A woman covers her nose while walking past a burning road block in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. CNS photo/Ralph Tedy Erol, Reuters

Crippled Haiti in desperate need of help

  • October 27, 2022

The Jesuits in Haiti are begging for help on behalf of a nation in chaos — but not just any help.

“No nation on Earth deserves what we are undergoing right now and for such a long time,” Jesuit superior in Haiti Fr. Jean Denis Saint Felix told The Catholic Register in an email from Port au Prince. “More than ever, we need the sincere friendship and real solidarity of peoples all over the world.”

An international plan for Haiti must go beyond military intervention, Saint Felix said.

Canada sent armoured vehicles and other equipment to Haiti Oct. 15 to bolster the outgunned Haitian police. Sanctions and other measures are on the table, said Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly. 

Since President Jovenal Moise was murdered in his home in 2021, hundreds of Haitians have been killed in both political and random violence as armed gangs took control of key roads throughout the country and fought gun battles with each other and with police in the streets of Port au Prince. This year, the International Monetary Fund pressured the caretaker government into dropping fuel subsidies and the increased prices have pushed inflation out of control, choking off food supplies.

“People are starving. People are literally dying. In this very moment that I am writing this, people are being kidnapped. The gangs continue to terrorize the population,” Saint Felix reported.

The case for international intervention could not be more clear, said the Jesuit.

“We know that everybody knows that we cannot do it alone,” he said. “We cannot rely solely on the Haitian police to solve the problem of insecurity, daily kidnapping and gang violence. The U.S. and Canada need to play their role, being part of the solution since they are part of the problems.”

Development and Peace-Caritas Canada is hearing a similar message from its partners in Haiti. Instead of a short-term, military fix, Haiti needs the international community to help the Caribbean nation find its way out of a quagmire of corruption, cronyism and violence that has crippled the nation, said Development and Peace executive director Carl Hetu.

“Civil society is demanding that a road map be established,” he said.

Canada’s contribution has to come to something more than arming and equipping police. 

“They need to act upon what the root causes are,” said Hetu. “The root cause is that 30 years of no change in who is controlling the wealth and the politics of the country has only served those people.”

Stopping the flow of arms into the island nation shouldn’t be that difficult, and a military intervention that props up the status quo won’t help, said Hetu. 

“Our partners, and most of Haiti’s civil society, are not keen on seeing forces coming in,” he said. “For what? To serve who?”

“We fear that the international community won’t have the courage to engage with real local actors in order to promote good, honest and competent leadership — to definitely set the country on the path of structural change,” said Saint Felix, whose Jesuit community is part of the Canadian province of the world’s largest order of Catholic priests.

Since the 2010 earthquake, Canadian aid to Haiti has come to $1.87 billion, according to Global Affairs Canada. The annual development assistance budget came to $98 million. Canada is the second-largest donor to Haiti after the U.S. and Haiti is the largest recipient of Canadian aid in the Western hemisphere. Canada chairs the United Nations Economic and Social Council’s Ad Hoc Advisory Group on Haiti and engages with the Port au Prince government as part of the Core Group, which includes the United States, the European Union, France, Germany, Brazil and Spain. 

But simply engaging with a government that enjoys no legitimacy won’t cut it, said Hetu. Non-governmental organizations, such as the seven Development and Peace partners, should be part of the solution, he said.

Given the role that United Nations-mandated forces played in bringing cholera to Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, many Haitians are wary of any further UN intervention. 

On Oct. 21, the UN Security Council voted to freeze assets and ban travel by gang leaders, and to impose an arms embargo.

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.