Understanding the turmoil in Haiti News
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Understanding the turmoil in Haiti

Haiti has experienced many protests this year. The protests have primarily focused on a myriad of economic concerns and were initially sparked by a fuel crisis within the country. The underlying impetus of these protests, however, are allegations that many senior officials in the Haitian government, including President Jovenel Moïse, have been implicated in the misappropriation of 2 billion USD in profits from an oil deal between Venezuela and Haiti.

The intensity of these protests has been exacerbated in recent weeks by a series of domestic and international catalysts.

1. Shortages

The protestors were initially spurred by a national shortage of fuel earlier this year. Haiti’s primary fuel source for many years has been imports from Venezuela. As Venezuela’s political stability started to deteriorate, Haiti began to rely on imports from other international sources. The US-based company Novum Energy Trading Corp, soon became the primary fuel source for the country, supplying 80 percent of Haiti’s fuel last year.

As the western hemisphere’s poorest country, Haiti has fallen behind on its payments to Novum. In February, Novum anchored a vessel containing 150,000 barrels of gasoline, half of Haiti’s monthly usage, outside of Port-au-Prince, and refused to deliver the cargo until the Haitian government made payment. The Haitian government stated that “fuel distribution companies in Haiti had not paid the government for gasoline and diesel it purchased on their behalf from Novum.” As a result, the government could not make their payments, and Novum held the fuel for over a month before diverting the shipment to Jamaica on April 4th.

The cost of fuel in Haiti skyrocketed and caused many other necessities to rise with it. As the nation’s fuel supply diminished, electrical blackouts increasingly occurred throughout the country. Many Haitians frustrated with their inability to access basic necessities, and the apparent lack of government response to the problem took to the streets in protest. These continuing energy shortages are also accompanied by deficiencies of other vital resources, including food and medicine throughout the country.

2. International Aid:

There has been international support seeking to provide aid and relief to Haiti. The World Food Programme recently conducted a study in Haiti that found “more than one in three people need urgent food assistance,” or nearly 3.7 million people. The US has therefore pledged$20 million in emergency food assistance from USAID” as well as releasing “2,000 metric tons of emergency food stocks prepositioned in Haiti for distribution via the United Nations World Food Programme.” Despite this increased aid, many of the suppliers have had issues in their distribution to the Haitian people. “Fuel shortages, roadblocks, protests, and violent incidents are severely restricting the movement of USAID staff and implementing partners” and preventing them from adequately disseminating supplies.

The recent chaos has also effected many domestic and international medical programs. Several Hospitals have closed, many have surpassed capacity, and many more are running low on or out of critical medical supplies. The USNS Comfort arrived in Haiti, on November 4th, to carry out a ten-day medical mission in the country. This stop is part of the “U.S. Navy’s Enduring Promise operation,” in which “Medical teams from USNS Comfort will be working alongside host nation medical professionals in providing a variety of medical services to adults and children.” This mission appears to have been well received by those who were able to attain access, but the presence of a single ship cannot abate the increasing need for medical supplies.

Despite widespread issues in getting aid to where it is needed most, there has also been a domestic backlash against the current role of the international community as a whole. One area of concern derives from what many Haitians believe is a tacit endorsement of the Haitian government. Many protestors feel that the US not condemning the Haitian government is tantamount to an endorsement of their actions. The US supply of aid is also seen as merely treating the symptoms rather than the sickness itself. Additionally, the US calls for a dialogue between the two sides is viewed by many protestors to undermine the validity of the protests themselves and the long history behind them. Finally, although the aid provided by foreign powers is needed by many, there are concerns that this aid will over saturate the Haitian market and destroy local markets as it did after the earthquake in 2010.

3. End of UN Peacekeeping Mission:

Amid Haiti’s current instability, the UN has ended its 15-year peacekeeping mission to Haiti and withdrawn. The last of the UN peacekeeping forces departed at the end of September. This departure turned the sole control of the military forces and their oversight back into the hands of the Haitian government. There has been sharp criticism that this move was timed poorly, and that considering the pressure the government is currently facing this new lack of oversight may allow the government to revert to other tactics.

UN troops in Haiti have faced several legal challenges since their arrival in 2004. These include allegations that the UN brought cholera to Haiti and that some troops sexually abused Haitians. The cholera outbreak, which started in 2010, killed thousands of people and is widely believed to have been brought by peacekeepers from Nepal. Despite this belief, international courts have widely refused to hear the issue over jurisdictional concerns. Many of the allegations of sexual abuse by peacekeepers remain unresolved, and several paternity cases are pending in international courts.

Haiti’s UN peacekeeping mission has been replaced by the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH), which was established by the UN security council on October 16th. BINUH is tasked “with advising the Government of Haiti on strengthening political stability and good governance through support for an inclusive inter-Haitian national dialogue.”

4. Excessive use of force:

Amnesty International has recently verified evidence that Haitian police have used excessive force against protesters in Haiti since the departure of UN peacekeepers. Amnesty alleges that police have fired live ammunition at protesters and indiscriminately used less-lethal weapons in violation of international law.

The evidence takes the form of several videos from October, showing a series of incidents in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. Amnesty published three videos that it believes prove the indiscriminate use of less-lethal weapons by Haitian police. The videos show police firing tear gas from a moving vehicle into a crowd, firing rubber bullets a close range, and an officer beating a fleeing protestor in the stomach.

Amnesty also alleges that Haitian police have used live ammunition in their attempts to break up protests. The first video shows presidential guards firing combat rifles into the air towards protesters in an attempt to force them to disperse. At least two protesters are believed to have been injured during this incident. However, attempts to verify how they were injured have been unsuccessful. The second incident shows a police officer firing a handgun directly at fleeing protesters. Amnesty believes that the protest was peaceful and that the video shows there was “no evident or immediate risk to the officer.” It should, however, also be noted that not all of the Haitian protests have been entirely peaceful and there have been many violent actions by groups within the demonstrations.

Under international law, “the use of less-lethal weapons – such as tear gas, water cannon, or rubber bullets – should be limited to specific situations after careful consideration and only when it is necessary and proportionate to a legitimate police objective.” Additionally,live ammunition is only [to be] used as a last resort and when strictly necessary to protect against an imminent threat to life or serious injury,” and, “if the use of force is required to disperse violent public assemblies, it must conform to the principles of strict necessity and proportionality.”

The Haitian government has yet to comment on Amnesty’s allegations.

5. The threat to Journalists:

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) recently published a statement on the unrest in Haiti. It found that “at least 42 people have died and 86 have been injured” in the most recent round of protests. OHCHR has attributed at least 19 of the 42 deaths to government security forces. It also found that at least one journalist had died, and many others had been injured. OHCHR has urged all actors not to endanger journalists in the country further. “We urge all actors to refrain from targeting journalists and respect the freedom of the media to report on the situation.” The growing danger to journalists in Haiti has diminished the ability of the media to cover the country. Additionally, the murder of Nehemie Joseph, a prominent Haitian journalist and critic of the government has further served to galvanize the momentum of the protestors.

In its statement, OHCHR also acknowledged the recent allegations made against the government forces.

We welcome the launching of investigations by the General Inspectorate of the Haitian National Police into allegations of human rights violations by police and stress the need for investigations to be thorough, transparent and independent, with a view to ensuring accountability, justice and truth for victims and their families – including through judicial action.

The US Embassy in Haiti recognized the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists in a press release. The statement said that “the United States remembers those reporters killed while doing their jobs, and calls for an immediate end to all threats, intimidation, and violence against journalists and other media professionals for their work.”

Other Concerns:

There also many other seemingly “smaller” concerns in this sea of political upheaval that in less muddied water might be front-page news.

  • Doctors without Borders has declared that Haiti is facing a medical emergency as new “Antibiotic-resistant infections are a growing problem for burn patients.” As violence grows throughout the country, these far more difficult to treat infections could have deadly implications for those wounded.
  • The USCIS field office in Haiti has announced that it will permanently close its doors on November 29th. This decision was made under a wider Department of Homeland Security (DHS) effort to close 13 offices globally. However, it will restrict access to some immigration services for many Haitians.
  • The future of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for many Haitians living in the US continues to be uncertain. Many are concerned that the end of TPS could result in their deportation back to Haiti despite the current danger inherent in such deportation.

Many other concerns are facing Haiti that its government and people will have to overcome if the country is going to experience stability.

An Uncertain Future:

The protests in Haiti are currently ongoing. Neither side has given significant ground to the other, and tensions have continued to build over the last few months. With no clear path forward and an ever-lengthening political stalemate, the continuation of the protests is seemingly limited only by the willpower of the two sides.