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HAITI FACES A VIOLENT NEW ERA OF CHAOS AND VIOLENCE AFTER PRESIDENT JOVENEL MOÏSE'S ASSASSINATION

Maria Zuppello, Leidy Castellanos, Jasmine Woolley, SOUTHCOM Team

Week of Monday, July 12, 2021


Street of Port-au-Prince[1]


Gang violence has continued to worsen in Haiti in recent weeks, with the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse on July 7 exacerbating tensions and increasing instability.[2] With three individuals claiming power, chaos within the island nation is underway.[3] Criminal groups are exploiting the political turmoil, and gang violence is likely to rise, affecting a large part of the population already forced into displacement and impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. Haiti's turmoil is a threat to regional stability and has the potential to exacerbate illegal migration to the neighboring Dominican Republic and the United States. If humanitarian agencies and foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) do not engage coordinately to assist, Haiti risks falling into authoritarianism or civil war, triggering an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.


President Moïse's assassination left the country without a parliament. The three people claiming power include the acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph; Joseph Lambert, named interim President by the Senate; and Ariel Henry, appointed Prime Minister one day before Moïse's death and who eventually assumed the post as prime minister.[4] Haitian gangs have taken advantage of this political crisis with the most powerful, G9 Families and Allies, being affiliated with assassinated President Moïse’s right-wing Tèt Kale party.[5] In June, the head of the G9 alliance, Jimmy Cherizier, warned he was launching a revolution against the country's business and political elites. Since they have strong political ties, money, and weapons, Haitian gangs have the power to reject and destabilize any government or sell themselves for more money to support the next government. The gangs are likely to keep Haiti under their control by causing another wave of violence, throwing the country further into turmoil. The violence is likely to cause an increase in the transmission of COVID-19 infections as an increasing number of citizens attempts to leave the country to flee instability.


The majority of gang attacks occur in Martissant, the main road connecting Port-au-Prince.[6] This road is critical for the transportation of food and fuel, meaning that criminal activity has halted the transportation of products. The price of goods has increased, and it is difficult for citizens to access supplies.[7] This has furthered instability and insecurity, and it will likely continue if policies are not created to help counteract this situation. The drug and weapons trade has also been key to the operations of gangs. The US has placed sanctions on the G9, but the Haitian government has requested more sanctions be implemented to deter crime.[8] However, since these measures have so far been ineffective at containing their growth, the gangs will likely expand in size, attracting many new members by promising power and money. This could lead them to form new alliances with other criminal groups based in the Dominican Republic. An increase in gang presence and activity would likely further deteriorate the current economic, social, and political crises in Haiti, affecting other regional states.


The crisis also resulted in business productivity being halved and education for children halted, which in turn increased the activity of gang violence.[9] Severe implications arise from children not being able to attend school. Firstly, they cannot receive a basic education that would enable them to learn key skills that could likely improve their quality of life through future employment opportunities. Secondly, a lack of adequate education may increase poverty rates within Haiti and decrease access to affordable housing. This furthers vulnerability and insecurity in the region as displacement rates increase. Frequent violence and fear impact civilians, fueling public discontent with the government and its ability to handle the rising levels of criminal activity.


Although the investigation into the motive of Moïse's murder is still underway, one of the driving factors of this political crisis is the criticism that the Moïse Administration faced in recent months over fuel shortages, inflation, rising crime, the misappropriation of development funding, and general corruption.[10] His assassination exacerbated Haiti's already fragile political situation. This lack of clarity about political leadership is likely to have significant consequences. Violence, which already affected 1.5 million people, is likely to increase, forcing more people to migrate. There are also signs that the new provisional government will seek foreign assistance to facilitate internationally monitored elections. However, a transition forced by foreign countries or the UN is likely to cause resentment among the population and the opposition, who recall the failure of interventions following the 2010 earthquake. Without the improvement of domestic institutions, the infusion of foreign funds and peacekeeping troops may destabilize Haiti even further and attacks on foreign forces or delegations present in the country would become more likely.


The risk of a coup remains high. Extreme violence is likely, with people fighting for power and many politicians dying, compromising the existence of the political classes that traditionally rule. People may likely continue protesting, which could result in numerous injuries or deaths. Additionally, citizens may flee the country in large numbers, which could create a migration crisis. In any case, the democratic process is likely to be jeopardized because a coup would rule out the possibility of new elections in September. In case of a coup, the Moïse Administration's constitutional reform process is likely to continue, allowing the new government to further centralize power. This could exacerbate national tensions, raising the risk of a civil war. Human rights violations are likely to rise as the regime used the constitutional reform to shield itself from criticism, whereby opponents could be arrested and freedom of expression and press severely restricted.


Another option that has been discussed recently, advocated for by the Biden Administration, is a government of national unity, which would include members of the opposition and Moïse's previous government.[11] This could bring more immediate stability to the country, allowing people to leave shelters and return to their homes. As a result, the humanitarian emergency would likely decrease, allowing international humanitarian agencies and NGOs to resume their work. Social tensions would be expected to reduce, and democratic elections could be planned, possibly with international observers' assistance. To contain the gangs, law enforcement and government officials with gang ties and who are more prone to corruption would be expected to be removed.


On the regional front, tensions with the Dominican Republic, which has already shut down its borders, could skyrocket, forcing the Dominican Republic's government to expel illegal Haitian citizens, as it has done previously.[12] It would act as a deterrent to future migratory movements of Haitians fleeing the crisis. The controversial plan to lengthen the existing border wall may be revived. Protests and border clashes are likely to become more frequent in the coming months. Increased border security will very likely increase demand for, and the cost of, cross-border smuggling, resulting in increased insecurity. Additionally, effective border policing by the Dominican Republic could likely lead to short-term labor shortages since hundreds of Haitians enter the Dominican Republic to work illegally every day.[13] Demands for proof of vaccination before crossing the border will almost certainly increase black-market vaccination certificates, as the vaccination campaign in Haiti continues to struggle.


On a global scale, the likelihood of long-term infiltration of Haitian gangs into the Dominican Republic, which is already dealing with the issue of drug trafficking, could turn the entire island of Hispaniola into a major drug trafficking hub, posing serious security concerns for the region and the US, to which the drugs are partly destined.[14] The Haiti crisis could likely increase migrant flows to the US that would be even more difficult to manage than in 2020 when the US "detained more Haitian families than any other nationality."[15] In addition, so-called migrant "caravans" to the US-Mexico border may likely increasingly include Haitians. They could be exploited by Mexican and Central American criminal gangs, who may threaten them with death if they refuse to work for them.

The current sociopolitical uncertainty, the absence of economic reforms, and the general increase in insecurity have marked a year of severe recession, in the global context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Serious pre-existing problems persist, such as the deficit of public finances, high inflation, and the absence of infrastructure. In 2017, the Moïse administration announced a series of projects that should have an economic impact in the medium term including the process of progressive de-dollarization, the supply of electricity in its entirety for the whole week, as well as a commitment to improving infrastructures. However, the country has not made significant progress in any of the three areas, and these projects will likely be stalled for a long time due to the country’s complex political situation.

Haiti needs both constitutional and legitimate government restored for fundamental change to occur, to avoid further delaying economic progress. The measures that would likely allow this process of economic restoration to begin include a substantial improvement of the judicial system and the creation of new jobs and infrastructures where these jobs can be carried out in an environment free of violence. Future governments must implement political reforms against corruption, providing means to prevent it, and activating mechanisms that prevent judicial processes from being excessively delayed. This would be essential for the reconstruction of the domestic economy and the reintegration of Haiti into the international economy. These steps would likely allow Haiti’s citizens to access a lifestyle by the economic and social parameters prescribed by the American Convention on Human Rights and the UN Global Compact. If these guidelines are followed, there will likely be a significant change in Haiti.

Due to Haiti being on the verge of becoming a failed state, effective countermeasures are necessary. From a diplomatic perspective, foreign delegations should be allowed to enter the country to fuel a peaceful dialog between the various contending political parties. In particular, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) should help negotiate a government that leads to peaceful elections. Because of the situation’s daily deterioration, international humanitarian organizations like the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the UN, and Doctors Without Borders should monitor it to request more assistance and protection. CTG recommends that the Biden Administration rethink the Trump Administration’s 2017 decision to cut funding for UN peacekeepers in Haiti. A UN peacekeeping mission or a group of foreign observers could monitor a fair election and likely help a new administration in assuming office. In terms of security, the Dominican Republic’s authorities should be assisted in their efforts to address drug trafficking by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Italian intelligence, which have been operating on the island because of the presence of Italian mobsters at the helm of criminal activities.[16] This would likely allow the potential infiltration of Haitian criminals into the Dominican Republic to be kept under control. US sanctions on Haitian gang leaders may also help in the fight against criminal activity.


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) SOUTHCOM Team is continuing to monitor the implications of the Haiti crisis. Furthermore, it is monitoring the implications of both the political crisis and the humanitarian emergency. The Team is working with the Emergency Management, Health, and Hazards (EMH2) Team to conduct analyses and investigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the population. The Team is also working with the Crime Team and Extremism Team to detect any patterns or major events that should be analyzed in future reports. CTG’s Worldwide Analysis of Threats, Crime, and Hazards (W.A.T.C.H.) Officers provide 24/7 monitoring of events happening across the globe, including the crisis in Haiti. CTG’s Threat Hunters also continue to identify potential implications of this crisis that has worsened in recent weeks. CTG will continue to share analytical reports to raise awareness of Haiti’s issues.

________________________________________________________________________ The Counterterrorism Group (CTG)

[1]UN Peacekeepers Patrol Port-au-Prince Slum” by United Nations Photo licensed under Creative Commons

[2] Haiti in upheaval: President Moïse assassinated at home, AP News, July 2021, https://apnews.com/article/haiti-president-jovenel-moise-killed-b56a0f8fec0832028bdc51e8d59c6af2

[3] Power vacuum created by president’s killing rattles Haiti, PBS, July 2021, https://www.pbs.org/newshour/world/power-vacuum-created-by-presidents-killing-rattles-haiti

[4] U.S. delegation to Haiti met all three claimants to power -White House, Reuters, July 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/us-delegation-haiti-met-all-three-claimants-power-white-house-2021-07-12/

[5] Gangs complicate Haiti effort to recover from assassination, AP News, July 2021, https://apnews.com/article/health-caribbean-coronavirus-pandemic-united-nations-haiti-f1ebc8a7adb5d295c69ad89fce484b99

[6] Haiti: Thousands displaced as gang violence, insecurity escalate, Al Jazeera, June 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/6/15/haiti-thousands-displaced-as-gang-violence-insecurity-escalates

[7] Haiti political morass fuels growing crisis of hunger, malnutrition, Reuters, February 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-haiti-hunger-feature-idUSKBN20D1UP

[8] Agencies probe US, Colombian ties to Moise assassination, Al Jazeera, July 2019, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/7/9/agencies-probe-us-colombian-ties-to-moise-assassination

[9] Haiti's schools re-open but many parents now can't afford them, Reuters, August 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-haiti-education-idUSKBN25G11Q

[10] The battle for democracy goes on in Haiti as Moïse gains power, The Christian Monitor, March 2021, https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Americas/2021/0330/The-battle-for-democracy-goes-on-in-Haiti-as-Moise-gains-power

[11] Haiti's Interim Prime Minister Says He Is Optimistic On Forming A Unity Government, NPR, July 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/07/17/1017075387/haiti-prime-minister-claude-joseph-optimistic-unity-government

[12] Haiti border crisis grows as Dominican Republic expels 'migrants', Reuters, September 2015, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-haiti-dominican-deportees-idUSKCN0RJ05O20150919

[13] Enquête exclusive : Haïti : la loi des gangs, M6, July 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ymQfDKWJZM (translated by Maria Zuppello)

[14] US: drug trafficking still a serious problem in the Dominican Republic, Dominican Today, February 2021, https://dominicantoday.com/dr/local/2021/02/24/us-drug-trafficking-still-a-serious-problem-in-the-dominican-republic/

[15] Black Immigrant Lives Are Under Attack, RAICES, May 2020, https://www.raicestexas.org/2020/07/22/black-immigrant-lives-are-under-attack/

[16] Blitz Interpol a Santo Domingo, catturati e riportati in Italia 8 latitanti, ADN KRONOS, June 2020, https://www.adnkronos.com/blitz-interpol-a-santo-domingo-catturati-e-riportati-in-italia-8-latitanti_5SI13kRT4Hg62E2yx0qtqy?refresh_ce (translated by Maria Zuppello)

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