Haiti: a country in permanent crisis

Saturday’s earthquake is just the latest setback to hit the Caribbean nation, following years of natural disasters, political instability, corruption and gang violence

A family outside homes that were destroyed by an earthquake on Saturday.
A family outside homes that were destroyed by an earthquake on Saturday.Joseph Odelyn (AP)

Haiti is the patient that never quite has the chance to recover. The poorest country in the Americas was hit by an earthquake on Saturday that registered 7.2 on the Richter scale, leaving at least 1,200 people dead. But this comes as just another blow for a nation that has yet to recover from the devastating earthquake of January 2010, when a quarter of a million people died. And only last month, Haiti’s president Jovenel Moïse was assassinated, leaving this nation of 11 million souls in a permanent state of confusion and fear.

The chain of tragedies that has rocked Haiti has left it unable to recover from the last terrible earthquake, despite billions of dollars of aid money flowing in over the years. The nation’s geography leaves it especially vulnerable to hurricanes and earthquakes, but its all too human problems – corruption and criminality – have left Haiti on its knees. Arms and drugs trafficking have contributed to the spiral of violence.

According to World Bank estimates, 60% of the population lives in poverty

After the earthquake in 2010, the international community descended on Haiti with the aim of rebuilding the country. Resources poured in and the United States estimates that $13 billion (€11 billion) was sent over the last decade. Former president Moïse admitted to this newspaper, five months before his assassination, that the money sent by the international community was not used effectively by the local authorities. “We did not know what to do with the projects that came to us from international funds,” he said at the time. Moïse pointed to corruption and political instability when explaining why Haiti was not able to benefit from the aid money.

By July 7 of this year, Moïse was dead, shot in his own home by a group of armed men whose background is still the object of scrutiny. An investigation into his murder has yet to identify the masterminds of the assassination, and there are still questions over the arrest of Colombian ex-military personnel who were allegedly hired for the operation. Moïse was seeking to stay in power for a year longer than he was elected to serve in 2016, a move that had already provoked protests and tensions among the population.

The United States should “investigate money laundering, arms trafficking, human rights abuses and other illegal acts by Haitian officials and private sector leaders,” said Emmanuela Douyon, a Haitian policy expert, speaking to the US Congress on policy recommendations for the Biden administration in March. Douyon said a strategy was needed for Haiti’s long-term stability so that the country could cease to be a repository for billions of dollars that do not contribute to improving the lives of Haitians. According to World Bank estimates, 60% of the population lives in poverty.

Haiti’s difficult history is marked by a series of events that have prevented it from improving its future. The former French colony was the first country to gain independence in the 19th century and has been heavily indebted to its colonizer since its emergence as a nation. In the 20th century, the country suffered from the Duvalier dictatorship, when in 1957 François Duvalier, known as Papa Doc, was elected, establishing an autocratic government that he would rule until his death in 1971. His son Jean-Claude Duvalier, known as Baby Doc, perpetuated the authoritarian system until his fall in 1986. Since then, the country has attempted to establish democratic governments that are constantly being replaced.

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