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Where Haiti is today and the role CARICOM can play in its future.

By Marc Skinner and Anderson Pierre

According to an IHSI report published in 2015, the Haitian population is estimated at 10,911,819 inhabitants with more than 57% concentrated in the major cities. It is a very young population, 42% are under 18 years old, yet it faces many social problems. Indeed, according to the regional office of the World Health Organization (WHO), 40% of the population has no real access to basic health care and more than half of the population has no access to medicines. Health accounted for only 4.3% of the 2017-2018 national budget, which has been extended for the 2019-2020 fiscal year.

According to Trading Economics analysts, GDP per capita is expected to be around USD 707 in 2021 and USD 715 in 2022, with an annual growth rate of only 1.3%. This continues to fuel extreme poverty in the country, where 59 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day, according to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Poverty in Haiti is associated with increasing social inequality, with 64% of the country's wealth going to the richest 20% of the population.

Based on an intersectional approach, Haitian women face several major challenges, including violence, underrepresentation in decision-making, lack of education, health and unemployment, all characteristics of what feminist sociologist Danielle Magloire has called the "feminization of poverty”. Women occupy only 30% of formal positions, only 55.9% have access to social security. 71% of women do not own land nor a house and only 9% own property. Since 2018, due to the political and social instability in the country, violence against women has increased significantly, from kidnapping to rape and murder. Several cases have made headlines. Bus kidnappings pose a high threat to women and young girls who are subjected to rape. A few days ago, a bus was kidnapped by armed men in the north of the country with several passengers on July 14th, 2021.While the burden of the consequences of COVID-19 is borne heavily by the Haitian population, a study conducted by CARE and UNFEMME across the 10 departments of the country showed that the pandemic has a more severe impact on women than on men. Indeed, with the arrival of Covid-19, the situation of Haitian women has become much worse. Their daily tasks and their mental burden have been considerably increased

Between 2017 and 2019, cases of murder increased by 42% nationwide (66% in Port-au-Prince). Cases of kidnapping increased from 35 in 2019 to 796 in 2021, an increase of 761%. Since 2018, the human rights organization, Fondation Je Klere drew attention to the increase in armed gangs in the capital and in 2020 it had sounded the alarm that there is an effort to organize armed gangs into a militia

We got a chance to chat with one of our volunteers, Anderson Pierre born and raised in Haiti about the history of inequalities and what the situation was like following the assassination of the President of Haiti, Jovenel Moïse on July, 7th 2021.

Can you describe some of the general sentiments about the path forward for Haiti? Do people want intervention from the US, or the UN?

On the day of the assasination of President Moïse, the feelings of Haitians are mixed. Between those who express a certain indifference regarding the assassination of the president and those who demand justice, it is difficult to describe the feelings of Haitians. But one thing is certain, Haitians are fed up with the socio-political and economic situation of the country, which has deteriorated greatly in the last three years with inflation and the proliferation of armed gangs in countries that practice kidnapping. The assassination of the president is proof that the situation in the country is totally out of control. Since 2018, no less than a dozen massacres and several cases of rape have been recorded by human rights organizations. And so far, there have been no arrests.

Some Haitians are calling for an intervention of the international community. Indeed, this request was made by the Haitian government after the assassination of the president to help stabilize Haiti and protect key infrastructure. But for others, the international community is also responsible for the crisis in Haiti by the support it has always given to the government of Jovenel Moise, which was accused of corruption and having links with gangs active in the capital. The famous journalist Lilianne Pierre-Paul, had already pointed out the responsibility of the international community in the failure of Haiti several weeks before the tragedy of the death of the president.

Do you think there is a place for regional support in the restructuring of Haiti?

Unfortunately Haiti is like a bête noire in the region. It is considered a failed state, a source of political instability and socio-economic crises. Those who hoped for help from outside didn’t expect it from the states of the region, which seem to be overwhelmed by the situation in Haiti. It is important to remember that in recent years Haiti has experienced a very large wave of immigration to neighboring countries such as the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Brazil and even Chile.

What are some of the main areas of concern for Haitians in the coming months?

The main concerns of Haitians in the coming months should be: the choice of a successor to President Jovenel Moise in accordance with the constitution, the organization of free and credible elections, the dismantling of powerful armed gangs and the problem of insecurity. But everything that concerns the squandering of more than 4 billion dollars of PetroCaribe funds should also surface.

How do you feel about the future of Haiti? Where is it going ?

Haiti's future is unclear. More than ever unclear. If President Monferrier Dorval had mentioned, just before his assassination on Friday, August 28, 2020, that the country was neither governed nor administered, the situation is nowadays more critical. Indeed, with the assassination of President Jovenel Moise, we find ourselves with a total institutional vacuum at the level of the three powers of the state. The parliament has been dysfunctional since January 2020. And this situation has given President Jovenel Moïse the ability to govern by decree. The judiciary, vassalized by the executive, lost its president, Judge René Sylvestre, who died of complications related to Covid-19 a few weeks ago. In addition, we must also add other factors that make the future of Haiti uncertain, such as the proliferation of gangs with more than 500 firearms in circulation on the national territory, food insecurity, the increase in cases of Covid-19.

Photo by the Associated Press

How would you describe Haiti and its people?

Haitians are resilient and very courageous people whose leaders unfortunately have a great problem of governance. They have always made choices that are totally against the interests of the people. And what we have now in Haiti is the result of these choices. They have given us this chaos. Yet despite all the adversities, Haitians aspire to a better future for their children. Haiti is a rich country. And this is not to wink at all the nostalgic people of the colonialist period when this country was considered the "Pearl of the Antilles" but because the potential for development with the right people in the right place is enormous. There is always a tendency to reduce Haiti to its capital, but it is enough to leave Port-au-Prince and travel a few kilometers to the north and south to discover the richness of this country.

The history of Haiti is the history of the Caribbean Basin. To stand with and support Haiti is to protect and advocate for your own brother or sister. The various populations of CARICOM share many things; the same waters wash our shores and the same pens have written our histories for us. Around the globe Haiti is mocked, see President Trump’s famous ‘sh*thole countries’ in 2018, known as an ‘forever impoverished’ country, historically “unlucky” at best. Under the chains of these labels and documented exploitation, how can Haiti seek to rebuild itself, both internally and in the global arena? Regional bodies like CARICOM, were designed to protect and aid in the development of strong, democratic countries for the greater economic and social benefit of all.

In a statement released soon after the news of the assassination of the Haitian president, CARICOM pledged to “play a lead role” in the establishment of an “indigenous” solution to Haiti’s current turmoil. As a member of CARICOM with a well-documented history of exploitation and abuse from the international community, Haiti’s fellow member states have a unique responsibility to Haiti and to ourselves, to help the people of Haiti reignite the beacon lit in 1804, for self-determination of the region and its people. The path to an “indigenous” Haitian solution can only be decided on by the Haitian people but collectively, CARICOM and its institutions can provide substantial economic and social assistance in the reconstruction of a free, and prosperous Haiti.

The economic health of Haitians must be at the forefront of any conversation regarding Haiti’s development, with 59% of Haitians living below the poverty line, Haitians live daily without access to basic human rights and services.

How then can CARICOM member states, whose own populations face high levels of poverty, affect change in our region’s first republic?

In the current age of global integration, where our products and our economies are linked together, the Caribbean Single Market Economy (CSME) can play a pivotal role in the development of Haiti’s economy and increasing the quality of life for Haitian citizens.

The first pillar of CARICOM, economic development, highlights key areas such as improving standards of living and work, accelerated economic development and an increased amount of economic leverage on the global scale. The mandate is there, and committing fully to it can bring economic wealth to the entire region. For instance, Haiti’s largely agrarian society can help to realize larger integration schemes for CARICOM such as food security for the region. One such proposed plan calls for countries like Belize, Suriname, and Guyana to become the food basket of the Caribbean due to their relative position outside of the hurricane belt. Haitian exports help to expand the decentralization efforts and simultaneously would assist with reducing the regional food import bill while providing additional markets for Haitian farmers. Additionally, fellow member states like Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago can provide important support in the further development of Haitian manufacturing sectors, for both food items and resources such as oil and gas.

A regional approach for economic prosperity is not unheard of either; in the European Union, countries with similar histories of foreign intervention and dictatorial rule have seen considerable economic growth thanks to successful integration into the Eurozone. Studies have shown significant promise in regional integration models, detailing the benefits of integration over traditional ‘trickle-down’ economic models, with the benefits far outweighing the disadvantages. Hungary and Spain are just two examples of countries that benefited from an approximate 12% growth in GDP, greater internal efficiency and a strengthened trade position in the global market.

A revitalized economic policy alone will not solve the political and social instability that has plagued Haiti for decades. Prior to his assassination, President Moise faced weeks of protests regarding his decision not to leave office, with opponents calling it a power grab. He faced additional criticism for his connections to former Haitian dictator Francis ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier as well as the historically high levels of kidnappings, murders, and rapes in 2020. Currently Haiti's different branches of government range from confusion to complete disarray, the head of the Supreme Court succumbing to COVID-19 recently, and the legislative branch being vacant due to widespread violence that prevented elections from being held.

When democratic governments fail and collapse, dictators, gangs and other groups that hold power through fear, intimidation and violence gain control over the land. Haiti saw a rise in criminal activity that corresponds with the rising political instability as seen in cases of kidnapping in Haiti increasing from 35 in 2019 to 796 in 2021, an increase of 761%. Additionally between 2017-2019, murders across Haiti increased by 42%, with the capital Port-au-Prince having an increase of 66%.

Normally, in cases where there is no clear leader to take control, the United Nations and the wider international community usually steps in to prevent violence and human rights violations, but the people of Haiti are understandably worried and opposed to foreign intervention. Many still remember the many instances of US, France and Spain military interventions and bolstering unpopular, often violent, leaders, most recently in 1915-1934. The United Nations has faced serious criticisms for its actions in Haiti for example prior to 2010 Haiti had no cases of cholera, a serious diarrheal infection. Later, a UN report found that their peacekeepers introduced sewage into the water supply of the local population. To date, 800,000 Haitians have contracted cholera with more than 10.000 Haitians having died from cholera.

With no faith in the global leaders, whom Haitian protesters have called “Imperialists”, who will the Haitian people trust to assist them in rebuilding an indigenous democracy that they can have faith in?

CARICOM currently is the oldest integration movement in the developing world, with decades of experience in the construction of institutions, specifically designed to improve the quality of the life of persons in the Caribbean Basin. Across the region, financial Institutions like the Caribbean Development Fund (CDF) and the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) consistently provide funding to bring the highest quality of life to CARICOM citizens. While their efforts have made a substantial difference, there are many areas where more can be done. Haitian women are among the most disenfranchised within CARICOM; they lack access to health, education and unemployment. The majority of Haitian women live as a marginalized class with only 9% owning property, leaving them vulnerable to increased levels of violence. The CDB and CDF can act as implementing partners, directing international financial aid and support to increase local confidence in reconstruction efforts and provide economic avenues for personal growth and development. This can act as a multiplier, creating employment in high-skilled areas, acting as a metaphorical stopper to the high rates of ‘brain drain’ in the region.

Other regional institutions such as CARPHA (Caribbean Public Health Agency) and the CARICAD (Caribbean Centre for Development Administration) also have a role to play in improving the quality of life of Haitians. With a revitalized commitment and financial support, these organizations can provide technical assistance in the modernization of Haitian institutions to bring them closer to CARICOM standards and help build confidence for local, regional, and eventually foreign stakeholders to invest in the Haitian economy. According to the WHO, 40% of the population has no real access to basic health care and more than half of the population has no access to medicines. This dire medical situation is unlikely to change for the better as only 4.3% of the Haitian budget for 2019/2020 is earmarked towards Public Health. We should note that CARPHA already plays a significant role since the COVID-19 crisis began, coordinating the delivery of 139,000 Covid-19 doses from COVAX to Haiti, with more on the horizon. However with one of the largest populations of any CARICOM member state, more needs to be done to bridge the gap created by the vaccine apartheid.

As the saying goes “the tide raises all boats”, economic and social reforms should be broad in design to ensure the inclusion of all parties, but particularly those who find themselves in need of assistance. The Haitian people, ultimately, need to decide the path forward for their country, and CARICOM should stand by and support our brothers and sisters in actively continuing along the path of self-determination.

Photo by Bailey Torres, AP

References and Resources

(2021). Retrieved 29 July 2021, from https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2020/648145/IPOL_BRI(2020)648145_EN.pdf

Flows, C. (2021). In 1825, Haiti Paid France $21 Billion To Preserve Its Independence -- Time For France To Pay It Back. Retrieved 29 July 2021, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2017/12/06/in-1825-haiti-gained-independence-from-france-for-21-billion-its-time-for-france-to-pay-it-back/?sh=6303ed9c312b

How poorer nations benefit from EU membership | VOX, CEPR Policy Portal. (2021). Retrieved 29 July 2021, from https://voxeu.org/article/how-poorer-nations-benefit-eu-membership

Moloney, A. (2021). A decade after U.N.-linked cholera outbreak, Haitians demand justice. Retrieved 29 July 2021, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-haiti-cholera-un-feature-trfn-idUSKBN2772RM

NPR Cookie Consent and Choices. (2021). Retrieved 29 July 2021, from https://www.npr.org/2021/07/07/1013879000/even-before-jovenel-moises-assassination-haiti-was-in-crisis

Opportunities, C. (2021). CARICOM Food Security: Missed Opportunities. Retrieved 29 July 2021, from https://today.caricom.org/2020/05/20/caricom-food-security-missed-opportunities/

Marc Skinner is an Afro-Trinbagoian, with a passion for humanitarian work and socio-economic equality and has a Bachelor’s in International Relations and a minor in Psychology. Marc is currently the Social Media Manager at Feminitt Caribbean and has been actively engaged with efforts for racial equity, refugee rights and gender justice. 

Anderson Pierre is haitian, with a degree in social communication from the State University of Haiti. He is interested in open science, open access to knowledge, gender studies and anything related to intersectionality. He currently works as a communications officer for ActionAid Haiti, a non-governmental organization in Haiti.

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