This year more Haitian migrants arrived in Mexico than any other nationality. What was it that led so many people not to see a better future in Haiti? The answers are: a failed state, sprawling criminal gangs and a devastating earthquake, reports freelance journalist Linnea Fehrm from Haiti.
HAITI.- There is a video that went viral in Haiti during the second half of 2021. On the outskirts of the capital of Port-au-Prince, a gang member offered a weapon to a five-year-old boy. “Take it!” the gang member told the boy. The boy, almost the same size as the gun, turned his back on the gang member and said determinedly, “No! My mom told me that I’m not going to be a bandit!”
This boy who said no to criminal gangs – when not even the police or politicians know how to stop them – became a hopeful symbol at a time that Haitians needed him so much, because now the country is facing its most severe crisis in decades.
On July 7, President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in his own bed for reasons that remain obscure. The assassination created a power vacuum where numerous criminal gangs expanded their control to more than 60 percent of the capital.
The governor of the Central Bank, Jean Baden Dubois, has verified that criminal groups are the main employers in the country. They kidnap an average of almost three people a day, in Port-au-Prince alone, making it the kidnapping capital of the world. Ransoms – sometimes as high as $1 million per kidnapper – have made criminals financially powerful. They now have more members, and bigger weapons, than the police and the army combined.«I did not find a way to support myself. The easiest thing would be to grab a gun. But I didn’t want that,” said Alfred Thualy, a resident of the Carrefour Reception Center orphanage, west of Port-au-Prince.
Alfred Thualy remains in the orphanage although he is no longer a child. He is 24 years old and dreams of a family and his own home. According to what he told Pie de Página, he left the orphanage a few years ago and returned to the neighborhood of his birth. He is now back in the institution because he is his only option to survive “rather than become a criminal.”
Organized crime is leaving young people few options, even blocking their studies. Since the start of the school year in September, at least seven schools in and around Port-au-Prince have had to pay armed gangs for security. Schools that cannot pay are attacked. Parents and students have been shot, teachers have been kidnapped, and thousands of students have dropped out.
“We should unite and fight for Haiti”
“As a teacher I shouldn’t say this, but the truth is that I don’t see a future in Haiti,” said teacher and principal Emmanuelle Sainvil. “When you have lived 75 years like me, you think you have seen it all, but I had never witnessed a crisis like the one we are currently going through.”
For three decades, he has been running a school together with his wife, located in the Bois Verna neighborhood in Port-au-Prince. He normally receives two hundred preschool and elementary students, but the day Pie de Página visited his school, no more than four students had arrived. Emmanuelle Sainvil recounted that for several weeks, the rooms had been found empty for the simple reason that the students could not pay for school transport.
A major fuel shortage has paralyzed parts of the country for the past year, creating a black market where gas and gasoline are sold at multiple prices. Organized crime, once in control of the country’s most important highways, has refined a habit of stopping fuel transports and kidnapping both drivers and their loads.
Charles Senders, a 32-year-old gas station manager in Port-au-Prince, said a large part of the distribution is paralyzed because many drivers are afraid to drive. “They feel vulnerable because there are employers who, faced with a kidnapping situation, only pay a ransom for the vehicles and fuel, leaving the drivers to fend for themselves,” he told Pie de Página.In October, two trucks in his charge were hijacked in the violent Cité Soleil neighborhood. After paying ransom for the drivers, trucks and gasoline respectively, he received back his drivers and his vehicles – but the criminals kept his precious gasoline.
Faced with devastating shortages, a rumor spreads that gas station attendants deliberately hide fuel, leading to constant threats against him. Charles Senders fears for his life and does not want to appear in photos by Footer.
“The idea of migrating torments me. There are so many studied Haitians leaving the country, instead of running away we should come together and fight for Haiti,” said Charles Senders.
But the country’s challenges are accumulating and the fight seems increasingly difficult.
“It could take up to twenty years to get up”
On August 14, five weeks after the president’s assassination, an earthquake measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale struck the southwest of the country. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people remain homeless. A large part of the electrical grid and 20 percent of the pipelines are still damaged in the disaster area. According to Marie Michelle Rameau, president of the Municipal Council of the southern city of Los Cayos, the reconstruction depends entirely on international aid.
“With the collaboration of other countries we could rebuild our city in a couple of years. But if we don’t get the funds we need…pooh! It could take up to twenty years to get up.”
It is not known when the restoration will begin, because four months after the earthquake, the process of requesting international funds has not yet begun. The only humanitarian aid comes from ten foreign organizations, although it only reaches a small part of the more than 800,000 people affected.