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At the just ended United Nations General Assembly in New York, the problems of Haiti were front and center in discussions with the superpower neighbors, US and Canada making it a point to highlight the chaos that has roiled the island nation in recent years. In what appears to be a rare moment of US diplomatic overture, President Biden pointed out the seriousness of the issue and called on the international community to do more to assist Haiti as it faces its worst crisis in decades. The Canadian Premier Justin Trudeau, for his part, convened officials on the U.N. Economic and Social Council’s Ad Hoc Advisory Group on Haiti, which is comprised of countries from Europe, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean, to discuss the urgency of the crisis in the country and how best to quickly help stabilize what is increasingly a humanitarian crisis in the making. He further pledged $20million (Canadian) to Help Haiti, this in addition to the support for reconstruction work following the August 2021 earthquake in the south of the country that has decimated most structures in the area and made a lot of people homeless, now living in tent cities. This is also in addition to $70million that was pledged earlier this year to aid the national police in an attempt to improve the security situation.

Meanwhile during the general debate, the Foreign Affairs Minister, Jean Victor Généus, declared in his speech that the country is generally under control, while armed gangs are enforcing their laws in the capital. Yet the United States and Mexico, the two countries leading the call for a solution to the chaos in the country have announced that they are preparing a draft resolution which they plan to share with the rest of the member states, in order to bring some sense of order in the country. According to them, the UN Security Council will urgently prepare a set of measures, which will probably include sanctions, to respond to the wave of violence orchestrated by armed gangs in Haiti. Although recognizing the deterioration of the security situation in the country, the Haitian Minister of Foreign Affairs, for his part declared before the council that overall, everything is under control.

The UN Special envoy to the country, Helen M. La Lime also laid out the catastrophic situation in the country before the Security Council. According to her, there are three (3) crises which are tangled up in a frightening way: the crises if violence and insecurity; the economic degradation as well as the lack of a coherent or acceptable political direction in which the country is going, all combine to create a major roadblock to any sustained was of getting out of the mess. She intimated that the crisis of violence and insecurity which is mainly due to the gangs has caused the flight of some 20,000 people, aggravating an economic crisis which is strangling the country, plagued by soaring food prices and a shortage of fuel. She estimates that 1.5 million people have been directly affected by gang activity, with an upsurge in gender-based violence and in particular the systematic use of rape, as a means to terrorize the people. The Mexican Ambassador, Juan Ramón de la Fuente argued that the international community cannot wait for something worse to happen before taking action, because the level of violence in the country in recent days is truly alarming and any initial response must attack the security situation head on.

In other news, 145 women incarcerated in the only female prison in the country, la prison civile de Cabaret escaped from the jail last week, after reports indicated that some of the women in the facility tied up guards allowing the others to escape into the community. The nearest police station in Titanyen, which attempted to respond to the issue itself became a casualty in this increasingly worrying chaos. While officers were on their way, gang members from the nearby neighborhood of Canaan attacked the police station and set it on fire, while the gangs blocked the road leading to the prison and shot at the police. Initial reports stated that at least one police officer was injured, possibly killed, while at least one female prisoner died during the incident.  If the incident appears violent, human rights groups decry the state of incarceration in the nations prisons and have sounded the alarm that such events were likely to occur. They concluded that prisoners have been dying from lack of food and drinking water as well as diseases spreading inside the overcrowded system. But the concerns were mainly focused on the National Penitentiary near downtown Port-au-Prince and the Civil Prison in Croix-des-Bouquets, where a powerful gang has been wreaking havoc for months. And earlier this month, four (4) inmates died within two days at the prison in Jacmel, and earlier this week, a local radio station in Gonaïves launched a drive for help for the local prison, as residents were warned that prisoners would die if food didn’t arrive quickly. Novia Augustin, a human rights activist argues that the prison break reflects the prisoners’ refusal to live in a filthy prison environment and may well be a form of justice for these detainees because of the difficulties they have to face and the delay in justice meted out to them. According to Ms. Augustin, of 252 women detainees at the prison in Cabaret, only 35 have been convicted, and it is especially scandalous when we know the kind of treatment reserved for them.

As the protests continue, its clear that the toll on the nation both in economic cost and human psyche is rising. The looting alone is credited with the loss of at least US$6million of relief assistance, including 2,000 tons of food as the World Food Program (WFP) warehouses were deliberately targeted, looted and pillaged. According to the WFP Deputy Executive Director, Valerie Guarnieri, over the course of one week, the agency lost one third of its food stocks as two of their four warehouses were deliberately targeted, looted and pillaged. One protester lost his life today in protest in Gonaïves, as an individual who wanted to cross a barricade was prevented from doing so by the youth manning the barricade, and during a heated exchange he fired into the crowd, hitting one protester and another protester with a gun also returned fire, killing him.

Dela Harlley

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