Crisis in Haiti – Finding a Response to Violence and Political Turmoil

event card Crisis in Haiti – Finding a Response to Violence and Political Turmoil Main photo: UN Photo / Igor Rugwiza / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

As the political crisis in Haiti unfolds, with mounting social discontent and economic instability, the Inter-American Dialogue hosted on July 27 the event “Crisis in Haiti – Finding a Response to Violence and Political Turmoil ” to discuss the current conditions in Haiti as well as approaches to securing peace and democratic governance in a country beset by turmoil. The event featured keynote remarks by Hakeem Jeffries, US representative for New York’s 8th Congressional District; introductory remarks by Michael Shifter, president of the Dialogue; Jacky Lumarque, rector of Quisqueya University; and moderator Karen DeYoung, associate editor of The Washington Post. Panelists included Sir Ronald Sanders, ambassador of Antigua and Barbuda to the United States and the Organization of American States; Michaëlle Jean, former governor general of Canada; and Jacqueline Charles, Caribbean correspondent at The Miami Herald. The conversation underscored the importance of facilitating national dialogue, addressing the prevalence of impunity and autocratic rule, and reexamining the international community’s role in Haiti. 

In his opening remarks, Congressman Jeffries described the situation in Haiti as a political, economic, and humanitarian crisis exacerbated by the international community’s abandonment and disengagement. In response, he called on the United States and allies throughout Europe and the Western Hemisphere to partner with civil society in Haiti to establish the foundation for transformative change. Congressman Jeffries also affirmed the commitment of Congress to reexamine US involvement in Haiti and implement meaningful approaches to aiding the Haitian people during this critical period. 

Jacky Lumarque followed with introductory remarks regarding the need for improved governance and the elimination of impunity in Haiti. For the rule of law to prevail, Lumarque advocated corrections to the constitutional imbalance among the three pillars of power. Promoting the possibility of a societal reset in Haiti, Lumarque also emphasized the importance of national dialogue to achieve reconciliation and the drafting of a new social contract. He stated, “The way out of this impasse is not the status quo but a transitional government.”  

The conversation continued with panelist Sir Ronald Sanders, whose critical stance on Haitian governance as well as US engagement in Haiti demonstrated the fragility of political and economic conditions in this Caribbean country. Sanders insisted that Haiti’s status as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere is a consequence of US engagement, stating that the United States’ “support of dictatorships during the 20th and 21st century contributed significantly to the failure of Haiti to rise out of its circumstances.” He also underscored how the rates of poverty, illiteracy, and landlessness in Haiti all exceed those of other nations in Latin America and the Caribbean. Regarding governance in Haiti, Sanders cited the rise of criminal gangs as a grave threat to democratic governance and expressed little confidence in Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s interim government. He concluded his remarks by highlighting the importance of Haiti to the Caribbean world and called for the United Nations to initiate peacebuilding in Haiti through the formation of an intergovernmental advisory board. 

Michaëlle Jean highlighted the culpability of the international community in maintaining autocratic rule in Haiti as well as the importance of listening to the demands of the Haitian people. Against a backdrop of devastating violence, economic insecurity, and governmental impunity, Haitians have become resentful of the betrayal of their government. Jean stated that the demands of Haitians fell on deaf ears as the international community turned a blind eye to the crimes committed by the Moïse regime. For Haiti to have a future, Jean emphasized the need for robust policies against corruption and impunity as well as national dialogue among all stakeholders. 

Jacqueline Charles expressed grave concern about the decimation of state institutions and the vacuum of legitimate authority driving the crisis in Haiti. Charles underscored that the younger generation of Haitians desires a different country and seeks long-term solutions, rather than quick fixes to the chronic instability and inequity in their country. Like Sanders, Charles shared a critical view of past US engagement in Haiti. She said that both the heavy-handed approach during the Obama years as well as disengagement from the Trump administration failed because they did not work with civil society and political opposition groups to secure peace and stability. In describing a Haitian solution to the turmoil at hand, Charles stated, “Haitians should not just be at the table, but be in the driver’s seat.”  

Although panelists agreed on the need for solutions to poor governance and the rise of armed criminal gangs, the discussion also included differing views on the unity of the Haitian people and their demands from the state. Sanders stressed that Haitians must come together to create a unified, consistent message to the government as well as to the international community. He also promoted the potential role of CARICOM in facilitating national dialogue in Haiti. However, Jean and Charles insisted that Haitians are already unified in their demands for transparency, the rule of law, and dignity for human life.  

This event explored the role of the transitional government and the international community, the importance of national dialogue and reconciliation, and the dangers posed by criminal gangs and international disengagement in Haiti. Despite ongoing uncertainty with upcoming presidential elections and the ongoing investigation into President Moïse’s assassination, this juncture in Haitian history presents an opportunity to effect lasting change. 

Watch the recording here:

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