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Haiti on the Brink
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Haiti on the Brink

Rocked by unrest since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, Haiti has requested foreign military intervention to quell gang violence and public protests against the government.

Happy Tuesday! The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported this week that more than a dozen bald eagles were hospitalized at the University of Minnesota Raptor Center after they poisoned themselves by “eating carcasses of animals that were chemically euthanized and dumped at [a] landfill.” Nearly all of the birds are expected to recover.

There’s probably a metaphor for the United States in there somewhere, but it’s likely too depressing to contemplate.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Chinese officials announced Monday that the government will halt its use of a state-sponsored COVID-tracking app to surveil citizens’ movement amidst the pandemic, part of the Chinese Communist Party’s easing of its “zero-COVID” pandemic strategy following widespread protests. As Chinese society continues to open up, new infections are surging nationwide, with Chinese hospitals struggling to keep up with demand for medical supplies and services.
  • Indian and Chinese soldiers reportedly got into a skirmish over the weekend along the Himalayan border separating the two countries, with India’s Ministry of Defense saying troops on both sides of the clash sustained minor injuries. The confrontation represents the first such border dispute between the two countries—which have squabbled over the “Line of Actual Control” for decades—since the summer of 2020.
  • The Iranian government publicly executed 23-year-old Majid Rahnavard this week for his involvement in anti-regime demonstrations that have rocked the country since September. The execution—by hanging—was the second such killing of a protest leader by the Iranian regime in recent weeks. 
  • The attorney general of the Bahamas announced yesterday that former FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried was arrested by Bahamian police Monday evening after the United States filed criminal charges against the supposed cryptocurrency guru and made clear it was likely to request SBF’s extradition. According to the Wall Street Journal, SBF’s arrest was predicated on a sealed indictment filed in the Southern District of New York charging Bankman-Fried with “wire fraud, wire fraud conspiracy, securities fraud, securities fraud conspiracy, and money laundering.” He was previously scheduled to testify before Congress on FTX’s collapse.

Haiti on the Brink

Fifteen-year-old Lelianne was out with her mom getting something to eat when she was shot in the stomach, apparently the victim of a stray bullet from another gun battle on the streets of Haiti.

“While we were ordering I felt something,” the teen told the BBC, doing a crossword to pass the time in the hospital. “That’s when I fell and screamed in agony. I didn’t expect to survive.”

Haiti has struggled with poverty, corruption, and gang violence for decades, but the Caribbean nation has been in a downward spiral since gunmen—Haitian police blamed Colombian and Haitian-American conspirators—assassinated its president, Jovenel Moïse, in July 2021. Ariel Henry, the island’s unpopular prime minister, requested foreign military intervention in October to curtail the gang violence and protests over the price of fuel—and the United States is weighing whether to answer the call.

Port-au-Prince—Haiti’s capital—is the epicenter of the country’s disintegration. In the absence of an effective government, gangs control more than half the city, blocking ports and roads, cutting off food and fuel, and forcing nearly 20,000 people into famine-like conditions. According to United Nations estimates, more than 150,000 people have been displaced. Along with gun battles and kidnappings, the gangs use sexual violence to control and punish residents. An outbreak of cholera—fueled by gangs blocking aid worker access—has killed at least 283 people and hospitalized nearly 12,000. Month-over-month inflation topped 30 percent in July.

Haiti has already received billions in international aid from the United States and other developed countries in the last decade. But Henry’s October call for foreign boots on the ground—a suggestion backed by UN Secretary General António Guterres—reflects a growing sense that money isn’t enough. Luis Abinader—president of the Dominican Republic, Haiti’s neighbor to the east—endorsed the idea of military intervention earlier this week. “The international community needs to be more responsible,” he told the Financial Times. “If it’s really concerned about Haiti, it needs to go and help there. It has to help Haiti against the gangs who are raping boys and girls every day, who are killing innocent people every day.” The Dominican Republic has been deporting record numbers of Haitians fleeing across the border.

The hope is that better equipped and trained peacekeeping forces will be able to restore order where Haitian police have failed. But previous foreign interventions—including a U.S. occupation from 1915 to 1934 and 20,000 U.S. troops sent to “Restore Democracy” in 1994—haven’t produced stability. Members of a 2004 to 2017 United Nations peacekeeping mission have been accused of sexual assault and introducing cholera to the nation via sewage runoff from a Nepalese base, sparking an outbreak that killed nearly 10,000. Efforts to combat gangs have also caught Haitian civilians in the crossfire—and there’s no guarantee that wouldn’t happen again.

Henry’s appeals for outside help may not be entirely altruistic—his opponents argue the move is designed to help consolidate his tenuous grip on power. Never elected or formally confirmed to his position, Henry has delayed elections despite his term’s expiration in February, citing ongoing violence. Installed two days before his predecessor’s assassination, Henry’s been accused of helping to plot and cover up Moïse’s killing—making phone calls to primary suspects just after the killing—and he fired two prosecutors who sought charges against him. 

Still, the United States and Mexico in October proposed deploying what U.S. envoy to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield described as a “limited, carefully scoped non-U.N. mission” to Haiti led by “a partner country with the deep, necessary experience.” So far the proposal has stalled, with no nation eager to take the lead.

In the meantime, the United States and partners have taken other steps, including sending equipment to Haiti’s police and sanctioning Haitians accused of various abuses. “There’s a possibility that what the international community is doing right now is trying to fend off an intervention by imposing these sanctions,” Kathleen Bergin, an expert in disaster law and humanitarian aid programs at Cornell Law School, told The Dispatch. “We have to wait and see how that turns out.” After deporting more than 25,000 Haitian asylum seekers back to the island between January 2021 and February 2022, the Biden administration earlier this month extended a temporary protected status, pausing deportations on most Haitians already in the United States before November 2022 until at least August 2024.

Meanwhile, many international observers argue there’s more the U.S. and other nations can do to support existing Haitian efforts to achieve stability and legitimate governance. “What Haitians are asking for is that the United States and the rest of the international community stop propping up the current government,” Brian Concannon, head of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, told The Dispatch. As examples of such tacit support, he cited the Biden administration’s reluctance to criticize Henry’s government or address allegations of his involvement in his predecessor’s death. A group of Democratic lawmakers in October called on the administration to signal clearly that it’s open to Haitians choosing a government Henry doesn’t lead and to stop issuing approving statements about Henry and associates. Concannon also suggested that additional support for Haiti’s police force should be accompanied by calling out corruption in the ranks and better oversight to stop the equipment and money from flowing to gang leaders. Advocates are also pushing for more—and more rigorous—sanctions on gang leaders and stepped up enforcement to stop the flow of guns to Haiti through Miami.

While Bergin acknowledges Haitian citizens and advocates disagree on whether an international armed intervention could be necessary or useful, she argued international leaders should think carefully and listen to Haitians before rushing in. “[Armed intervention] has been used in a way that ends up destabilizing Haiti in the long run,” she said. “I do think it’s important that whenever intervention is considered that we exhaust all options first.”

Worth Your Time

  • In a guest post for Jordan Schneider’s ChinaTalk newsletter, Jonathon Sine—a staffer on the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission—dives into the lessons Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party have drawn from the collapse of the Soviet Union. “Xi Jinping is in the midst of steeling his communist cadres for a systemic competition against hostile foreign forces,” Sine writes. “Xi and the Party believe, in particular, that these foreign forces are bent on weaponizing ideas and historical narratives to undermine the Party’s justifications not only to exert global influence, but to rule over China itself. Ambition and fear thus dually animate Xi’s historical obsession with the [Communist Party of the Soviet Union]. On the one hand, an aspirational belief holds that the tide of history is surging the [Chinese Communist Party] and its Leninist system toward the world’s center stage—just as the historical tides of 1917 did for the Bolsheviks. Meanwhile, an existential fear grips Xi that cadres and leaders alike fundamentally lack faith in the Party, its mission, and its ideology, which, at a moment’s notice could enable the collapse of the CPC’s entire edifice, just as happened with the Soviet Union 30 years ago.”
  • A new Washington Post investigation from Nick Miroff, Scott Higham, Steven Rich, Salwan Georges, and Erin Patrick O’Connor uncovers years of “strategic blunders” and “cascading mistakes” across multiple administrations that significantly worsened the fentanyl crisis in the United States. “The [Drug Enforcement Administration] was slow to respond as Mexican cartels supplanted Chinese producers, creating a massive illicit pharmaceutical industry that is now producing more fentanyl than ever,” they write. “The Department of Homeland Security, whose agencies are responsible for detecting illegal drugs at the nation’s borders, failed to ramp up scanning and inspection technology at official crossings, instead channeling $11 billion toward the construction of a border wall that does little to stop fentanyl traffickers. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the executive branch office headed by the ‘drug czar’ and tasked with coordinating the government’s response, spent years fending off elimination and struggled to create an effective strategy to combat the scourge. The office lost its seat in the White House Cabinet and remains sidelined. ‘Law enforcement did the best it could,’ said David King, executive director of a federal drug task force in San Diego. ‘We can only do so much. But in Washington, they have been very slow to respond to this and now we are at the confluence of paralysis.’”
  • The DEA agents who oversaw the investigation of Viktor Bout decades ago are convinced he’ll land on his feet in Russia after being released in exchange for WNBA star Brittney Griner last week. Former DEA operations chief Mike Braun “disagrees with those who argue that Bout is a has-been, that his network has frayed and his business model collapsed,” Elaine Shannon writes for Politico Magazine. “If anything, Braun says, Bout has probably made valuable contacts over the nearly dozen years he has spent in the U.S. prison system. ‘Anyone who thinks he’s washed up and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is not going to push him back into service, it’s beyond me,’ Braun said. ‘People who believe that don’t understand how the real underworld works.’” Robert Zachariasiewicz, a DEA agent, worries about the signal the Biden administration sent with the prisoner swap. “I think American citizens everywhere just got made a commodity,” he told Shannon. “We just told bad actors everywhere that it’s good business to falsely detain or kidnap American citizens, and the best bargaining chip you can have is an American citizen. We just told them we will negotiate, so you better have some equity in your back pocket.”

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Toeing the Company Line

  • On today’s episode of Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah break down the latest immigration-related oral arguments before the Supreme Court and wrestle with the implications of two of our three branches of government completely abdicating their responsibilities. Plus: Can legal wins for religious freedom help cool down the culture war?
  • In this week’s Wanderland (🔒), Kevin dives into the housing crisis, explains why New York is one of the three U.S. big cities that he likes, and makes the case for a stronger GOP. “​​The problem with the two big political parties isn’t that there is somebody secretly pulling the strings from behind the scenes,” he writes. “The problem is that there isn’t.”
  • What happens to anti-Trump Republicans once Trump goes away? “Comparatively few Never Trumpers have committed to a true ‘Never Republican’ position,” Nick posits in yesterday’s Boiling Frogs (🔒). “They voted Republican for most of their lives so the path back to the right for them is well-trodden. They’re on vacation from the GOP. They haven’t moved away.”
  • It’s Tuesday, which means Dispatch Live (🔒) returns tonight at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT! Join Steve, Declan, and Haley for a conversation about all the things Congress needs to get done during the lame-duck session and Kevin McCarthy’s dwindling odds of securing the speakership. As always, there will be plenty of time for viewer questions. For information on how to tune in, click here.
  • On the site today, Leon Aron discusses Vladimir Putin’s posture toward Middle East strategy and diplomacy.

Let Us Know

Should world leaders play a more active role in quelling Haiti’s gang-related violence and widespread domestic unrest? What do you make of the Biden administration’s response to the situation?

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.