The African slaves who manumitted themselves from the French in 1804 changed their nation to its Taino name: “Ayiti”, or Haiti, means “high mountains”. The uneven terrain which covers much of the country’s 27,065km2 is home to the larger half of a mountainous watershed Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic. This area is home to roughly 5 million people and declining, while the capital Port-au-Prince and its satellites is home to roughly 6 million and increasing. A large majority of Haitians are of African origin, follow Christian and Vodou beliefs, and speak Haitian Creole or French (Haiti’s official languages). Haiti is particularly vulnerable to climate change and natural disasters as a result of ecocidal policies, a lack of sufficient disaster preparedness, and geographic location. Haiti’s political system has been equally susceptible to shocks, suffering from corruption, foreign exploitation, and political interference constantly throughout its long history. Haiti has seen several de-facto one-man Presidential regimes since January 2015, when President Michel Martelly dissolved Haiti’s National Assembly. His successor, President Jovenel Moïse did the same in January 2020. Haiti’s turbulence and the apparent incapacity of the state to account for the needs of the population have resulted in several periods of urgent international attention in the wake of the 2010 and 2021 earthquakes.
The Haitian state has tended to have as much incentive to fight against the population as to serve it, and a culture of political violence has thrived for those at the top. Up until now, Haitian poverty has been profitable for an elite few. Today, Haiti is the poorest country in the Latin America region, and one of the poorest countries in the world. Haiti is prone to environmental shocks, such as the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck the country in 2010. Decades of unrelenting social and political shocks had left a hollow state unable to direct what few resources it had, nor the respective spike in aid flow, effectively. Codependence between the Haitian ownership class and the foreign interests in Haiti has resulted in an increasingly violent struggle for power by elites, arming and unleashing mercenaries or police against rival elite and neighborhood alike. The scourge of violence has now multiplied out of control, with gang leaders claiming open fiefdoms practically unchecked, primarily using sexual violence to terrorize the population.Even before the current unchecked crisis, democratic demonstrations from an alienated majority have been met with lethal force by an insecure government. Thus the picture of state fragility in Haiti is multidimensional: the government is pinned in a legitimacy trap by a pattern of gangsterization and weak state capacity.
The feedback loops which reproduce the crises in Haiti cannot be simply problematized. Indeed, many issues identified in this analysis are not unique to Haiti: the lack of distributive justice and the damage it causes to public trust in the state and between communities; rising urbanization, scarcity, and disease due to climate change and land despoliation; worsening elite capture and political interruption by domestic and foreign elites. Much of the world currently experiences each of these trends to some degree while, much like in Haiti, decaying patriarchal-colonialist institutions pose an existential threat to democratic efforts. In Haiti, these institutions have been upheld by violence, and where they fail it is often more violence that emerges in the vacuum. Whether this cultural trauma will continue to reproduce is the one trend for which this report does not directly offer a policy option. While it will be necessary to somehow disarm the increasing gang violence and address the roots of gangsterism in Haitian culture, this in itself will not resolve the Haitian crisis. This report offers a conjunction of policy options tailored to Canadian foreign policy based on a political economy which locates Haiti within the wider systems of coloniality that constitute so much of global North-South relations. Through cooperation with Haiti, we believe Canada is well-positioned to play a role in the burgeoning of new, decolonial principles of engagement between and within peoples of all nations.