the population and its leading segments, including teachers, there is still a small bourgeois elite that backs him up. Moreover, he came to power with the votes of 20% of the population amidst fraud allegations. “Haiti is in a state in bankruptcy, it even lacks the money to pay ships for the import of fuels. 15% of illegal drug trafficking to the United States passes through here,” said the Italian Caritas worker. For a long time, it was considered a decadent, unmanageable country. Partly because of domestic incompetence, partly because it is convenient for others that its territory remain in a state of chaos, in order to carry out unlawful activities.
“We did not take an official stand as humanitarian workers, but we denounce the serious situation that risk escalating into a humanitarian catastrophe.”
Foreign presence. In the case of an evacuation of foreign NGO workers in the country, observed Cadorin, “the situation in the country could deteriorate further, as many local households would be left without an income.” Moreover, humanitarian intervention from outside the country would not be accepted either, because the MINUSTAH UN peacekeeping mission, in operation since 2004, left the Country in the last few days, leaving a negative image: they are accused of having spread cholera, as well as acts of violence and abuse. “It would be seen as yet another form of foreign interference,” concluded Cadorin. Caritas Italy has been present in Haiti since 2010, when the earthquake killed more than 200,000 people, with devastating social consequences. More than 200 projects have been carried out so far. At the moment, it supports and assists Caritas Haiti with a three-year programme of social support and revenue-generating activities. Efforts to combat malnutrition in the north-west of the country have been initiated with Caritas Haiti, Caritas Ambrosiana and Avsi. Democratic exchanges and the participation of civil society are being promoted together with Mlal and a local NGO. They also organize capoeira and music workshops in the juvenile penitentiary of Port-au-Prince.