Gang violence in Haiti is reaching alarming levels, not only affecting the capital of Port-au-Prince but also spreading to other major cities, forcing massive displacement of people, the United Nations (U.N.) said in its latest reports.
“The security situation on the ground continues to deteriorate as growing gang violence plunges the lives of the people of Haiti into disarray and major crimes are rising sharply to new record highs,” U.N. envoy Maria Isabel Salvador told the Security Council in late October.
Between October 2022 and June 2023, the Haitian National Police recorded some 2,800 murders, affecting women and minors, the U.N. reported. At the same time, kidnappings increased with nearly 1,500 cases. Despite local efforts to address this crisis, lack of resources and corruption remain crucial challenges.
The emergence of the civilian vigilante group Bwa Kale, which targets gangs, is exacerbating the situation, significantly contributing to the increase in kidnappings and sexual violence, the AP news agency reported.
According to the U.N., Bwa Kale is estimated to have killed nearly 400 alleged gang members, between April 24 and September 30.
“Haiti is facing a profound institutional crisis, exacerbated by the absence of a solid political and economic structure,” Iván Gatón, an international relations and geopolitics expert and professor at the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, told Diálogo on October 22. “This lack of cohesion triggered the chaos the country is experiencing.”
For Salvador, reestablishing control by the Haitian National Police, with the help of the multinational mission, which the Security Council approved on October 2, is critical.
“This new deployment becomes not only necessary, but urgent. The gangs are reaching shocking levels of brutality, desecrating churches and perpetrating rapes against parishioners,” Gatón said. “Recently a group of religious went out to protest against this violence, but unfortunately they suffered a major tragedy with the loss of several of their members along the way.”
Over the next 12 months, the multinational mission will focus on providing crucial operational support to the Haitian National Police in an effort to improve security conditions amid an unprecedented wave of violence, the U.N. said. This project will be led by Kenya, in collaboration with the Haitian government.
The deployment of some 1,000 Kenyan police officers to help restore security in Haiti has however temporarily been put on hold by a court order in Kenya. The order, which originally expired on October 24, was pushed to November 9.
The non-U.N. mission is to be funded with voluntary contributions, with the United States pledging $200 million in logistical and financial assistance, InSight Crime, an organization that specializes in organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean, indicated.
“The U.S. financial contribution is crucial at this time. In Haiti any aid becomes a valuable resource, due to the extreme shortages in the country,” Gatón said. “Timely assistance is necessary, and this challenge does not concern only the United States, but the entire region.”
Since the unsolved assassination of President Jovenel Moïse on July 7, 2021, Haiti has been mired in deep political instability. “Haiti’s president was assassinated for trying to send to the United States a list of people linked to drug trafficking,” Spanish daily El País reported at the time.
“In this scenario, the gangs are consolidating their power, extending their control over up to 80 percent of the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince and expanding their operations into the Artibonite Valley and the regions of Gonaïves and Cap-Haïtien,” Gatón added.
The gangs resort to extreme tactics, employing snipers from rooftops to fire indiscriminately on the population. In addition, mass looting and the destruction of homes are forcing the mass displacement of people, the U.N. said.
The violence has displaced nearly 200,000 people. Some 70,000 of them are in spontaneous and fragile settlements, 31,000 are sleeping in the open air, and 34,000 are crammed into classrooms. Many families are unable to meet their basic needs, the U.N. said.
Haiti’s problem is not limited to security. The country is on a path prone to hurricanes and earthquakes. It is also located about 14 hours by speedboat off the coast of Colombia, which makes it a key point for cocaine trafficking, Gatón added.
It is essential to seek national cohesion among all of Haiti’s institutions to overcome the current crisis, Gatón said. “Collaboration between Haitians locally and abroad is necessary to develop a joint project that will define the country’s vision for the next 40 years.”
This initiative should involve the international community to ensure the success and sustainability of the project. The collaboration could lay the foundations for a stable and prosperous future in Haiti, Gatón concluded. “We don’t want the situation to reach more outrageous levels.”