Haitians Deserve to have Better Lives

I have two memories of Haiti. The first was in 1993. I had led a United Nations delegation to Haiti to ascertain the consequences of the embargo imposed by the U.N. The embargo intended to put pressure on the military-installed regime to restore president Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power.

I was with a number of other colleagues; we were staying at a hotel of relative luxury near the capital Port-Au-Prince. The hotel had a panoramic view of the city and its surroundings, but, being mostly dry land, it was not an attractive sight. There was a disconnection between the comfort of the hotel and the surrounding poverty.

One morning I took a walk around the hotel when I heard a murmur of children singing. I tried to locate where the sound was coming from, when I realized it came from a group of boys and girls on the way to school, their books hanging precariously from their school bags. All were immaculately dressed in white. This was quite a feat, given the difficulties in obtaining water. The children happily singing may have been a touch of magic in their lives; witnessing it, was certainly mine.

The second memory was when I went to assess the Pan American Health Organization’s collaboration efforts with the government regarding public health. I was visiting a hospital in Port-au-Prince with a colleague when, all of a sudden, she asked me, “Did you see that?” Regrettably, I had. She was referring to a dead child covered by a sheet, flies buzzing around the corpse, seemingly abandoned in a hospital hallway. For days afterwards that sight was a recurring nightmare for me. It also was proof of the desperate state of Haiti’s hospitals.

Today, the dire situation in Haiti has increased exponentially. The country has the combined negative effects of political and social violence, the economic crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic. Since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021, there is continuous civil unrest and gang violence. Also, should a new resurgence of the infection occur, the country is unprepared to deal with it.

A month after Moïse’s assassination, on August 14, 2021, a magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck the Tiburon Peninsula, followed by Tropical Storm Grace. The natural disasters affected two million people; left 2,246 dead; more than 12,700 injured; at least 329 missing, and up to 26,000 displaced. The Haitian government estimates it needs $2 billion to recover from the earthquake. As of last February, donors have pledged only $600 million.

The country is undergoing a serious political and constitutional crisis. Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who had been appointed by Moïse two days before his assassination, was found to have close links to a prime suspect in the assassination and to have maintained contact with him after the president’s assassination.

At this time of crisis for the country, Human Rights Watch has denounced the deportation of Haitians back to Haiti by the U.S. and other countries. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), from January 1, 2021 through February 26, 2022, 25,765 people were returned to Haiti, including 4,674 children, who make up 18 percent of returnees.

“No government should return people to Haiti. And the United States, which accounts for the vast majority of returns, should end the unnecessary and illegitimate use of public health regulation for abusive expulsion of Haitians,” stated César Muñoz, senior Americas researcher at Human Rights Watch. Muñoz is referring to Title 42 of the U.S Public Health Services Law.

Title 42 is a clause which the Trump Administration began using in 2020 to prevent migrants from entering into the U.S. It grants the government the ability to take emergency action to stop immigrants from entering the U.S. on the premise that it will prevent the introduction of Covid-19. On March 11, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ceased its authorization of Title 42 expulsion authority regarding unaccompanied children.

Is there is a future for Haiti? Unlike those who look on with despair at the difficulties the country is facing, Haiti’s human resources could be the foundation of a new revitalized society that would address the crises imposed by inept governments and foreign powers’ interference. Haiti needs economic and technical help, and effective financial assistance judiciously provided. The Haitian people deserve no less.

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”