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Haiti needs the United Nations to stay

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In a little more than four months, the United Nations is set to depart from Haiti, capping a 15-year presence that has not been without warts, but that has helped bring a measure of stability to a nation that has faced its share of woes.

When the UN arrived in Haiti at the end of President Bertrand Aristide’s tumultuous reign in 2004, the murder rate in the capital of Port-au-Prince was an astounding 219 per 100,000. To put this in context, the murder rate in St. Louis – the city with our nation’s highest murder rate at present, is 66 per 100,000.

When the UN’s stabilization mission left Haiti in 2017, that rate had fallen to 35 per 100,000. However, since that time violence has been increasing, a particularly troubling sign since the last vestige of the UN mission is scheduled to depart mid-October.

It is never ideal for a UN presence to become prolonged to the point at which it feels as if it is permanent, and the ideal should be a departure of such forces as soon as a nation is stable. Unfortunately, based on our on-the-ground presence and current assessment, Haiti is not at this point. We need Congress and the administration to urge the United Nations to continue its presence in country.

Murder and other acts of violence are a key indicator of rising instability that will likely worsen if the UN ends its presence too soon. In 2018, murder rates spiked during the second half of the year, and gang-on-gang violence continues to increase.”

And murder is not the only problem. Armed robberies against motorists, pedestrians, international visitors and banks are frequent occurrences. Other disturbing trends include attacks by motorcycle-mounted assailants and by rushing of persons returning to their homes.  

A decline in murders and other violent crimes cannot be attributed solely to the presence of the UN, but the surge in violence since the beginning of the UN drawdown is not a coincidence and portends that much worse is to come when the UN departs entirely.

The violence perpetrated on the defenseless population has an air of wanton disregard for the presence of the police. While there have been cases of corruption in policing, the major problem is simply the paucity of a police force that is inadequate and outnumbered. Even after the UN’s Mission for Justice Support dramatically bolstered the numbers of police officers, Haiti has one of the smallest numbers of police per capita in the world at 1.36 officers per every 1,000 people, far below  the internationally accepted minimum standard for the number of 2.2 police per capita. In the face of rising violence and the impending complete departure of the UN, the Haitians may be facing yet another crisis of violence similar to the one that brought the UN to the nation in the first place.

Monetary Policy

Another driver of the nation’s woes has been the destabilization of the Haitian gourde, the local currency. During much of the UN’s tenure in Haiti, the gourde remained reasonably stable against the U.S. dollar. While the gradual devaluation of the gourde certainly predated the exit of the UN, the currency has fallen precipitously since the UN drawdown began.

The extent of the diminished buying power of basic goods and services has driven the already marginalized poor to their breaking point, leading to an escalation of the violence described earlier. Without the calming effect of the UN’s presence, the situation will surely worsen.

Haiti is in trouble. If the UN continues with their drawdown, we may be witness to the collapse of one of our closest neighbors, a nation less than 700 miles from the U.S. mainland. The need for further stabilization is rapidly slipping away. Instead of turning our collective backs on Haiti, we need to be a part of Haiti’s solution.

I urge Congress and the State Department to recognize the urgency of the situation in Haiti and to work with other nations to ensure a vibrant UN presence remains in Haiti until the nation can be stabilized.

David Vanderpool, MD, is founder of LiveBeyond, a faith-based, humanitarian organization providing medical and maternal health care, clean water, education and other needs to Thomazeau, Haiti. LiveBeyond has been operating in Thomazeau since 2013. 


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