A Chance for Hope in Haiti’s Latest Crisis

Dead bodies are rotting on the streets of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince. Clean drinking water is scarce, and a cholera outbreak threatens. Hunger looms. The outgunned police force has all but disappeared.

Armed groups have seized control of ports and major roads in the capital and freed inmates from jails. They shut down the airport, preventing the country’s deeply unpopular prime minister, Ariel Henry, from returning from a trip abroad, and have threatened to overrun the presidential palace. Under intense pressure from the United States and other regional powers to speed the transition to a new government, Henry agreed to resign late Monday.

And now comes the hardest part: determining who will govern Haiti. Will a transitional government manage to lead that fragile nation back to stability and democracy? Or will the armed men who roam the streets and murder, kidnap and rape with impunity, along with the political and business leaders aligned with them, seize control and set off a fresh cycle of violence and criminality?

I want to be hopeful and see this as a rare moment of possibility for self-determination for the Haitian people, whose country has long been a plaything of foreign powers and avaricious local elites. Much of my hope comes from having closely followed the work a collection of political, civic, business and religious groups that for the past two years have been frantically trying to forge a path for Haiti out of its disaster, demanding that Henry step aside and hand power to a transitional government that could, with help from abroad, stabilize the country and lead it back to democracy through new elections.

“This is too much of a good crisis to waste,” Fritz Alphonse Jean, a former central banker who has played a pivotal role in that effort and would serve in the proposed transitional government, told me.

But I am equally fearful, having seen armed groups, some of them aligned with political and business power brokers in Haiti, gathering strength as Henry clung to power with the tacit support of the United States and other regional powers. These brutal gangs have succeeded where civilians have failed: They physically blocked Henry from returning and forced his resignation. Now they threaten to seize momentum from the leaders who seek the restoration of Haitian democracy.

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