Haiti is disappearing from the map.
In the poorest country of Latin America, old problems (inequalities, violence, shortage of medicines and food) have gained ground. The country is experiencing new tragedies. One of them, of course, is the coronavirus pandemic. Another, a new political crisis surrounding the legitimacy of the autocrat Jovenel Moise. And, as if that weren’t enough, a new wave of kidnappings and displacement sparked by a furious gang war.
Few people have considered this carefully, but international organizations are concerned about the deteriorating situation in the country, especially the United Nations and UNICEF. Its neighbors, on the other hand, opt for fear, like the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, where Christopher Columbus set foot during his first trip to America in 1492. The Dominican government is studying the possibility of erecting a wall. Yes, a wall between the two countries.
The coronavirus pandemic does not seem so serious if you look at the official figures: 415 deaths and more than 18,000 cases. The problem is that this figure does not correspond to reality. Testing is insufficient and local reports show increased mortality among people in homes and in collapsed hospitals. In addition, although appearing as a priority for the Covax consortium, Haiti has refused its scheduled shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines. The government’s response was that the immunizing agent would not be sought after because of its side effects. As a result, for the moment, the country does not vaccinate any of its 11.2 million inhabitants.
The political crisis is worsening. The current president wanted to have organized last Sunday a referendum for a new constituent, which would be written by people chosen by him. He was unable to proceed with the election, alleging the worsening of the pandemic. Moïse also came under a lot of pressure from the opposition, which has been waging constant protests for months, claiming that his term ended in February and that is now the job of calling presidential elections. Moïse claims no, because he took over a year after being chosen, and therefore he is not expected to leave office until February 2022.
The United States, while not approving the idea of a new constituent chosen in this direction, supports the mandate of Moses in 2022 and calls for the holding of elections in September of this year. The opposition however agrees and sees with suspicion the possibility that they are free and fair, since the process was organized by an executive which advances against the institutions.
Meanwhile, street violence is extreme.
In Port-au-Prince, the capital alone, there are at least 95 gangs vying for the territory. And they do it by means of barricades and attacks on anyone who tries to move from one neighborhood to another. These blockades have made it difficult for people suspected of having coronaviruses to reach hospitals. And violence has forced more than 17,000 people to flee their homes since September last year. Kidnappings increased sharply, from 234 in the whole of 2020 to 233 between January and April alone. Extortion, murder and recruitment of minors are other gang offenses. The United Nations has denounced the theft of building materials from a hostel housing people displaced by the 2010 earthquake and the theft of food. A member of Médecins sans frontières was murdered on his way home.
It is difficult to imagine a solution for Haiti at this time. A free and fair election could be the start of an outcome. But that will only be the beginning. The international community should be more attentive. Especially the countries of Latin America.