Written by Colin Sweatt.
On Feb. 23 off-duty police officers and the Haitian Armed Forces entered into a six-hour gun battle in Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince, which left two dead and dozens wounded. The police, demanding higher wages, unionization and better working conditions, have poor relations with Haiti’s newly reinstated military.
Haiti’s justice ministry released a statement in support of the military claiming that police actions on Sunday were “an attempted coup d’état.” Additionally, the Haitian Armed Forces stated that armed police officers attacked the military headquarters of Haiti.
The Haitian government formally disbanded the military in 1995 after an attempted coup, an action that the armed forces had resorted to many times in the past. Under Michel Martelly’s Presidency the military was formally reinstated in 2015. The already underfunded police saw this new armed body as an unnecessary money siphon meant to secure the power of Martelly.
Although Martley’s tenure ended in 2016 human rights groups and opposition party members still fear the power of the military under current president Jovenel Moise. Haiti has a history of dictatorial executives. Since Moise can’t get the Haitian Parliament to approve his prime ministers he has appointed them through executive decree. From 2017-2020 Haiti has had three prime ministers. Additionally, Haitian elections were postponed indefinitely in 2019 so most legislative seats are invalidly filled because the occupants’ terms have ended.
The instability in Haiti is not just confined to politics. Due to the dysfunctional policing of Haiti Pierre Esperance, the executive director of the Haitian National Human Rights Network, stated: “gangs control two-thirds of the country and today are better equipped than the police.”
Banditry has increased throughout Haiti as armed gangs now routinely hijack vehicles transporting goods. This situation has caused consumer goods shortages throughout the country and a spike in blackmarket activity.
The increase in violence and political instability has scared away foriegn investors. One of Haiti’s main exports is textiles and before the recent instability the industry was expected to add 300,000 jobs but now the sector is shrinking by 58,000 positions.
Domestically, Haitians do not have spare capital to spend on goods, let alone to invest in enterprises. Around half of Haitians are farmers and many are having trouble buying seeds for the next season according to US News. About two thirds of Haitians are unemployed or underemployed and with economic projections predicting a recession until at least 2021 the situation is unlikely to improve in the near future.
The president of Haiti’s Industrial Association, George Sassin, said about Haiti’s situation that “the consequences of the current crisis are even worse than the embargo, an earthquake or several hurricanes, because we are talking about a breakdown of the state.”
Violence and increasing poverty have also decreased tourism, a major industry in Haiti. The armed conflict in Port-au-Prince led the government to cancel Carnival. Additionally, protests unaffiliated with the police are common throughout the country as anger at President Moise’s perceived corruption and economic failure has spread.
It is unlikely that Haiti’s new prime minister, Joseph Jouthe will be able to solve the deeply embedded and interconnected crises facing Haiti. In his first speech as prime minister Jouthe stated that “we’re living today in a very precarious socio-economic situation which could lead at any time to a humanitarian disaster, our country is in agony.”