What is happening in Haiti?

What is happening in Haiti?
  • PublishedMarch 26, 2024

The Caribbean country of Haiti – the western half of the island of Hispaniola – has been blighted by a succession of catastrophes, from an earthquake in 2010 which killed nearly a quarter of a million people, to an outbreak of cholera, a president’s assassination and rising gang violence.

More than 33,000 people have fled their homes in Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince, UN officials say, amid ongoing gang violence which has plunged the crises-stricken nation into yet more chaos.

But tens of thousands remain trapped in the city, where heavily armed gangs now control more than 80% of the territory.

More than 200 gangs are believed to operate in Haiti, with nearly two dozen concentrated in Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas, the Associated Press reports.

We take a look at what has happened in the past month and what led to Haiti’s seemingly perpetual state of crisis.

What is happening in Haiti?

The latest wave of violence started on 29 February, with gunmen targeting police stations and the main international airport, which remains closed.

People run through the streets of Port-au-Prince as bullets fly. Pic: Reuters
Image:People run through the streets of Port-au-Prince as bullets fly. Pic: Reuters

They also stormed Haiti’s two biggest prisons and released more than 4,000 inmates.

The violence was seen as a protest against unelected Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who had pledged to stand down in February but later said security had to be re-established before he could leave his post.

Haiti has fallen short of holding parliamentary elections since October 2019, while the senate’s term expired in January last year, meaning there has been no official from either the House or Senate since.

The gunfire started as Mr Henry visited Kenya to discuss the deployment of a multinational security mission in Haiti, backed by the United Nations, to help local police as they are overwhelmed by gangs.

Locals, however, are wary of yet another foreign intervention considering the troubled history with different countries meddling in its affairs.

Former police officer and gang leader Jimmy Cherizier, also known as Barbecue

According to former police officer and gang leader Jimmy Cherizier, also known as Barbecue, the “battle” being waged by the criminal groups was aimed at removing the prime minister and “changing the whole system”.

The fighting led to the prime minister’s resignation, but gangs demanding he be ousted have continued their attacks in several communities.

When did Haiti’s political turmoil start?

The Caribbean country’s current state of upheaval can be traced back to September 2019, when tens of thousands took to the streets of Haiti to demand former president Jovenel Moise’s resignation.

Opposition leaders had been calling for Mr Moise to step down saying his legal term had expired, a claim the former leader contested.

The former president was assassinated in 2021, when armed men broke into his Port-au-Prince bedroom on the night of 7July and fatally shot him. Mr Moise’s wife was also injured in the raid.

A map showing the location of Haiti
Image:A map showing the location of Haiti

Background to conflict

In 1804, Haiti became the first Caribbean state and the second in the Western Hemisphere (after the US) to gain independence from its colonisers, in Haiti’s case France.

But since then, Haitians have been plagued by a series of catastrophic events, including an almost 29-year dictatorship by father-and-son duo François and Jean-Claude Duvalier, known as “Papa Doc” and “Baby Doc”, lasting until 1986.

The Caribbean nation was then left reeling from the devastating impact of an earthquake in January 2010 which saw about 220,000 people killed, according to the UN.

Haiti went on to suffer an outbreak of cholera which claimed the lives of about 10,000. The outbreak is believed to have been caused by infected sewage as UN peacekeepers travelled to Haiti following the earthquake.


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