US must act before Haiti devolves into a disaster

The assassination of President Jovenel Moïse has amplified the political knife’s edge on which Haiti has long perched. The United States and others in the international community will have to act quickly to keep the situation from spinning further out of control. 

It is in our interest to do so. Crisis and instability in Haiti tend not to stay in the country. Previous crises have surged migration to neighboring countries including the United States. In the midst of the global COVID pandemic, in which Haiti has among the lowest vaccination rates across the Western Hemisphere, this is cause for concern. 

Instability also breeds insecurity and a more permissive environment for drug trafficking and other illegal activities. This is always a difficult challenge even when the government is functioning properly; it has not been now for some time. 

After being declared the winner in November 2016 of a messy and disputed elections process, Moïse moved to consolidate power. The president fought to extend his mandate beyond the five-year limit, an effort that has roiled Haiti for months, and at the time of his assassination, he was working to change the constitution via referendum to allow consecutive presidential terms. He dissolved parliament in 2020. The police and security forces are corrupted, with unclear loyalties; street crime and gang battles are rampant. 

Security forces conduct an investigation as a soldier stands guard at the entrance to the residence of Haitian President Jovenel Moise.
Security forces conduct an investigation as a soldier stands guard at the entrance to the residence of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse.
Joseph Odelyn/AP

Meanwhile, the prime minister position is disputed, the head of the Supreme Court just died from COVID, and the country has no vice president’s office. 

On the humanitarian side, Haiti has yet to fully recover from the devastating earthquake of a decade ago. Anything that creates political uncertainty harms the investment climate, discouraging the domestic and direct foreign investment required to create jobs and build the economy. New investment under current circumstances is unlikely. 

Finally, the United States, France, the Organization of American States, the United Nations, and others have an interest in supporting and strengthening democracy and democratic institutions in Haiti. Political assassinations cannot be tolerated in the Americas, and the perpetrators must be identified and brought to justice. Impunity cannot prevail. 

President Joe Biden talks to reporters before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, July 7, 2021.
Eric Farnsworth writes that it’s time for the US to step up and make sure Haiti gets back on the right track.
Andrew Harnik/AP

Haiti’s democracy was under siege long before the latest tragic events. Let’s hope that the crisis soon ends, the perpetrators are identified and punished, and the needs of the long-suffering Haitian people can finally be put first. 

Eric Farnsworth is vice president of the Americas ­Society/Council of the Americas. 

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