On March 18th, an American couple visiting family in Haiti were kidnapped from a bus outside of Port-au-Prince and are currently being held for ransom by gang members. Violence and kidnappings have become commonplace as the humanitarian crisis in Haiti continues to worsen. Gangs have taken control of the capital city of Port-au-Prince, its ports, and many of the major roadways between Port-au-Prince and the rest of the country. This has cut off the supply of vital resources for millions of citizens. There is little access to food, clean water, or medical services, and the UN has declared a humanitarian emergency in Haiti. Law enforcement and the military are outnumbered and outmatched in dealing with violent gangs.
Abigail and Jean-Dickens Toussaint, an American couple from Florida, were kidnapped on March 18th, just outside the capital of Port-au-Prince. The two traveled there to visit family and attend a festival. A local gang stopped the bus and demanded that American citizens get off. The couple complied and has not been heard from since. The kidnappers initially demanded $6,000 for the couple’s safe return. After getting the $6000, the gang increased the ransom to $200,000. With an alarming increase in violence in the country, a member of the Toussaint family warned the couple about traveling to Haiti. They decided to make the trip. The US state department has issued a Level 4: Do Not Travel advisory for Haiti, citing high crime levels, including kidnapping. The state department advised remaining American citizens to leave the country. The family is coordinating with American officials to get the couple home safely. “We are aware of reports of two U.S. citizens missing in Haiti. When a U.S. citizen is missing, we work closely with local authorities as they carry out their search efforts, and we share information with families however we can.”- US state department.
The Haitian government has struggled to maintain order after the 2021 assassination of President Jovenal Moise. January 10th, 2023, marked the end of terms for Haiti’s ten remaining elected officials, leaving the population without a representative government or a plan to replace them. National elections have not been held since 2016, despite current Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s assurances that they hope to hold them in 2024. Prime Minister Henry is the last remaining leader of the Haitian government.
An escalation of protests against the prime minister has complicated matters further. The turmoil, previously contained to Port-au-Prince, has now spread to Cap Haitien, 123 miles away. The protesters have taken to the streets and clashed with police, calling for Henry’s resignation over the deteriorating situation. For the residents of Haiti, the situation is bleak.
The police are overwhelmed and struggling to deal with the growing power of gangs. The police are outnumbered and outgunned. The military was dissolved in 1995 after an attempted coup. Outside help from UN Peacekeeping forces also poses a problem. Despite the severity of the current situation, many citizens are protesting against outside intervention after a massive sexual assault scandal involving UN Peacekeepers stationed in Haiti. The US recently announced that Haiti was part of the US Strategy to stabilize the country. The goal is to restore security as part of a multi-phase, 10-year plan.
A HUMAN RIGHTS CRISIS
There are various issues plaguing the country. The problems have worsened due to the breakdown of the rule of law. Roughly 60% of Haitian citizens live in poverty, and approximately 1.2 million face starvation. Food, clean drinking water, fuel, and medical services have become scarce. Gangs took control of a primary fuel depot in September 2022, cutting the supply line and driving the gas price from reserve stores on the island to over $30 per gallon. Due to the inaccessibility of fuel, grocery stores are struggling to remain open. Trucks delivering clean water to rural areas have been unable to operate. Hospitals have had to cut services, causing further issues.
Along with the major ports, gangs also control many major roadways, putting civilians traveling at risk for assault and kidnapping. A UN human rights committee report has shown a sharp increase in sexual assault. Criminal organizations use these measures to instill fear and control the population.
Haiti currently sits at number eleven on the Fund for Peace’s “Failed State Index” and has seen a steady increase in its score since 2019 (a higher score denotes a higher level of instability). The UN has declared a human rights emergency. Haiti needs humanitarian relief and a way to end the violence that has taken control of the nation. Without security, elections are impossible. Corruption will need to be addressed if a new government is to succeed. Although there is an American plan to help Haiti, it is unclear how soon or if it will be implemented. We will continue to monitor the situation with Abigail and Jean-Dickens Toussaint.