Flaming tires, burning buildings, chaos. Haiti’s struggle against powerful gang attacks on weak government institutions.
Flaming tires seen early on February 11, 2019, in the streets of Hinche in the center of Haiti. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2018%E2%80%932022_Haitian_protests)

Why Haiti Has Taken a Turn for the Even Worse

The security and humanitarian situation in Haiti has deteriorated sharply over the last several days. The country had been ensnared in an enduring crisis following the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, but now faces a critical juncture as gang violence surges and state authority wanes. Amid this chaos, Prime Minister Ariel Henry signaled his intent to step down. Meanwhile, an international intervention to be lead by Kenyan police remains in limbo. Despite being approved by the UN several months ago, the mission is struggling to get off the ground.

My interview guest Renata Segura is Deputy Director for Latin American and the Caribbean for the International Crisis Group. In our conversation, she sheds light on Haiti’s rapid descent into chaos. This includes why gangs have formed a temporary alliance aiming to confront state police. This gang alliance has led to an unprecedented level of turmoil, targeting police stations, airports, and causing mass jailbreaks. Segura explains where this crisis may be headed next, and what the international community can do to prevent the crisis from getting even worse.

Key Takeaways:

  • Haiti has entered a heightened state of crisis following the formation of a gang coalition that directly challenges state authority.
  • Prime Minister Ariel Henry has agreed to transfer power to a transitional council composed of various Haitian political and civil society groups.
  • The United Nations Security Council’s multinational support mission, led by Kenya, is critical but currently faces significant challenges in deployment.
  • Renata Segura emphasizes the importance of swiftly addressing the violence in Haiti before the state potentially fails completely.
  • There is discussion around the prospect of integrating gangs into the political framework as a means to de-escalate conflict.

Our conversation is freely available as an episode of the Global Dispatches podcast.

Mark Leon Goldberg I wanted to turn to the escalating violence in Port-au-Prince. Haiti has been in a state of perpetual crisis for the last three years since the assassination of Jovenal Moise.  Prime Minister Ariel Henry was widely seen as illegitimate and gangs had run rampant. That has essentially been the state-of-play for quite some time.  Why have things gotten so dramatically worse — and so quickly — just in the last week or two?

Renata Segura What we have seen is a really radical transformation of the dynamics of violence. Since the assassination of Moise in 2021 until really just a week and a half ago, the gangs mostly fought each other. A lot of these gangs were fighting for control of more and more territory because they make money out of controlling territory. They extort and kidnap. And so this was the dynamic: fights between some of the major gangs, like the G9 and the G-PEP. In the middle of it all was the Haitian National Police, being only able to marginally calm things down.

In the past week or two the gangs have decided on a non-aggression pact. They are coordinating simultaneous attacks against state institutions and key infrastructure, including police stations.  Also they have targeted the airport, very importantly and crucially, because that meant that Ariel Henry was not able to return to the country. He was in Nairobi at the time of the upheaval, and all international flights have been canceled. They also took over the two biggest jails and liberated almost 5,000 people, many of whom were former gang members. So the numbers in these groups have just increasingly grown since the non-aggression pact began.

This has also meant that what was already a very dire humanitarian emergency has just become much worse. The majority of Haitians have been stuck inside of their houses because of the battles raging outside. That has meant that they have not been able to get gasoline, which in Haiti is an essential because a lot of houses don’t have electric service, so they depend on power from gasoline for both electricity, but also for potable water. So people have been inside without electricity and without water, and using the food that they had at home. Markets have been mostly closed. Of those that have opened, the prices are super high. A lot of the food that would have been distributed to markets have not been able to get there because the gangs are controlling so many roads in Port-au-Prince. So we’re seeing a real deterioration of the day to day life for the majority of the Haitians.

Full transcript available here.