BLOODSHED, massacres and potential civil war all could return to Haiti as the country sits on a knife edge following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.
The troubled Caribbean nation has had a long and violent history as it has been buffeted between dictatorships, military juntas and foreign interventions or occupations since first gaining independence in 1804.
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Moïse was allegedly killed by a group offoreign "well-trained commandos" posing as US drug enforcement agents who stormed his presidential compound in Port-au-Prince.
The motive behind his assassination remains unclear – but it comes after ongoing political turmoil, accusations he was trying to become a dictator, and an attempted coup in February.
His murder also follows a spate of high profile killings, including prominent human rights activist Antoinette Duclair and high profile journalist Diego Charles.
Decades of unrest have already plagued Haiti – with street violence, the rise of powerful and brutal gangs, mass protests and a slow collapse of a weak, corrupt police force.
And to further complicate things the temporary president is supposed to be the nation's Chief Justice, René Sylvestre – but he died last month of Covid.
With no one in charge – and various factions vying for power – the threat of mass civil unrestor potentially even civil war, hangs over Haiti.
Moïse's wife Martine was also hurt in the attack which has pushed Haiti to the brink as the world waits with bated breath.
The ailing government has announced that four of the assassins had been killed and two have been arrested – but this will likely do little to stem the chaos.
Videos show the worrying scenes as smoke rises of Port-au-Prince as gun battles rage amid the crackdown.
The specter of a potential foreign intervention by the US has already been raised by observers, and the country has entered a "state of siege".
We can only assume things will probably degenerate given the lack of security, the weak police and the rise of gangs in cities
It means the country is under martial law – with the cops and military able to enter people's homes at will, control traffic and take "all general measures" to keep order.
Professor Robert Fatton, who has written several books on Haiti's turbulent history, grimly said the situation is likely to "degenerate" and the country to be "plunged into chaos".
Speaking to France24. Professor Fatton said: "We don't know what is going to happen – we can only assume things will probably degenerate given the lack of security, the weak police and the rise of gangs in cities.
He went on: "It may plunge the country into chaos and talking to some people from Haiti there is a feeling it might also provoke a foreign occupation."
Haiti's neighbour the Dominican Republic has already mobilised troops along its land border, and the nation's borders are sealed with all flights halted.
Shocking acts of violence are not uncommon in Haiti – with Unicef warning last month that thousands of people were fleeing the country to escape the brutality of gangs, with 13 massacres – killing 437 – reported since 2018.
"It’s the worst we’ve seen. Gangs have so much power, and they are tolerated,"Pierre Espérance, executive director of the Haitian National Human Rights Defense Network, told The Guardian.
Perhaps one of the most shocking was the slaughter in Port-au-Prince in November, 2018, where 25 civilians were rounded up and killed by men in police uniform.
"Cops" armed with machetes and assault weapons executed people in the streets – with officials at the time warning the slums of the city were becoming a "lawless zone".
The brutality followed the exit of UN peacekeepers in 2017 – who had boasted the condition on the island had improved after the overthrow of President Bertrand Aristide in 2004.
His ousting followed him being propped up by a US intervention in 1994 which saw American forces occupy Haiti after the government was seized in a military coup.
It is estimated around 200 protesters and 44 police officers have been killed in protests since 2018 – with fiery clashes between the two sides.
Fury mounted over Moïse's increased grip on power, Haiti's growing economic crisis, and the government's failures over the Covid pandemic.
World Health Organisation officials have warned this new wave of turmoil is set to hamper efforts to stem the outbreak and slow the essential role out of vaccines.
WHO have said they believe the country's cases and deaths – 19,107 and 462 – is vastly underreported and the virus has been surging in recent weeks.
Haiti has also been dealing with a cholera outbreak which has ravaged the country since a devastating earthquake in 2010, that killed as many as 300,000 people and caused $8billion worth of damage.
It was in the aftermath that Haiti's armed gangs started to seize power – exploiting a heartbroken nation that was having to bury its dead in mass graves.
Professor Fatton said: "I assume foreign powers will be very worried about this situation in Haiti, in particular the United States.
"And as we know in the previous 20 or 30 years, the UN and United States – and actually France – have sent troops to Haiti because of political uncertainty and instability.
"If things get bad – I would assume you would probably have another intervention."
However, he went on that Haitians may push back against such an operation as many actually blame the US and other foreign powers for their current troubles.
Fulton Armstrong, who was the CIA's chief in Haiti during the 90s, told The Guardian: "When you have these permissive escalations of violence, where innocent people get shot or killed or kidnapped, if there is no action, then one of these goons-for-hire that Haitian politicians use is going to take a shot."
Jake Johnston, a Haiti specialist from the Center for Economic and Policy Research thinktank, added: "This is a situation that has been building for some time.
"A huge part of this story is that when you have a situation where the police has failed to provide security to the population, anything becomes possible."
Haiti’s history of turmoil
HAITI has suffered cycles of invasion, violence and repression since it first became independent in 1804.
1492 – Spain colonises the island of Hispaniola after the arrival of Christopher Columbus.
1697 – Spain cedes half the island to France, which eventually becomes the foundation of modern dayHaiti
1801 – Former slave Toussaint Louverture leads a successful revolt and abolishes slavery.
1804 – Haiti becomes independent under former slave Jean-Jacques Dessalines – he is assassinated in 1806.
1915 – The US invades Haiti and occupies it until 1943
1957 – Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier takes power – eventually declaring himself "president for life" ushering in a brutal, repressive rule
1971 – Duvalier dies and his son "Baby Doc" takes power – he is even more brutal than his father
1986 – Popular revolt forces him to flee – and the military take power
1990 – Former priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide wins Haiti's first free election
1991 – Aristide is ousted in a coup
1994 – The US invade and occupy Haiti as Aristide returns, with his protégé Rene Preval elected president
1999 – Aristide is elected again despite a disputed election
2004 – Aristide is then ousted again amid waves of violence – the US and France send in the troops
2010 – Catastrophic earthquake kills up to 300,000 people – leading to mass devastation and outbreaks of cholera
2017 – Businessman Jovenel "Banana Man" Moise is elected president
2019 – Mass protests begin as he is perceived as attempting to set himself up as a dictator
2021 – Moise is killed in his home by "foreign mercenaries" – sparking a new era of uncertainty and chaos
In a statement today, the U.S Embassy in Haiti said that it would be closed to due to an "ongoing security situation".
Boris Johnson said the assassination of Mr Moïse was an "abhorrent act" and appealed for calm in the country.
Streets were empty yesterdaymorning after Haitians woke up to the news of the death of their President.
The country's main airport was closed except for humanitarian and diplomatic flights, the airport's director general said.
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On February 7, the day his presidential term was supposed to end,Moïse claimed that a coup had been foiled to overthrow his government and kill him.
A total of 23 people were arrested including a senior police officer – and Moïse claimed they had tried to kill him.
Moïse had been ruling by decree for the last months, but he had originally been hoped to bring stability to the island – being a businessman with no political background, often dubbed "Banana Man".
However, he found himself embroiled in political corruption as protesters urged him to resign as the nation failed to hold elections, branding him a "dictator".
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