On Saturday morning, I awoke to find my country sinking even further into crisis: a massive earthquake hit Haiti, about 90 miles west of the capital, Port-au-Prince, killing more than 2,100, and injuring more than 12,000. Many remain missing, and neighbors continue to frantically search for family and friends as the rains from tropical storm Grace soak our island: yet another heartache on top of a tragedy. The United States has begun to deliver much-needed humanitarian assistance, but such aid will be ineffective if the United States does not direct it to the right people and if it doesn’t also support our work in Haitian civil society to fix our broken state. This week is crucial on both fronts, as the new U.S. envoy returns from a visit to Haiti and civic groups prepare to issue an accord to begin resolving the political crisis.
We have seen this movie before. In 2010, Haiti experienced another devastating earthquake, leaving 220,000 people dead. Aid poured in from the United States and around the world. But little of it reached the people who really needed it – the people who lost their homes, the people who lost their limbs. Instead, I saw terrible waste and corruption.
I am even more worried when I look at who is in charge of our country now. The United States and its allies have thrown their support behind Ariel Henry since the assassination of the former President Jovenel Moïse last month, despite Henry’s lack of constitutional authority to hold power. And some of the actors within Henry’s government are holdovers from Moïse’s rule. This is a serious problem. Before his assassination, Moise and his Haitian Tèt Kale Party (PHTK) had orchestrated an unparalleled dismantling of much of the country’s democratic infrastructure. As my organization and others have documented, PHTK leaders also provided violent gangs with protection, money, and guns in exchange for quelling political dissent and were implicated in well-known corruption scandals.
Yet now, in a self-serving move, Henry is urging Haitians to forget our political quarrels in the wake of the earthquake. Essentially, he is asking us to forget he has no legitimacy to be in charge of our country, let alone the international funds that are intended to help Haitian families recover from this disaster.
Haiti needs international solidarity right now. We need immediate help. The earthquake that hit the south of Haiti was more powerful than that of 2010. Tragically, our country has no real authority, no legal government. We are pleased that the United States is among the first countries to offer assistance, but if the U.S. really wants to help Haitians in the wake of our latest tragedy, it needs to do three things.
First, as U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Samantha Power takes the lead on American assistance to Haiti, she must rethink where she sends that aid in the coming days and weeks. USAID needs to work with trusted Haitian organizations and local community groups and through the churches — those actors who are closest to the Haitian people and their communities. They are the ones who are trusted the most by those in need, and who are well-positioned to get the money where it needs to go to help people rebuild their lives and their homes.
Second, the Biden administration must drop its demands for swift elections and support a popular process seeking an alternative transitional government designed to re-establish Haiti’s democratic infrastructure and pave the way for free and fair elections. This process was set up when it was clear Moise intended to overstay his mandate, which Haitian lawyers, judges, and civil society determined had ended in February this year. A political accord is in the works to create this alternative government, with the broad popular backing of opposition parties, churches, businesses, and civil society. The sooner the United States backs this process and the credible leaders it seeks to name through consensus, the more likely it is that U.S. aid money will end up with the people who need it the most.
Finally, in the wake of his visit to Haiti this week, the U.S. special envoy to Haiti, Ambassador Daniel Foote , needs to redouble his commitment to ensuring that the United States respects the will of the Haitian people to choose their own government and to support each other to recover in times of need. He needs to stand in solidarity with the Haitian people, not the broken, corrupt, and illegitimate government that does not act in the best interests of Haiti and the Haitian people.