Image: via Hathi Trust Digital Library, Wikimedia Commons.

Late in 2022, Canadian and international media began to pay increased attention to Haiti. Given the danger of entering the areas where criminal gangs operated or having someone living under those conditions being labelled an informer, they were typically limited to secondhand information on what was happening on the ground. Eight journalists are known to have been assassinated in 2022.

Here is some of what the media have reported:

Scores of civilians and angry police officers took to the streets in Port-au-Prince to denounce the violence following the murder of two officers inside a police station in a town in northern Haiti and the execution-style killing of four more on the street outside … (The attack was allegedly planned in Port-au-Prince by three senior officials of the Haitian National Police Union with links to the gangs according to media reports on January 30.)

The National Union of Haitian Police Officers says 14 men have been killed since the start of the year in various gang attacks on police stations. Seven officers were killed in shootouts on Wednesday alone, according to Haiti’s National Police … A Haitian human rights group, the National Network of the Defense of Human Rights, said 78 police officers have been killed since (Dr. Ariel) Henry came to power in 2021. Outgunned by the multiple criminal gangs, Haiti’s police have been unable to halt the violence.

— BBC, January 26, 2023

Mamaille’s neighborhood, Cité Soleil, is dominated by two rival gangs with spheres of control so well defined that residents can draw a precise map of the streets that divide their territories … Criminals fighting over territory blocked almost every escape route out of the nation’s largest slum, a sprawl of shacks and crumbling buildings in the capital. Armed men went door to door, setting fire to homes and killing residents they deemed loyal to their enemies …

One Saturday in July, Sister Paesie, whose given name is Claire Philippe, got a call from the principal at one of the schools she runs in Cité Soleil. Word had spread that the nun was prepared to take schoolchildren out of the slum, to a safer area, and so hundreds of students had gathered at a local chapel to wait for her. Mamaille’s 17-year-old daughter, dressed in her school uniform, was among them.

But Sister Paesie never showed up — she could not even make it into the area because of the violence that was raging that day — and so Mamaille and her daughter headed home. Just before they reached their house, automatic gunfire erupted, and Mamaille saw her daughter slump forward into the dirt … By the time she got her daughter to a clinic, the girl was already dead, her blue skirt and yellow blouse soaked in blood …

After leaving her daughter’s lifeless body at the clinic, Mamaille roamed the streets screaming in anguish. Her wails must have caught the attention of gang members lurking nearby because, suddenly, Mamaille said, a group of men with guns appeared, dragged her behind a house and raped her, one by one. There were eight of them, she said, and they beat her up before leaving.

After the men left, Mamaille had no choice but to get up, walk home and somehow resume the work of surviving in Cité Soleil. When she can get out of her neighborhood safely, Mamaille travels to one of Sister Paesie’s schools nearby to pick up some rice and cooking oil, or makes her way to churches to beg for money. She collects rainwater and mixes in a chlorine tablet to purify it enough to drink.

“Sometimes, I spend three days without being able to feed my kids and myself.”

— New York Times, January 20, 2023

Friday was that day that (Marie Caemel Daniel’s) ever-smiling husband of 18 years Ricken Staniclass did not return. That morning one of the nation’s 200 gangs rammed his police unit, sending gunfire through the streets of … Port-au-Prince …

A gang led by Lionel Lazarre battled the police patrol … as officers desperately called for reinforcements. But help never came … The confrontation resulted in the death of three police officers, a fourth officer was hospitalized for gunshot wounds and Staniclasse, 44, disappeared …

Jolicoeur Allande Serge, director of the targeted police unit … was among a pile of armored trucks dented by bullet holes (in which) a group of 50 officers were returning to the area where they fought Friday night to try to break the gangs’ blockade and search for the missing agent … “We don’t have enough equipment to fight,” Serge said: “We need ammunition, helmets, armored vehicles.”

Two years ago, violence began to worsen so much in their neighborhood, (Daniel’s family) applied for a visa to immigrate to the United States … They never received a reply … “If we could have left the country (earlier), my husband would be alive.”

— San Diego Union Leader, Spanish edition, January 22, 2023 (author’s translation)

The formal departure of Haiti’s last 10 elected senators early in 2023 was the latest signal of the absence of political order in the country. Haiti has known decades of crisis, but there hasn’t been anything like what is happening now. Moreover, while initially scepticism about foreign intervention prevailed, this has changed. In January, in a podcast, Renata Segura and Diego Da Rin, the International Crisis Group’s Latin America experts, concluded that a consensus is emerging: foreign intervention is the only option, and without external intervention it will be impossible to tackle Haiti’s spiralling gang violence, political gridlock and latest cholera outbreak.

When it comes to such intervention, Canada is the prime focus. As a former French colony, Haiti has had a long connection with Canada, especially Quebec, which has received many Haitian immigrants. In earlier years most were professionals, many being teachers and medical specialists; more recently, Haitian immigration has been composed largely of poorly educated economic refugees who entered the workforce as low-paid workers. The 2016 census notes that there are more than 170,000 first-generation Haitians in Canada, 90 per cent living in Quebec.

A state that no longer functions

In July 2021, Haiti’s crisis came to the world’s attention with the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse at the hands of about 20 Colombian mercenaries with unknown paymasters. Many questions as to why Moïse was killed remain. The United States has charged three men for their alleged roles in the assassination. The murder is tied to the operation of gangs now dominating much of Haitian life. Moïse himself was deeply implicated in their rise. He used the Tet Kale (Bald Head) gang as enforcers and ward heelers in poor areas of Port-au-Prince, allowing them to accumulate arsenals of smuggled weapons.

Moïse had been ruling by decree, having cancelled elections due in 2018 and again in 2019, with the result that the terms of most of the country’s legislators and mayors expired. Shortly before the assassination, Moïse appointed Dr. Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon and former government minister, to serve as prime minister. But lacking a quorum in the legislature to consider his appointment, Henry was never formally sworn in. Moreover, Haiti’s constitution requires elections to be held within 120 days of a presidential vacancy, a period that ended in November 2021. Thus, what remains of Haiti’s political class considers his accession illegitimate. It is worth noting in this regard that the last time a presidential succession took place under the rules set in the constitution was in 1941.

The World Bank noted that “according to the Human Capital Index, a child born today in Haiti will grow up to be only 45 percent as productive as they could be if he or she had enjoyed full access to quality education and healthcare. Over one-fifth of children are at risk of cognitive and physical limitations, and only 78 percent of 15-year-olds will survive to age 60.”

Haiti’s misfortune goes back to the regressive Duvalier dictatorship (François, or “Papa Doc,” and his son Jean-Claude, or “Baby Doc”), which ruled from 1957 to 1986. The fall of the Duvaliers was followed by clashes for power among typically corrupt and inept leaders backed by elites, some linked to actors based in the United States. Since the earthquakes in 2010, Haiti has been a in a fragile state, but Moïse’s 2021 murder – and a new earthquake the following month – sent the situation out of control. In thte Economist’s most recent Democracy Index, Haiti ranked 135th out of 167 countries – down 16 places from the year before. Haiti is not a functioning state.

The gangs – estimated at up to 200 – have filled the void, with Port-au-Prince the centre of a horrific turf war that has seen a proliferation of kidnappings, many civilian deaths, and gang rapes even of elderly women and children. This is the latest manifestation of the decades-long saga of armed groups with longstanding ties to political and economic elites that pay them off to keep their goods moving through the country or, when required, to mobilize or suppress voters.

There have long been deep connections between gangs and political parties in Haiti. These political links have provided protection to the gangs and given them access to funding directly through government “contracts.” In return, they have repressed opposition movements and maintained social order in impoverished neighbourhoods. In the past, the gangs concentrated primarily on gaining the trust of the people in the areas they controlled so that they could strengthen their hand with the elites. More recently, as the government weakened, they have annexed vast new territory, carrying out kidnapping and extortion on a wide scale. Estimates suggest that 70 per cent of Port-au-Prince is under the control of the gangs, which determine who goes in and out.

Most petty gangs in Haiti compete for control in relatively small territories, where they commit criminal acts such as theft, racketeering and drug trading, often terrorizing the local population with sexual violence. The international drug trade has contributed to the gangs’ emergence, but their power is secured locally: they draw income from customs, water and electricity distribution, and even bus services. There is effectively no constraint on the gangs’ actions, except from opposing gangs in the fight for territory across the capital. Thus, civilians are forced to take sides: many young men, with no real alternative for sustaining their families, end up in the gangs. Some gangs now have waiting lists for new recruits.

Gangs have blocked access to drinking water trucks, forcing residents to drink contaminated water. United Nations humanitarian chief Ulrika Richardson said that an estimated 155,000 people have fled their homes – almost one in six of the city’s population. An October report, jointly published by the UN Integrated Office in Haiti and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, documented sexual crimes, highlighting the sexual violence that occurs in the context of kidnappings, in which women and girls are repeatedly subjected to rape. Official figures put the death toll from gang violence in 2022 at 1,448, while 1,005 have been kidnapped for ransom.

In September, after months of mounting violence, one of the two most powerful armed groupings – the G9 gang alliance led by former police officer Jimmy “BBQ” Cherizier – imposed another fuel blockade on the Varreux Terminal, the main gasoline terminal in Port-au-Prince. It came after Henry announced plans to end gasoline subsidies, setting off public protests among Haitians already struggling with rising living costs. While large parts of the capital have been affected, a key flashpoint in recent fighting has been the southern commune of Cité Soleil, long a stronghold for G-PEP, the gang coalition opposing G9, and its leader Gabriel Jean-Pierre. Jean-Pierre has swollen his federation’s numbers with the addition of 400 Mawozo, a gang that brought with it control of numerous crucial areas surrounding the capital. With their leader extradited to the United States in May 2022, the Mawozo turned to Jean-Pierre in search of reliable new leadership.

The weeks-long blockade led to water and electricity shortages across Port-au-Prince, including at hospitals trying to treat cholera patients. Transmitted by drinking water or eating foods contaminated with cholera bacteria, the illness can trigger severe diarrhea, as well as vomiting, thirst and other symptoms. It spreads rapidly in areas without adequate sewage treatment or clean drinking water. The first infections in Haiti in more than three years were reported in early October. Following the catastrophic 2010 earthquake, UN troops from Brazil, Nepal and other less-developed countries inadvertently introduced cholera into the impoverished country.

More than 17,600 suspected cases were detected before the end of 2022, according to the country’s public health department. After Haitian authorities regained control of the Varreux Terminal in November, Haiti received the first shipment of 1.1 million vaccine doses so that a cholera vaccination campaign could begin in December in some of the most affected areas.

The cholera epidemic is taking an especially horrific toll on children, with those aged between one and five making up more than 40 per cent of infections. The emergency campaign to vaccinate more than 10 per cent of the population, and a higher percentage of children aged one to five, is expected to fail in many areas that are under gang control because health care workers’ safety cannot be guaranteed.

Outside intervention?

As gang violence reached crisis levels in Port-au-Prince in October, the Henry government launched an appeal for an international armed force to restore order and secure a humanitarian corridor to allow fuel and water deliveries in the capital. Haiti’s army is not a factor. It was disbanded in 1995 after years of military interference in politics and collusion with gangs. Nor are the police in a position to take on the gangs in the areas where the gangs are based. At best the police can keep them from expanding that base. The Guardian reported on February 3,

The police force itself is in revolt … The catalyst that set off the latest rebellion was a grisly video showing the bodies of six young police officers lying naked on the floor, their weapons laid on top of them – a morbid attempt to humiliate the officers and demonstrate the power of the gangs. The six officers, killed in the shootout with the Savien gang in the town of Liancourt, bring the number of officers killed in January to 15. At least 54 officers were killed by the gangs in 2022 … The Caribbean nation has only 9,500 police officers serving its population of 12 million and they must fulfil many security roles, including those of the army … But Haiti’s security forces are outgunned by the gangs who flash their cash and automatic weapons on social media … Officers feel officials make little effort to console the families of those killed in combat and whose bodies are frequently left rotting in gang strongholds, Occil said. More than 3,000 officers have left the force since the beginning of 2021.

The United Nations said in December that it would appeal for $719 million for Haiti in 2023, about double the amount disbursed in 2022. It called for action, but direct UN action is blocked by Russian and Chinese vetoes. Hence, as the United States position noted, “a non-UN mission led by a partner country” is required. A follow up visit to Ottawa by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made it clear that the United States saw Canada playing that role.

With the United States preoccupied elsewhere, it is not surprising that no one within the Biden administration appears to fully “own” policy toward Haiti. In that context, the December 12, 2022, meeting of Henry with a high-level delegation led by Daniel Erikson, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Western Hemisphere, is encouraging. Erikson is widely known as being knowledgeable about Haiti.

France stated that it would contribute to an intervention led by Canada and supported by Haiti’s neighbours. (French leaders realize that Haitians are still sensitive to the devastating longstanding effect of reparations forced on Haiti by France to repay slaveowners after Haiti won its independence in 1804.) Discussing Haiti in an interview with La Presse, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recognized that Canada had to play a leading role: “With 30 years of experience in Haiti, we know very well that there are enormous challenges when it comes to interventions. It is clear that our approach has to change this time.”

In December, Canada’s UN ambassador, Bob Rae, travelled to Haiti for a three-day fact-finding mission, during which he held talks with leading government officials and opposition figures, notably civil society organizations and political parties associated with the Montana Accord reached after Moïse’s assassination. Named after the hotel where it was negotiated, the accord calls for a “transitional government,” including leading opposition leaders, to pave the way toward an election in 2024. In comments to the CBC in late October, Monique Clesca, a former UN official and now a leading member of the Montana group, stated that the opposition was now open to supporting intervention, provided it has the necessary “legitimacy.” In January, Haiti’s UN Ambassador Antonio Rodrigue noted that ongoing efforts to implement the Montana Accord could succeed only if security is restored.

After Rae’s visit, Ottawa announced that it would be sending additional armoured vehicles to Haiti, as well as a small number of experts to assist the Haitian National Police. In November, gangs had attacked the police and stolen several recently delivered Canadian armoured vehicles. Canada’s approach was to implement sanctions on “oligarchs” profiting from the violence and instability. It froze the Canadian assets of Gilbert Bigio, Reynold Deeb, Sherif Abdallah, Charles Saint-Rémy and Arnel Belizaire, who are barred from entering Canada. They joined a list that includes former president Michel Martelly and prime ministers Laurent Lamothe and Jean-Henry Céant. Saint-Rémy has been linked to drug trafficking and corruption, and is close to Dimitri Hérard, the head of palace security implicated in Moïse’s assassination. (At the same time, Canada has suspended removal orders for Haitians without a criminal record who are in Canada illegally because their temporary permit has expired or their claim for asylum or refugee status has been refused.)

For its part, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control placed the most recent president of the Haitian Senate, Joseph Lambert, on its sanctions list. France is working toward a UN-sponsored list. It is sceptical that sanctions by individual countries have any real effect.

Late in December former Canadian Governor General Michaëlle Jean, who was born in Haiti, issued a strong statement noting that rich countries need to own up to policies that have sowed instability in Haiti. These policies range from economic reforms that led to the collapse of agricultural sectors to turning a blind eye when autocratic leaders undermined civil society. She concluded, “It is difficult to imagine the resolution of this Gordian knot without outside intervention.”

Haitians who are able to leave have sought to improve their lives abroad. Some have tried to cross the Darién Gap, a perilous jungle passage spanning the Colombia-Panama border. Others have taken boats in hopes of reaching the coast of Florida. Haitians have been among those turned away by U.S. authorities at the country’s border with Mexico in 2022. But at the end of the year, the Biden administration announced that it was extending Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitian nationals already residing in the United States by 18 months.

The administration cited conditions in Haiti, “including socioeconomic challenges, political instability, and gang violence and crime,” as the reason for extending TPS. In January it included Haitians, along with Venezuelans and Cubans, among those eligible to be among the up to 30,000 migrants it would accept every month. These migrants must prove that there is a risk of being arrested in their countries of origin and that their lives are in danger.

The urgency of action

In this context, as 2023 began, international organizations called urgently for more support to help Haiti respond to the crises it faces. “Things are now at a breaking point. This crisis will not pass,” said Jean-Martin Bauer, Haiti director of the UN World Food Programme. He noted that close to half the Haitian population – approximately 4.7 million people – face a food crisis: “Haiti is experiencing a crisis on an unprecedented scale that can only worsen – unless we act fast and with greater urgency from us all.”

Haiti is among the most densely populated countries in the world. Large portions of its population have nothing to eat as a result of the drying up of imports and the criminal gangs’ control of key transport routes, including the north-south highway. The food available is beyond the financial reach of the vast majority, who rely on the informal sector to make ends meet. Widespread food shortages, combined with the cholera epidemic that has claimed more than 290 lives and infected an estimated 14,000 since October, are fuelling worries in Washington and Haiti’s Caribbean neighbours that the social devastation in Haiti could destabilize the entire region. It is feared that if Haiti implodes, the result could be a “refugee crisis” – a flood of people seeking to escape repression, violence and unspeakable social misery.

Canada’s reaction came in a public statement by Bob Rae on January 18 defending Canada’s “Haitian-led” approach. Rae pointed to the ending of the port blockade, allowing cholera medication to reach Haiti, and the role of the UN security fund, which with donations from Canada, the United States and Japan supported the Haitian National Police. He said that since military intervention had not worked in the past, Canada was not ready to consider sending in a police force to assist the Haitian police. In reporting the statement, the Globe and Mail noted that that kidnapping was still widespread and important transportation routes in the country remained blockaded by gangs.1 In early January Trudeau said that Canada and its allies “are preparing various scenarios if it does start to get worse” in Haiti. In a statement before a February 1 meeting of the OAS, Thomas R. Hastings, the U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission, stated that “the United States continues to discuss with international partners the possibility of sending a multinational force composed primarily of police.”

As long as one is convinced that a “Haitian-led” solution exists, one can avoid taking armed intervention seriously. The experts tell the politicians that the risks are high, and the chances of success are low. But can it really get worse than it is now? According to reports to the CELAC (Heads of State and Government of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) meeting in late January, murders have doubled in recent months, kidnappings and rapes are rising rapidly and gang-controlled territory is expanding daily. At the same time, inflation and global tensions make food scarce.

From my vantage point in the Dominican Republic where Frances and I have spent the current and previous winters, it appears clear that only external armed intervention could meaningfully break the gangs’ blockade over the flow of supplies into the areas they control and thus mitigate the grave humanitarian crisis.

As noted, with action under Chapter Seven of the United Nations Charter blocked, member nations must take action. If there is to be such an intervention, despite the hesitancy of its government, Canada is the country in the best position to lead it. There are a number of countries in the region with significant experience (if uneven success) in dealing with criminal gang and trafficking networks that could be enlisted in such a “non-UN” security mission – Jamaica, Mexico and Colombia come to mind. At the beginning of February Jamaica indicated its willingness to participate militarily in an international force in Haiti.

The argument that the lesson from unsuccessful past interventions is that resolution of the crisis must be left to the Haitians does not stand up. The situation, everyone agrees, is far worse than ever before. Even the opposition realizes that elections are a nonstarter. Monitoring by international observers would not be enough to make them meaningful, since many voters would be unable to safely express their true preferences or have them tabulated.

The first step in planning an intervention is to avoid repeating the errors of the past. Such an intervention starts but does not end with strengthening the Haitian National Police and military, including replacing damaged or stolen vehicles and other equipment. A next stage would seek not only to hold off the gangs but to displace them, including recruiting gang members who had been coerced into joining. There is no avoiding the fact that bringing real change will be a long and difficult process. As the Brookings Institution concluded in early January, “Even a robust multi-year force would struggle holding cleared territories … There is no prospect for a rapid successful DDR (disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration) for Haitian gangs.“

Before considering what such a process would entail, we need to address a key and often ignored dimension of the situation: the role of the Dominican Republic.

The Dominican dimension

The situation in Haiti profoundly affects its neighbour. In the Dominican Republic’s last census in 2017, roughly 500,000 Haitian Dominicans were identified. We cannot know how many avoided being counted for fear of deportation, nor do we have a tally of new arrivals since 2017. We can be sure that their numbers were larger than the thousands who have been forcibly repatriated.

In November, top UN, American and international officials called on Dominican authorities to halt the removals. Easy for you to say, respond the Dominicans. From their standpoint, while their country has been most affected by the unauthorized migration, it has not been given credit for the heavy burden it has accepted, delivering fuel to hospitals in Haiti, providing safe transit to diplomats and other personnel, and making it possible for many Haitian women to give birth in Dominican public hospitals.

According to data compiled by the International Organization for Migration, 25,765 Haitians were deported to Haiti from its neighbours in the first two months of 2022. The United States repatriated 20,309 of them. In the next seven months, more than 60,000 Haitians were deported from Mexico, the United States and South American countries. Another 45,000 were deported from Caribbean countries, the large majority from the Dominican Republic.

According to the Group for Support of Returnees and Refugees, at least 85,306 Haitians were repatriated from the Dominican Republic in all of 2022. At least 60,000 had been arrested before being deported. The long and largely uninhabited border and the susceptibility of Dominican guards to being bribed means that many come back the way they came in in the first place.

Because of geography, it is unavoidable that no intervention can succeed without Dominican cooperation. But history makes it problematic. As the title of a study by Bridget Wooding and Richard Moseley-Williams put it, Haitians in the DR are “needed but unwanted.” Leaving aside the wars that pitted the two former colonies against each other during the 19th century, the tensions go back to the days of Papa and Baby Doc. In that period the Dominican economy grew and Haiti’s deteriorated, so that many thousands of Haitians came to work in the DR, mainly in agriculture. They took jobs under conditions Dominicans would no longer accept, their status and ability to cross the border largely unregulated. More recently, as the Haitian situation became desperate and the numbers of migrants mounted, that status of many Haitians, some long established in the DR, became politically charged.2

If anything, the worsening conditions in Haiti have made ordinary Dominicans less rather than more receptive to helping their neighbours, for example rejecting the idea of setting up refugee camps on the Dominican side of the border. The former president and current leader of the Fuerza del Pueblo party, Leonel Fernandez, recently claimed that American authorities were seeking to have Haitian refugees who were refused entry into the United States directed toward such camps. He concluded that “faced with this situation, all Dominican society, unanimously, has said that it cannot be done.”

Nevertheless, things could change if there were outside intervention. In the words of Dominican Foreign Minister Roberto Alvarez before the UN General Assembly in September 2022, it is up to the international community to act immediately: we must “remove the blindfold and admit that the Haitian police, on its own, will not develop the capacity to guarantee order and subdue the gangs. The Dominican Republic … cannot do the job alone.”

Alvarez noted that while in the past Haitian society was able to unite and act in difficult times – in the overthrow of the dictatorship in 1986 and in reaction to the disaster created by the 2010 earthquake – the situation is dramatically different now.

On January 25, 2023, addressing the CELAC summit in Argentina, Dominican President Luis Abinader called for action based on resolutions 2645 and 2653 of the UN Security Council encouraging some states to act unilaterally within the framework of international law. Other neighbours also voiced the need for intervention. For example, Bahamian Prime Minister Philip Davis said unauthorized migration due to the crisis in Haiti poses a substantial threat to its neighbours.

This was in the context of wider efforts. That same day, UN Secretary-General António Guterres reaffirmed “the urgent need for the deployment of an international specialized armed force” in Haiti since “the people of Haiti are suffering the worst human rights and humanitarian emergency in decades.” For her part, Helen La Lime, the special envoy for Haiti, noted that “on average, we face one kidnapping every six hours in 2022.” She reiterated the secretary-general’s October appeal for the deployment of an international specialized force “without which any progress will remain fragile and vulnerable to being reversed.”

Guterres urged countries in the region to consider halting the deportation of Haitians until the human rights and humanitarian crises have been adequately addressed, since gang-related violence and human rights abuses have reached a critical level. For the Dominicans, however, it is only if the situation in Haiti improves so that some kind of orderly movement can take place at the border that an end to deportations can be considered.

The Dominicans are wary of efforts to place the burden of fixing Haiti on them, but those in positions of authority understand that intervention to improve the situation in Haiti is in their national interest. They know that if and when real external intervention begins, their country will be expected to do its part. Unsympathetic to the Haitians as many Dominicans are, they know that they cannot ignore outside opinion because of the dependence of their economy on tourism, if for no other reason.

Dominicans are proud of recent significant advances in their democratic institutions. As International Idea’s 2022 Global State of Democracy report noted, the Dominican Republic, almost alone in the Americas, has experienced improvements in civil liberties, media integrity, judicial independence and access to justice. Hence the DR can be enlisted to do its part, as long as the priority remains on addressing the desperate situation within Haiti and not on – the contested interpretation of – the treatment of Haitians in the DR past and present. Especially as the DR enters an election year, no Dominican politician seeking to get elected can be expected to appear “soft on Haiti.”

To be clear: the initiative will have to come from outside, from members of the international community with a special link to Haiti. That special link starts with Canada, which has provided $1.87 billion in assistance to Haiti since the 2010 earthquake. If Haitians cannot look to Canada for help in their hour of greatest need, where else can they possibly turn?

Epilogue: A tentative scenario

I am hardly an expert when it comes to strategy and tactics, but I venture into this area – if only to be corrected – because specific concrete alternatives need to be advanced to counter the still prevailing presumption that all external intervention is doomed.

I see a two-pronged intervention (alongside the existing financial and medical aid). The first entails taking on the gangs in Port-au-Prince and other areas they control to make it possible for closed stores, schools, medical services and offices to reopen and for a strengthened and reformed Haitian police force to maintain a semblance of order.

In itself, this is insufficient, since the gangs will bide their time until they are in a position to return. It must thus be complemented by a long-term plan to gradually but permanently liberate a region and set up a functioning system of administrative institutions there that over time could be linked up with other parts of the country.

The region most suited to this is the northeast from the border with the Dominican Republic extending through the city of Cap Haitien. This is the part of Haiti that has been most open to tourism and other external involvement. (In fact, on February 11, a cruise ship from Orlando will make a stop at Labadee, the Caribbean port close to Cap Haitien.) In this region longer-term projects would be initiated, combining the experience of international development organizations with the energies of Haitians inside and outside the country.

Obviously, it will require significant preparation and coordination – with no guarantees of success. But what is the alternative?


1 ”On Wednesday January 18, 2023, a bus from the company ‘Capital Coach Line,’ which left Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic at 6:35 a.m. bound for Haiti with 37 Haitian passengers on board, was intercepted in Haiti at Morne Cabrit, near Croix-des-Bouquets not far from the ranch, by heavily armed individuals presumed to be members of the ‘400 Mawozo’ … The buses are escorted by police officers but it seems that the kidnappers managed to thwart police protection. On Wednesday evening, the kidnappers were still holding the bus and all the passengers hostage in a place not yet located … Dominican driver Johan de la Rosa is missing.”

2 See Henry Milner, Rafael Belliard and Jeffrey Oberman, Multiple Realities: Haitians in the Dominican Republic, Inroads, Winter/Spring 2016.