The crisis in Haiti: The United States continues to block reform and the passage of people fleeing

The Biden Administration expelled 450 people to Haiti, including 44 children, 20 of whom were infants, on three flights this week. These flights bring the total to 235 expulsion flights to Haiti since Biden took office, more than 23,000 people in total, and 21,000 in the eight months since the debacle in Del Rio last September. Another 8,000 people were summarily expelled into Mexico during the Del Rio crisis. 

[As a reminder, 30,000 migrants, many of them Haitians, arrived in the Del Rio sector in Texas over the course of a week in early September. Border Patrol kept 15,000 people trapped under a bridge for days and then quickly cleared people out – most through expulsions, though some were allowed to stay and apply for asylum. See our report on this here.]

Over the last few months, the number of people attempting to flee Haiti by boat has also increased dramatically, as measured by those captured and returned to Haiti by the Coast Guard. So far this fiscal year , the Coast Guard has interdicted and returned 3,897 people to Haiti (October 1, 2022 through May 3).  

Within Haiti there is political stagnation and spiraling violence. At last 39 people have been killed in gang violence in the Port au Prince metro area since the end of April, and 10,000 people have been forced from their homes. Hundreds of schools have been forced to close in and around Port au Prince because of the violence, and two hospitals have closed in protest of the kidnapping of a doctor.

As a result of this latest surge in violence, Port au Prince is largely cut off from the rest of the country. It has been difficult to travel south through Martissant because gangs have controlled the roads there for almost a year now; among other issues this has disrupted the humanitarian response to last August’s earthquake. As a result of the most recent violence, it is now nearly impossible to get in and out of the city on the north, making it very difficult for communities in the Artibonite, North and North East departments to get necessities. Fuel prices continue to soar, and hunger, already widespread, is getting worse.

This humanitarian disaster is what Biden is expelling people into; hundreds of people every week are caught in a relentless campaign of mass expulsions. 

At the same time, the Biden Administration has simply not budged in its support of de facto prime minister Ariel Henry. Henry became prime minister following the assassination of president Jovenal Moïse last July. His rise to that office was the result of a US intervention with other international partners. Henry, who had been appointed the day before Moïses assassination but never confirmed, was slected over the acting prime minister Claude Joseph, and invited to form a government in an agreement announced via a Tweet from the US Embassy. Henry has since been implicated in the assassination, as he is known to have been in contact with prime suspects in the killing the morning it happened. 

As a result of the power the US holds over Haiti, and Biden’s intransigence on this question, Henry has a virtual veto on any discussion about transition. For example, a transition process launched by civil society organizations as part of the Montana Accord last year, a process in which the acting government is invited to participate, is blocked from moving forward. Indeed, any process in which Henry’s party, the Pati Ayisyen Tèt Kale is not in control,  has no prospect of advancing, at least as long as the United States keeps its foot on the scale. 

Any hope of moving out of the violence and ongoing governance crisis requires a new transition agreement; one that is more participatory than the reboot of PHTK controlled elections. The United States is blocking such a participatory alternative. As more people flee the violence created in the resulting vacuum, the United States is also blocking their efforts to reach safety. This has to stop!

Taking action

The Quixote Center is joining with a host of organizations in a campaign demanding that the Biden administration get out of the way in Haiti by withdrawing its support for the Henry government. The reasons are clear (from campaign statement):

  • Despite the continued deterioration of security, governance, basic services and respect for human rights under their rule, the US has persistently supported a decade of Haitian governments dominated by the Pati Ayisyen Tèt Kale (PHTK). 
  • Haitians have been fighting to reclaim their democracy with a broad-based non-violent mobilization, but US government support has allowed the PHTK to refuse to negotiate in good faith with the popular democratic movement demanding change.
  • Important advocacy by Haitians, Haitian-Americans, members of Congress, and solidarity activists has forced the US to acknowledge the Haitian government’s complicity in chronic impunity, gang violence and corruption over the past six months. But the US has not yet reduced its support enough to force the Haitian government to engage in meaningful negotiations with Haitian civil society. 
  • We feel the role of the US is very simple: The US should not support any particular party or sector or demand that Haitians take a particular path towards democracy. A stable and just Haiti – which is in the interest of Haitians and the US Government alike – requires that Haitians lead and own their democratic process.

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