While some of the recently kidnapped American missionaries have been released, this ongoing hostage situation highlights the disintegration of social and political order in Haiti. Since the United Nations security force (MINUSTAH) exited in 2017, Haiti has devolved into chaos. Parliament was disbanded in January of 2020, the president was assassinated in July of 2021, the Supreme Court President died under suspicious circumstances, the present Prime Minister is ruling outside of the structure of the Haitian constitution and now violent gangs control much of the country.
This loss of national sovereignty has fostered the rapid expansion of the gang-fueled violence that terrorizes the population, and human rights violations are common. Murder rates are skyrocketing and kidnappings for ransom are up 300 percent. These gangs have fully automatic Russian-made weapons that far surpass the local police’s firepower, who are powerless to intervene. Unfortunately, impoverished Haitians are bearing the brunt of this “reign of terror.” Hundreds of Haitians have been kidnapped and tortured at the hands of these ruthless gangs. Many have been killed and many more have been brutalized for weeks.
I am a long-term resident of Haiti who leads a humanitarian aid organization based outside of Port-au-Prince. We have suffered much at the hands of the same gang that kidnapped these missionaries and know firsthand what these captives are experiencing. Two of our team members were previously kidnapped and tortured for four days, one of our female team members was brutally assaulted and another murdered in front of our compound. The Christian Aid missionaries have been captives since October 16th and the delay in their rescue is emboldening the gangs by the day.
The gang violence has disrupted supply chains resulting in food and fuel shortages. Since fuel stations are shuttered, black marketers sell fuel for huge profits directly from large transport trucks. Food scarcity, already impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, has hit all-time highs. Pregnant women and children are the most vulnerable, with hunger reaching 40 percent in these groups.
The ongoing violence and food insecurity has forced many Haitians to leave Haiti in unprecedented numbers. Many flee in wooden boats risking drowning or exposure rather than the certainty of violence. Others pay large sums to human smugglers and face the daunting trek through the Darien Gap to the U.S., searching for a better life.
The International Community has brought peace to Haiti before, but if it fails to do so now, the people of Haiti will need a miracle. Throwing money at this problem only serves to deepen the pervasive government corruption. The International Community needs to send peacekeeping troops to Haiti to prevent this humanitarian crisis from becoming worse. I have spoken with the State Department at great length about this need, and they admit that the United Nations refuses to come to Haiti’s rescue for political reasons related to Haiti’s past support of Taiwan’s independence. With China large and in charge at the U.N., we see no hope for intervention from that direction.
The world has watched Haiti spiral into chaos for the last four years. The escalating violence imperils the tens of thousands of American citizens who live in Haiti, providing necessary services to the people of Haiti. Continuing to delay decisive action may result in a loss of American lives that will eclipse the tragedy in Ben Ghazi, Libya. With the government in disarray and no new elections scheduled, Haiti could easily become another Somalia in our own backyard.
The suffering of the thousands of kidnapping victims, the tens of thousands facing the degradation of forced migration and the millions who are left to endure the daily humiliation of violence must stop. Without hope for intervention by the International Community, Haitians and Americans will continue to suffer and die. We must join together in praying for the people of Haiti, as they need a miracle, just as much as the remaining kidnapped missionaries.
David Vanderpool, M.D., is the founder of LiveBeyond, a humanitarian development relief organization working in Haiti.