As we continue to watch events in Gaza with horror, we should not forget that there are plenty of other peoples in mortal danger right now. In Haiti, Human Rights Watch report that 4,700 people in the major cities were murdered in 2023 and a further 2,500 kidnapped. Haiti is rapidly becoming a lawless state.
In less than a fortnight more than 2,500 women and children were newly displaced as violence escalates. “In Haiti, children and families are enduring relentless waves of brutal violence, with each day bringing new horrors, the loss of loved ones, homes being destroyed by fire, and an ever-present shadow of fear,” said UNICEF Representative in Haiti, Bruno Maes, who visited three displacement sites in downtown Port-au-Prince. “Deprived of essentials like food, healthcare, and education, they are mired in a crisis that strips away the very essence of childhood. This is a humanitarian catastrophe unfolding before our eyes.”
The violence in Haiti dates back to the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship in 1986. After this, the military split into a series of armed groups intent on maintaining the terror in both urban and rural spaces. At the same time a nascent social movement was also emerging. This coalesced around the former Salesian priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide who became the country’s first post-dictatorship elected President in 1991.
His first period of presidency was interrupted by a military coup, but he then returned as president until 2004 when a paramilitary coup displaced him. This heralded in a period of chaos in which Aristide’s supporters took up arms to demand the return of their leader. Meanwhile, ex-paramilitary police, who had been disbanded in 1995, took back their old barracks and began a campaign of terror and human rights abuses.
Tensions have escalated across the country since the return to Haiti of Guy Philippe, a former police commander-turned-coup instigator, in late November 2023, after he served over six years in a United States prison on money laundering and drug charges. Violence has flared in and around the capital, Port-Au-Prince. Human Rights Watch has documented how criminal groups rape women and girls to instil fear and maintain their control.
Hopes for a trade union-based solution to Haiti’s problems are low. The main union federation, Coordination Syndicale Haïtienne (CSH), backed the overthrow of the democratically elected government. At the moment, Haiti is descending into a lawless, chaotic state, although an international peace-keeping force led by Kenya is standing on their border.
Kenya has a history of sending peacekeepers to volatile countries and offered to send 1,000 personnel to Haiti in July. Nairobi says it wants to take part in the “rebuilding” of the country. However, five days ago the Kenyan High Court ruled that Kenya’s police could not take part in the mission. This leaves Haiti in the grip of armed gangs, as UNICEF estimates that 3 million children across Haiti will require humanitarian aid due to the escalating violence, malnutrition, cholera resurgence, and basic services on the verge of collapse. Over a third are urgently estimated to need protection, with this number expected to rise if conditions worsen.
Haiti, already the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation, is a largely ignored humanitarian crisis growing worse every day as the world dithers. The people of Haiti are just another example of a peoples deemed expendable by a social system that sees no value in human life unless it is directly contributing to their profit margins.
Socialist of many years. Former Labour member. Currently presenter of The Socialist Hour.