A year after the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation is in an anarchic spiral fueled by political paralysis, economic meltdown and out-of-control gang violence that has exposed the U.S.-backed government as impotent. Despite widespread calls for a Haitian-led solution to the disintegration, no such way out seems imminent or realistic in the face of pervasive lawlessness. Without a more resolute policy by the United States, the United Nations and other international allies, the centrifugal forces tearing the country apart are likely to accelerate, along with its people’s suffering.
The immediate problem is a breakdown in security on the streets of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, and elsewhere. Massacres, rapes, shootouts and attacks — including a recent one on the nation’s largest courthouse by a notorious criminal gang — have terrorized Haitians, hastened the economy’s collapse and contributed to an outflow of refugees. Amid the chaos, the prospect of elections or any other means of establishing a legitimate government looks fanciful.
In the meantime, the country is stuck with a nominal leader who is a suspect in his predecessor’s killing on July 7,2021. Prime Minister Ariel Henry, the most prominent of a political class of unelected officials propped up by the Biden administration and other Western governments, fired key officials investigating Mr. Moïse’s murder, including a prosecutor who wanted him charged in connection with the crime. The fact that the assassination remains unsolved, despite ongoing investigations in Haiti and the United States, is a further symptom of the impunity that has been a toxic feature of Haitian justice — or, rather, the lack of it — for decades.
The byproduct of Haiti’s institutional and security pandemonium is the death rattle of an economy that was already supine following years of misrule compounded by the pandemic. Gross domestic product, the lowest in the region on a per capita basis, shrank by 3.3 percent in 2020 and a further 1.8 percent in 2021. And, according to the World Bank, whatever modest gains the country had made in lifting people from poverty have been wiped out in the past couple of years. Over half the country’s more than 11 million people live on less than $3.20 per day.
Those stark statistics should not obscure the underlying human misery. What passed for normal life a few years ago is now impossible for many Haitians. Schools have closed, businesses are shuttered, and a trip to see relatives or get groceries is perilous given the ever-present risk of kidnappings for ransom. Haitians who have the means to leave the country are doing so in growing numbers. Some make it to the United States, generally without documents. Many of them are caught and deported by U.S. authorities — roughly 25,000 were sent home on more than 230 flights in the past nine months.
Deportation is a poor substitute for policy. Washington retains substantial influence in Haiti, and could exert it by mustering international support for steps to rein in rampant violence, jumpstart prosecutions in connection with the Moïse assassination, and promote a transition to a government with some semblance of legitimacy. Lacking that, Haiti’s torments will only grow.