The Meanest of Streets

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Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva recently called for the richest countries in the world to help Haiti, the violence-wracked, impoverished, politically unstable nation in the Caribbean.

“In Haiti, we need to act quickly to alleviate the suffering of a population torn apart by tragedy,” said Lula at the G7 summit in Japan. “The scourge to which the Haitian people is subject is the result of decades of indifference to the country’s real needs.”

Last year, explained the Miami Herald, Haiti’s Prime Minister Ariel Henry and the United Nations asked the international community to deploy troops to assist Haitian security forces. The US supported the idea, but, due to the long history of American interventionism in Haiti, hoped Canada and other nations would supply troops. But they have not. Now Lula might be the leader to send peacekeepers.

In the meantime, the situation is perilous. A French and Creole-speaking country that shares an island with the Dominican Republic, Haiti is on the “brink of a civil war,” warned the humanitarian group Mercy Corps, citing violence between criminal gangs and civilians, reported Al Jazeera.

Vigilantes sick of criminals running their neighborhoods are now triggering more fighting on the country’s mean streets. For example, after thugs killed and dismembered a relative, a gardener named Jean Baptiste recently recounted to the Washington Post how he and his neighbors took up machetes and established a shift schedule to police their Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Turgeau. They have killed 27 gang members so far, he said.

Citing UN figures, the Caribbean Media Corporation reported that 600 people died in violence in April in Port-au-Prince, the country’s capital, and almost 850 people in the first three months of the year. Such clashes are why the US recently issued a warning, telling Americans in Haiti that they should consider leaving due to the rising danger of kidnappings, crime, unrest, and poor health infrastructure.

Gang rule is destroying Haitian society, casting a pall of “gloom and hopelessness” on the population, wrote Mark Green, president of the Wilson Center, in a blog post. Children can’t go to school as rival clans fight in the streets. Commerce can’t occur. Infrastructure can’t be maintained, let alone improved.

Food production and distribution is one of the most vital sectors that is crumbling under mob rule. Today, more than 115,000 children in Haiti are expected to suffer malnutrition and “severe wasting,” reported Voice of America, citing UNICEF. A cholera outbreak is also devastating supply networks.

It’s hard to imagine how things could get worse. But they can and they will.

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