Amy Wilentz « The Biden administration likes to talk about democracy, but when it comes to the disaster unfolding a few hundred miles from Miami, democracy is apparently far too dangerous« .
There is no functioning government for Haitians to turn to, only the lonely, unelected, de facto prime minister Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon and longtime political hack.
Not long after midnight on February 7, 1986, a ragtag huddle of international reporters assembled on the tarmac at François Duvalier International Airport in Port-au-Prince, and we watched as Jean-Claude Duvalier, son of the dictator for whom the airport was named, fled Haiti on a US Air Force jet with his wife, BMW, mom, and kids, and trunks reportedly loaded with treasures and dollars. After years of popular protest against Duvalier, the United States had finally helped arrange his removal.
That morning, the ideal of democracy seemed to flower in the contrails of Duvalier’s plane, although in fact he was replaced by a general and a junta. Elections were planned. Even before sunrise, people took to the streets to celebrate their liberation, and by the dozens, all over the capital, future presidential candidates emerged. A new constitution was written, upholding electoral democracy.
I didn’t think back then that 38 years later I would be writing about a Haiti even more brutalized than in the Duvalier era, a Haiti being destroyed neighborhood by neighborhood by rival and conscienceless gangs armed to the teeth and operating with impunity, while an immoral and intransigent dictator supported by the United States looks the other way. The situation today for most Haitians (but not every Haitian) is so much worse and more dangerous now than it was under the Duvaliers.
I certainly did not imagine that it would be Kenya—a country whose name has never exactly been on the lips of all Haitians—that would be called on by the international community to save Haiti from its present imbroglio. “Called on,” is what I write, but what I really mean is “hired as mercenaries”—thus sparing the United States from spilling any of its own blood in whatever battles may be upcoming.
But indeed, at Haiti’s request and with the blessing of the US, Canada, and the UN Security Council, Kenya has been asked to send around 1,000 police officers into the country in the coming weeks. This force, along with a potential 2,000 further troops from several small Caribbean nations, is intended to tame the 200 gangs of Haiti, around 95 of which are based in the capital. So that makes 15 men, if all the countries sign up, to control each gang.
Not fucking likely, as a Haitian friend of mine said, discussing the Kenyan plan.
Mawozo 400, one of the largest of those 200 or so gangs, itself claims more than 1,000 members.
The Biden administration has pledged to provide $200 million for this pacification effort, half of it through the Defense Department and half to be appropriated (eventually, perhaps) by Congress. Though the top Kenyan court has twice ruled against the deployment of the national police on various procedural grounds, Kenyan President William Ruto said this week that he intends to send a contingent to Haiti within weeks, if not days.
Haiti desperately needs help. In the past two and a half years, since the assassination of Haitian president Jovenel Moise in his bedroom on July 7, 2021, an estimated 300,000 people have been displaced in gang warfare, among them 170,000 children, and around 5,000 were murdered in 2023 alone; gangs have brought the country to a halt repeatedly and for weeks at a time; they’ve burned down police stations and courthouses; they’ve taken over prisons and assassinated and brutalized police officers. Women and children have been raped, beaten, murdered. Schools have been shut, hospitals forced to close down, and sanitation services, never perfect, all but abandoned. Meanwhile, the cost of living keeps rising, fuel is sold at rapacious prices on the black market, and all norms of daily life have had to be cast aside. Poverty is ever more grueling, and famine is a distinct possibility.
Don’t just shrug because you have heard this tune before. This is happening day by day to real people just like you, to people like Ukrainians, like Gazans. And it’s playing out only 600 miles from the coast of Florida.