Haiti’s political and social problems have been bubbling under the surface, rarely making international news. Gangs now control over 60% of the capital city and all of Haiti’s major highways, holding the country hostage through kidnapping ransoms, bribes, illegal fees, and murder, while exploiting economic desperation among youths. These problems have made it a conduit for drugs and a hub of international money laundering systems from the Dominican Republic and Jamaica to Panama and Mexico. While an international military intervention is not the right solution, the UN Security Council recently adopted Resolution 2653, which included asset freezes, travel bans, and arms embargo measures.
Despite the urgent need for a response to the gang violence and instability in Haiti, a direct military intervention by foreign troops would not be the solution. Haitians themselves must rein in the power of the gangs, although they will require the appropriate external assistance. The gangs, financed by powerful business actors who pay for protection and intimidate competitors, rely on their young members who have become involved through economic desperation and frustration, rather than commitment to the gang. The gangs also exploit a weak security and judicial system in Haiti, run by corrupt politicians jockeying for position.
As a result of Haiti’s problems, an international coordinated response is underway, with Canada and the United States implementing sanctions of the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) against corrupt public figures, criminals who support money laundering, and other practices that encourage corruption and gang activities. The North American Leaders Summit in Mexico in January 2022 included discussions of coordinated efforts regarding Haiti’s gang violence and instability, as well as the trafficking in weapons and drugs, and responses to international corruption. While there is still no consensus on how to structure anti-gang deployment, these developments represent an important step toward supporting Haiti’s national police and addressing the underlying problems fueling the country’s instability.
Written by Shivi Dhawan