Haiti in turmoil again - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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The problems currently facing Haiti are not limited to Port-au-Prince. People in the countryside are facing just as many threats, especially illness and hunger. Photo by Bruno Le Bansais via Wikimedia Commons.

“Where were you when…?” is a question typically asked regarding moments that continue to impact people long after the fact. Being in Haiti during the past couple of years has left me with no shortage of such moments. My head is left spinning in the most recent event, which occurred just as my work time in Haiti is coming to an end.

Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse, assassinated July 7, 2021. Photo by VOA via Wikimedia Commons.

In the early hours of this morning (July 7), President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated and First Lady Martine was shot in their home. The First Lady is being transported to the United States at this time to receive medical treatment. As a result, all planes are grounded and flights are postponed. The country has entered into a chaotic lock down of sorts, with several outbreaks of conflicts. Roads are blocked to many cities. Port-au-Prince is more intense than it ever has been since my arrival in January 2019.

Some mourn the loss of the president. Some do not consider it a loss at all. Some are just trying to secure their safety to make it to tomorrow. And all of us are left holding a breath heavy with uncertainty for what comes next. As we’ve learned over the past couple of years, there is a high chance of things getting uglier before any healing is allowed to occur.

For many of us expats on the ground, bearing witness to a country in the wake of presidential assassination is unprecedented. It is still too new a situation to have the proper scope in terms of processing it all. In some regards, we have little choice but to go with it. I was scheduled to be on a plane heading home this weekend, but to be frank, it is unlikely the situation will be resolved by then. It, like so many other times here, is completely out of my hands.

I know that I am considerably privileged that the biggest impact of this event is that I may have to change my flight plans. It is in that perspective that I can breathe through these moments, keep my loved ones informed, and hold onto hope with my Haitian community here.

The government has released an official statement placing a “state of siege” order on the country for 15 days. However, Haiti does not have a legitimate army presence, only a police force with different branches. It is therefore uncertain how the order can be carried out.

There is also ambiguity around who can/should be heading the country as the interim leader. There is interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph, but he was never duly installed by Moïse. As an alternative, the head of the Supreme Court could have taken over and run elections in a few months, but he died due to COVID recently. Moïse fired many of the government members who could have made moves to decide the next course of action. Essentially, while the few who remain in offices have called for the siege, there is little in place to enable them to effectively carry it out.

The Dominican Republic has shut down its borders, and there is currently no air traffic between the two countries. The land between the two is being heavily guarded by the Dominican military, and only Dominicans as well as high level diplomats have authorization to go into the country. This means it is not currently an option were an emergency evacuation necessary that needed to touch down there.

This has increased the stress of certain members currently seeking refuge in response to the state of siege order. Human rights activists as well as other public figures who have spoken against Moïse or his policies fear the order will afford the government unchecked power to search any home or institution without a warrant. In the most extreme scenario, they fear for their lives. With roads blocked, and the Dominican Republic not currently an option, many people involved in the heat of politics in Port-au-Prince are in a dangerous position should the government follow through on the warrantless searches.

The assassination comes at a critical time for Haiti, as COVID cases are on a borderline catastrophic rise. The lack of vaccine availability is appalling. A World Health Organization official recently called Haiti an extreme example of the “stark inequities on vaccine access.”

The WHO had told Moïse he could accept the double dose vaccines, or Haiti could pay for their own. The late president’s reason for not wanting a double dose is the challenge presented in getting people to return for the second dose. Many people who live in remote places would find it difficult to come back or be motivated to receive the second dose. Several people are now petitioning President Biden to send vaccines down in order to offer some assistance. Another reality is the severe lack of resources, space, and caregivers for those greatly afflicted by the virus.

The problems currently facing Haiti are not limited to the capital, Port-au-Prince. People in outlying communities and in the countryside are facing just as many threats, they just come in the form of illness and hunger. Market prices are steadily on the rise, while the value of the Haitian gourde continues to deplete. With ongoing road blocks in various places, it makes it difficult to have a steady flow of trade goods and necessary products that promote sustainability to various regions. It is a critical time for the country, and viable solutions need to be worked toward for a sustainable future.

I expect little less than chaos in the coming weeks for Haiti, and that concerns me for the people I love here. It is a 180 from how I would leave this beloved island. I cannot tell you what all comes next. I hope with everything I have and am that I am proven wrong, that a peaceful resolution is swift to come, that my loved ones here can move into a future of peace and security, and that this dark day does not long extend its reach into the coming weeks. I hope for this, but I cannot assure anyone of it.

I will encourage people not to lose hope. Haiti has weathered many political hardships, unstable ground, and internal conflict. In the most recent storm here, we do what we can to remain grounded in each other and remain determined to seek out brighter days. For now, it is taking it step by step and doing what we can to look out for one another. Remembering each other’s sacredness as humans is paramount to working through this. To look, not with pity, but with love to the other.

I ask that as you are able, you uplift Haiti and her people in your thoughts and prayers. We pray for peace, we pray for healing, we pray for a tomorrow full of light for the people of Haiti. We pray for those who lost a father, child, brother to such violence and their grief. To all of you, please continue to stay safe, be kind, and know you are loved. As we are able, we will keep our communities apprised of the situation as it develops.

Abby Belt
Abby Belt is a returned missioner (Class of 2018) who served in Gros Morne, Haiti. She now teaches English language arts and reality 101 at Derby High School in Derby, Kansas.