Haiti’s Rule of Lawlessness

This post is also available in: Français 

Photo of Brian Nichols meeting with Haitian civil society leaders Twitter/Brian A. Nichols

To comprehend the depth of the rot in Haitian politics, consider the public figures who have been slapped with sanctions by the US and Canadian governments over the last few months because of their corruption and connections to drug smuggling and gang violence. The list reads like a who’s who of the politically and economically powerful in Haiti. It includes two former Haitian presidents, Michel Martelly and Jocelerme Privert, and two former prime ministers, Laurent Lamothe and Jean-Henry Céant. Also on the sanctions list: two cabinet ministers, four former senators, several leading former members of parliament, and three prominent business figures who together own a good portion of the Haitian banking system.

Over the past decade, the rot has spread from politics to almost every barely functional Haitian government institution. In January, a judicial oversight board refused to recertify 30 Haitian judges because of their corruption and ethical lapses. This group includes the judges presiding over the country’s two highest-profile cases: the inquiry into the Petrocaribe scandal, in which US$2 billion went missing from a government aid program between 2008 and 2016, and the stalled investigation of the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, who was murdered in his home in July 2021. Corruption is also deeply embedded in Haitian law enforcement. Drug traffickers report that the Haitian police help move drugs, and a handful of senior officials and well-connected individuals—including the former head of presidential security, a former president’s brother-in-law, and several judges—are suspects in one of Haiti’s biggest drug trafficking cases, which involved a shipment of over 2,000 pounds of cocaine and heroin in 2015. Government officials have been implicated in planning and providing weapons and vehicles for gang massacres of civilians. An August report by the Haitian government’s anticorruption unit found gross misconduct among town mayors, the head of the national lottery, a member of the board of directors of the central bank, and officials at the government’s regulatory agency, and the former head of the Haitian National Police.

Criminality is ubiquitous in Haitian officialdom. In fact, Haitian politics and government at all levels have become so enmeshed in and dependent on graft, gunrunning, drug smuggling, and gang violence that it is nearly impossible to disentangle them. All this depletes the state’s capacity to provide critical social services for Haiti’s more than 11 million people—that is, if the current leaders had any will to do so.


Related Links

Suggested Content

The Politics Of Disaster Relief

After a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, the aftershock reached China in ways that few anticipated.The earthquake forced Chinese leaders to navigate the tricky politics of disaster relief.