By MALCOLM STRACHAN
IN Haiti, we are witnessing what appears to be the complete breakdown of the law.
On Thursday, police officers took to the streets in protest, blocking roads and firing guns into the air. The gates at the airport in Port-au-Prince were broken down by protestors – with the gates at the Prime Minister’s house also being forced open.
By Thursday night, the streets belonged to the gangs with few working police officers in sight.
That same day, three armed masked men burst into the emergency room of Raoul Pierre Louis public hospital in Carrefour and dragged a patient off a stretcher to execute him outside.
Médecins Sans Frontières, who support the hospital, said: “Three armed masked men burst into the hospital’s emergency room, taking a patient lying on a stretcher who had been admitted for a gunshot wound. They violently dragged him out of the hospital, executing him with a bullet to the head about ten metres outside the hospital grounds.”
Benoit Vasseur, MSF’s head of mission in Haiti, said: “This is the second time we have this kind of incident in this hospital. We are again shocked by this act of brutal retribution, which violates all humanitarian principles and the protection this patient should have had inside a medical structure.
“Faced with this unacceptable level of violence, we have no other choice than to temporarily suspend all our activities in Raoul Pierre Louis hospital. We will suspend activities for as long as we cannot guarantee the safety of our staff and patients.”
This halts a 30-year effort by MSF to help Haiti, and if you look around, Haiti is finding help being withdrawn perhaps at the time it needs it most.
Our own diplomats have been airlifted out of Haiti after the Chargé d’Affaires reported the Bahamian group had been stopped by Haitian police and relieved of their vehicle and weapons. Meanwhile, Bahamasair staff found themselves trapped inside the airport.
The Bahamas has now announced no new work permits will be processed for Haitians until the authenticity of documents produced by the Haitian government can be confirmed. Existing applications and renewals will face “vigorous review and scrutiny’, we are told – while Turks and Caicos has imposed a six-month ban on visitor visas for Haitian nationals.
There has been an upsurge it seems in illegal migration, and now the legal path to reach other countries is getting harder - or being removed entirely.
Meanwhile, international groups continue to face a risk in the country - in 2021, for example, 17 members of a missionary group were kidnapped by the 400 Mawozo gang, which demanded a ransom of $17m for their release. All 17 were later released, and it is understood a lower price was paid, though what that was remains undisclosed.
United Nations Secretary General António Gutierrez last Monday called for governments to halt deportations as Haiti slides deeper into disarray – but that’s not the action we will take, with Immigration Minister Keith Bell saying we have “a job to do” to protect The Bahamas, and the deportations will continue.
When nearly 400 migrants were detained here recently, one of the actions taken was to send a medical team to inspect them – because as well as everything else, Haiti is now battling against cholera.
Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis has spoken recently of acting “with the support and leadership of Haiti” – but there’s an open question about who leads the country. Earlier this month, the terms expired of the last remaining ten senators, after vacant seats had not been filled by the failure to hold elections in 2019. The end of the tenure of those senators leaves the country without any democratically elected institutions.
There is an interim Prime Minister, Ariel Henry, who was chosen for the post just days before President Jovenel Moise was assassinated but who was never sworn in.
Since 2021, he has promised a provisional electoral council to convene elections – that council has still never been appointed.
Gangs, meanwhile, are said to control large sections of the country – and blocked off the country’s fuel for a prolonged period of time last year after taking control of ports.
In short, there is no leadership, no law and order, and no way out.
How do we begin to tackle such a situation?
Last week, the United States was talking sanctions – with an asset freeze, travel ban and arms embargo on anyone who threatens the peace or stability of Haiti.
In a document last week, the US Congressional Research Service spoke of allegations circling of Prime Minister Henry’s possible involvement in the assassination of the President, noting “Henry has fired officials who have sought to question him about the Moise case”.
Further sanctions are proposed, including against the country’s most powerful gangster.
Haiti itself has called for intervention by a “rapid action force” to help combat gangs, a call also proposed by UN Secretary-General Gutierrez. However, Helen La Lime, the UN special envoy to Haiti, told the Security Council: “This has yet to materialise.”
She said: “Haitians overwhelmingly want this assistance so they can go about their daily lives in peace. Gang-related violence has reached levels not seen in decades. Murders and kidnappings increased for a fourth consecutive year.”
Other global powers have been weighing in too. China’s UN Ambassador, Zhang Jun, called for an urgent review and update of sanctions and for the full implementation of such measures “in order to create the necessary deterrent to gang violence”.
Russia’s deputy UN Ambassador, Dmitry Polyanskiy, said the Haiti sanctions committee should seek to find “the true sources of funding of the gangs in Haiti and the routes of illegal weapons supplies to the island”.
All this weighs heavily on The Bahamas as a near neighbour – we know boats will head our way, and we know that some among us are part of these groups of human smugglers, and likely weapons smugglers too.
Despite the burden we face from this meltdown in Haiti, our actual ability to bring meaningful change there is limited. This is a task that needs a broad coalition.
An unstable Haiti is of benefit to no one – globally or for Haiti at home.
For ourselves, one of the biggest complaints among many Bahamians, whether right or wrong, is about immigration.
The solution to that is to fix Haiti, so that there is no need for people to flee for a chance to survive.
The size of that task is reflected by the many, many years of migration we have witnessed.
Right now, Haiti seems to be teetering on the brink of outright civil war.
There seems to have never been a more important time to come together to bring a resolution. But with more sanctions, more travel bans, more international groups pulling out, that resolution has never seemed further away.
ThisIsOurs 1 month, 3 weeks ago
"Russia’s deputy UN Ambassador, Dmitry Polyanskiy, said the Haiti sanctions committee should seek to find “the true sources of funding of the gangs in Haiti and the routes of illegal weapons supplies to the island”.
Russia appears to be thinking. Blanket sanctions will make things worse. The gangs will just use force to wrest what little supplies are available from peaceful citizens.
The wake up call for us is Nassau is one hurricane away from this chaos. Abaco in Hurricane Dorian was a window into how desperate armed people will conduct themselves in as crisis. We have more people on the brink of poverty and more gangs with guns
To the person getting rich off gun smuggling, they coming to your house first. They know you have more guns, money and a supply of food
GodSpeed 1 month, 3 weeks ago
Just keep them out of the Bahamas.
birdiestrachan 1 month, 3 weeks ago
It will be sad if Russia and China become involved in Haiti , but it may be their only hope the Bahamas has much that needs attention even the hospital ,
Sickened 1 month, 3 weeks ago
Absolutely. This could be the beginning of a disaster for the entire region. If the US, Canada and Europe refuse to help then China will certainly be looking to be that white night and send in support. And once they're there, good luck getting them out. As you say we have our own issues and can ill afford to spend precious resources abroad. A sad situation all around - especially for the people of Haiti.
bahamianson 1 month, 3 weeks ago
All prayers and blessings to the people of haiti. May the lord protect and keep you, the innocent.
Bonefishpete 1 month, 3 weeks ago
With the US and Europe focused on Ukraine War not much help coming to Haiti. Sucks for Haiti's neighbors.
Sign in to comment
Or login with: