Commentary: The way forward out of the crisis in Haiti

Councillor-at-Large Ruthzee Louijeune

The current state of things in Haiti is as unacceptable as it is heartbreaking. Armed, feuding gangs rule the day. If you are experiencing “Haiti fatigue” from reading about the bad things happening on the island, I promise you the actual people of Haiti are much more fatigued. 

Kids are unable to go to school, families cannot go to the market, banks are closed, and fuel is pretty much nowhere to be found. When it is found, price-gouging is the norm. Protests have been growing larger. Tens of thousands of people recently marched in the capital city of Port-au-Prince and beyond, including the communities of Gonaives and Cap-Haitien in the north, against the astronomical hike in fuel prices, which are doubling overnight at the hands of the government.

Cholera, introduced after the 2010 earthquake by United Nations troops, is making a vengeful comeback and claiming lives, particularly in an overpopulated national penitentiary.  The humanitarian issues are many, and people do not feel safe.  We must hear the clarion call of Haiti’s civil society on the way best way forward. 

Last Thursday, Methuen City Councillor Eunice Zeigler and I held a press conference at Boston City Hall in coordination with the National Haitian American Elected Officials Network (“NHAEON”), where members in states across the country called on the Biden Administration to partner with the Haitian people to confront this burgeoning political and economic crisis. Since July 20, 2021, Haiti has been led by a de facto prime minister, Dr. Ariel Henry, who assumed this position after Jovenel Moïse’s assassination. Since then, civil unrest and gang-related violence have rocked the nation.

Henry does not have a constitutional or popular mandate to lead, and it shows.  US Sen. Ed Markey joined us at the press conference, where he read his letter to the Biden Administration urging it to stop propping up the mandate-less Henry administration, calling for an end to all deportations, and voicing support for the Montana Accord, a Haitian proposal from civil society that is the most viable solution to get the country back on track. 

Many of the demands in his bicameral letter, co-written by Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern with signatories such as US Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Congresswoman Ayana Pressley align with the policy demands of NHAEON and civil society, which include a call for the President Biden to: 

• Follow the leadership of Haitian civil society. As Sen. Markey stated in his letter, the Montana Accord provides a good foundation for how Haitian-led mechanisms to solve the crisis do not include supporting the Henry Administration. The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (“IJDH”), led by Brian Concannon, who was also at the press conference, is pushing the same request, leading a campaign for the US to take its “hands off Haiti” and no longer support Henry. 

• Appoint a new US Haitian-American special envoy.  Ambassador Daniel Foote, the previous special envoy, resigned over the inhumane continuation of the Trump-era Title 42 policy that led to expeditious deportations of Haitian refugees without due process and without regard for the current dangerous conditions in Haiti.  A new envoy must be charged with partnering with Haitian civil society on the way forward instead of supporting politicians without a governing mandate. 

• In that same vein, halt any and all deportations to Haiti.  The US State Department currently lists Haiti as “Level 4 - Do Not Travel” because of kidnappings, crime, and civil unrest. Earlier this month, on Oct. 7, the Stae Department authorized the departure of family members of US government employees and non-emergency US government employees.  It is urging US citizens to leave Haiti immediately because of the current security and health situation and infrastructure challenges. Accordingly, we should not be sending anyone to Haiti - American or not - to be put squarely in harm’s way. 

• Impose economic sanctions on bad actors. The US has the intelligence and legal means necessary to impose sanctions on high-profile individuals, particularly government officials, involved in corruption who are facilitating the gang violence in Haiti.

• Assign terrorist designation to bad actors. Again, the US has the intelligence necessary to identify those wreaking havoc on the country and engaging in weapons trafficking, many of whom are hiding in plain sight with frequent news articles identifying them and the reality that many of the weapons are coming from the US. 

The Haitian people deserve to know peace and safety. They deserve to live normal lives, where kids go to school, families eat, and people are able to go to work and run errands. Haitian people also deserve to know a partner in the US that is not interested in continued military interventions or meddling in Haitian affairs for economic gain, as some, like US Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana has shortsightedly proposed. 

It is high time that US foreign policy in Haiti is guided by nothing other than a desire to follow the lead of civil society and create a foundation for democracy. Lives depend on it. 

Ruthzee Louijeune is a Boston city councillor-at-Large. She is co-hosting the 9th Annual Conference of the State of Haitian Americans in Massachusetts on Saturday, Oct. 15 at Mildred Avenue Community Center in Mattapan.

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