Haiti’s ticking humanitarian time bomb: Can Florida trust Team Biden?

Special to WorldTribune.com

By John J. Metzler, March 21, 2024

As waves of gang violence engulf an already poor and destitute land through a reckless orgy of   shootings and looting, the Caribbean island of Haiti equally faces a widening domestic humanitarian crisis along with a ticking migrant exodus, much of which could easily spillover into the United States.

Though no stranger to civil conflict in recent years, Haiti’s precarious situation sadly took a turn for the worse when gang violence forced the recent resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry, letting the country slide into free fall.  The UN migration agency cites that 362,000 people are already displaced in Haiti; a further 5.5 million people, almost half the population, need humanitarian aid.

The G-9, a loose federation of the nine major gangs led by rogue policeman Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, has filled an uneasy political vacuum in Haiti stemming from the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise and the ouster of current American-backed Premier Henry. Gangs such as the G-9 group now control 80 percent of the capital Port au Prince and are embedded in the city’s sprawling slums.  A warlord “culture’ permeates the island.

Gang leader Jimmy ‘Barbecue’ Cherizier speaks to media in Port-au-Prince. / Video Image

For the past few years gang violence has plagued the Caribbean country.  During 2023, Haiti suffered violence with 8,400 people killed along with many others kidnapped.  The National Police force has been overwhelmed and outgunned by the militants.  Recently more than 4,000 criminals were released from prisons by gangs, adding to the chaos and ranks of rioters.

Observers describe Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier as a charismatic “left wing populist.”

Haiti remains the hemisphere’s poorest country and the most likely place for the next humanitarian crisis spillover.

Sadly, this once beautiful land slips closer to Dystopia as corruption, ineffective government, and the socio/economic aftershocks of the devastating 2010 earthquake which took 300,000 lives, followed by the COVID-19 pandemic. A poor country has gotten much poorer but equally less accessible.

Currently aid agencies have trouble delivering assistance given that the principal Port au Prince airport is closed, and streets and towns are controlled by competing gangs.  Despite the urgent need, assistance is slow in coming. The UN’s 2024 humanitarian appeal for $674 million is grossly underfunded at just 6.5 percent with only $43 million delivered!

The chaotic security situation is growing ever more dangerous, according to the UN’s Philippe Branchat, “The capital is surrounded by armed groups and danger; It is a city under siege,” he stated. A UN humanitarian report cited widespread looting at the main port, where the overwhelming majority of goods and supplies are transported.

Not too many years ago the UN Security Council dispatched a peacekeeping force to the Caribbean island from 2004 to 2017.  The peacekeepers were sent to Haiti after a rebellion led to the ouster of the radical leftist priest turned President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Last autumn amid widening violence and calls from the previous government for assistance, the UN authorized a police mission for the island. The East African country of Kenya decided to participate as did some Caribbean countries.  The police are yet to arrive.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has announced $33 million in immediate humanitarian assistance for the Haitian people. The Biden Administration is contributing $300 million for the planned Multinational Security Support Mission police forces.

But for anyone who feels Haiti is remote or isolated, just look at the map; the country sharing the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, is only 700 nautical miles from Florida.

It’s time for the U.S. to wake up and prepare for what may soon happen. Nearby Guantanamo holds the key to properly processing fleeing Haitians and offering them a safe temporary refuge.

Significantly the ongoing Haitian crisis could trigger a humanitarian migrant spillover with a small boat exodus from the beleaguered island.  Migrants don’t wish to go to nearby Cuba but may try to sail to Florida’s shores.

Yet realistically given the region’s geography, Haiti is just across the Windward Passage from Cuba, and near the American Naval base at Guantanamo!  Guantanamo has a bigger landmass than most people realize; 45 square miles, a large bay, medical and lodging facilities.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) warned in a letter to the Biden Administration, “We believe that the people of Haiti deserve our sympathy, targeted American assistance and the support of the international community.  However, Floridians and the rest of the American public will not tolerate your administration again opening the floodgates for countless, unvetted foreign nationals to stream into our country, putting our national security at grave risk.”

It’s time for the U.S. to wake up and prepare for what may soon happen. Nearby Guantanamo holds the key to properly processing fleeing Haitians and offering them a safe temporary refuge.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]