In 2004, then Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide left the country amid escalating violence from armed opposition groups. The crisis led to a military intervention via the UN mission (MINUSTAH), led by Brazil. Seventeen years later, the Caribbean country is plunged into a new political crisis with similar contours, now aggravated by the assassination of the current president.
The fact that Jovenel Möise was shot inside his own home underscores the failure of the UN and the Haitian government to strengthen the institutions of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The structuring of the Haitian National Police was precisely one of the priorities of MINUSTAH (2004-2017) and Minujusth (United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti), which lasted until 2019.
As in Aristide’s final months, the Moise government had lost control of parts of the territory, including parts of Port-au-Prince. In June, at least 8,500 people were forced to flee their homes in the capital due to conflict between armed groups, according to UNICEF.
Camped, they suffer from hunger, thirst and poor sanitary conditions. On June 30, Opposition Leader Antoinette Duclair was shot and killed inside her car. On the same day, journalist Diego Charles was also assassinated. When the last Brazilian troops left the island in late 2017, Brazilian anthropologist Pedro Braum warned that any institutional improvements left by MINUSTAH would be fragile due to extreme poverty. “It is a gigantic population without access to any social rights. Without solving this problem, it is difficult to create a stable political society, ”he said.
Since then, living conditions have only worsened. Braum, who has been in Haiti since 2008 and lived in Port-au-Prince between 2014 and 2020, says the current cycle of violence and political crisis began in July 2018, when Moise faced violent protests after he increased fuel prices by up to 51%. , result of an agreement with the IMF (International Monetary Fund).
From there, Haiti is in a spiral. Schools failed for months due to blocked roads and violence. Flash kidnappings and other crimes have increased in the capital. The main road, from Port-au-Prince to the border with the Dominican Republic, is controlled by a gang.
Politically, Haiti has had no legislative power since early 2020, after the elections were canceled months before, and Moïse had ruled by decree. Opponents led great marches against the authoritarian movements of the Haitian president, who was trying to sanction a new constitution written only by allies. And the armed groups have once again preached taking power by arms.
The Covid has also had a huge economic impact. Without work, Haitians abroad have stopped sending dollars to relatives left behind, reducing one of the country’s main sources of foreign exchange. The country also suffers from chronic environmental problems. At least 6% of the territory has been lost due to erosion processes, according to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). Additionally, overfishing on the coast has left the country without one of its main sources of food.
A former coordinator of Viva Rio in Haiti, Braum says decades of instability have caused a brain drain – almost every professional he’s worked with in the country now lives in the United States, Canada or France. “Energy that could be used to rebuild the country is going elsewhere.”
For those who remain, the endless crisis generates great social trauma. One of the most common expressions in the country is “peyi nou tet anba”: our country is upside down. People feel incapable of making their wishes come true, formulating plans and relinquishing a political role for fear of violence, he says.
“Everyone imagined that something tragic was going to happen. It’s a film that repeats itself with new situations, ”says the anthropologist. “It is difficult to create political stability when people’s lives are very fragile.”