If there were any doubt that Haiti is a failed state, the daylight kidnapping of 16 Americans and a Canadian in a suburb of Port-au-Prince on Saturday puts the matter to rest. The question remains whether anyone is willing to help Haiti restore a semblance of order for its 11 million inhabitants.
The hostage taking is horrific by itself. Five of the abducted are children—including an infant—and the rest are missionaries with Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries. A gang that calls itself 400 Mawozo is demanding $17 million for their release, $1 million a person.
A team from the State Department and the FBI is in Haiti working to free the missionaries. It’s a daunting challenge. While the safety of the 17 is a priority, kidnapping for ransom is a business, and when it generates income there will be more of it. Paying ransom would be a bad precedent in a country where the government has ceded its authority to warlords. Until the levers of power are back in the hands of the state, no one will be safe.
Haiti has struggled to build democratic institutions since the dictatorship of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc”
was toppled in 1986. A 1987 constitution was a step in the right direction. But with public office viewed as a place to get rich and few checks on the powerful, corruption has flourished.
So has drug smuggling because the island of Hispaniola is a convenient transit point on the way to the U.S. Drug cartels generate cash that they use to overwhelm law enforcement with bribes or bullets. Groups like the one holding the missionaries thrive in this lawlessness, engaging in car-theft, extortion and kidnapping.
The rampant criminality bleeds into politics. In July mercenaries broke into the president’s residence and murdered him. The author of the assassination is still unknown, as is the reason for the hit.
The costs of Haitian anarchy go beyond the misery of the immediate victims. It harms investment and economic development, fuels poverty and destroys hope for a better life. Haitians become itinerants, spreading across the Western Hemisphere for a safe place to live and work. After the 2010 earthquake, hundreds of thousands migrated to South America. In case you haven’t noticed, tens of thousands have migrated to the U.S. border this year.
In the 19th century, a place as desperate as Haiti might have become a U.S. protectorate to restore order and some rule of law. Nowadays that’s derided as colonialism and would be opposed by the American left. But the sad reality is that without an outside presence capable of defending human life and property, criminal organizations own the country and threaten regional stability.
During the United Nations General Assembly in September, Costa Rica, Panama and the Dominican Republic called on the U.S., the U.N., European Union and “other friendly countries” to come up with “specific, comprehensive and sustainable solutions” to the chaos in Haiti. The Biden Administration likes to invoke “the international community” as the protector of world order. If that “community” can’t do something about a desolate case like Haiti, what good is it?
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