If there is one country on the American continent that needs help of all kinds at this moment, it is Haiti. Just the name, in fact, has become synonymous with extreme poverty. From its society to its economy to its politics, all of the ills that would keep any nation from crystalizing its development goals have congealed.
Among its approximately 11 million residents, 60% live in poverty, with 24% in extreme poverty, according to 2020 data from the World Bank. Chronic food insecurity, on the other hand, affects some 4 million people according to the Latin American and Caribbean Economic System (SELA), such that 22% of its children suffer from chronic malnutrition, according to the NGO Action Against Hunger.
These data alone should sound alarm bells for any international humanitarian gesture to try to save a population that right now seems abandoned.
It is no surprise, then, that more than 1.6 million Haitians have been forced to emigrate in the last decade, an experience that has taken them across various routes and borders where they are not always welcome.
In fact, not only the south of Mexico, but the border zone with the United States, have become the epicenter of shameful spectacles of the use and abuse of force against a community that has been looking for a way out of their immediate challenge—to survive, in any geographic zone. The kick in the head delivered by a Mexican agent in Chiapas to a Haitian immigrant, and the use of bridles as whips by U.S. agents on horseback to intimidate undocumented immigrants, will remain permanent examples of the anti-immigrant barbarity disguised as “border control.”
Haiti’s economic mismanagement is not its only problem. Natural disasters have also given it a hefty debt without rhyme or reason, especially when it comes to the human toll. Two relatively recent examples cannot escape anyone’s memory: the devastating 7.0 Magnitude earthquake of January 12, 2010 which, according to official data, caused more than 300,000 deaths, almost the same amount of injured people, and 1.5 million residents lost their homes.
As if this punishment from nature was not enough, the hurricanes “Matthew” in 2016, which caused more than 500 deaths and left at least 2 million people displaced; and “Laura” in 2020, with an equally dark footprint, have also added their debts to a country that never finds a balance or a way out.
Adding to that, political instability has also been a hard and permanent blow to a society fed up with corruption and the lack of an effective government. After the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1990—incredibly, the first democratically elected president in Haitian history—deposed by force a pair of times, in 1991 and 2004, the subsequent governments have stumbled politically, without achieving stability for a nation that also suffered from a long dictatorship headed by François Duvalier, inherited by his son Jean-Claude.
The recent assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, this past July 7, also speaks to the profound political instability of a small country that has had twenty-some governments in just 35 years, and where gang violence, especially in Port-au-Prince, has also forced people to flee, as in other regions of the continent, especially in Central America.
This brief panorama of what is occurring in a poor nation on our continent, and which is now producing a large number of migrants, is nothing more than concrete proof that the economic models imposed on the region don’t work equally for all; rather to the contrary, it seems like the perpetuation of poverty is the ultimate goal of these systems’ proponents.
Meanwhile, the unstoppable Haitian exodus continues. The voices of its protagonists repeat, again and again, to be allowed to pass—both in Mexico and in the United States—and say that they would never think of returning to their country of their own volition. Although, deportations by plane from U.S. soil have already become a sad reality for thousands of people since earlier this month.
Therefore, the Joseph Biden administration already has two ticking time bombs in the realm of migration. One is the setback recently suffered by the Democrats, with the negative decision of the Senate Parliamentarian regarding including immigration in the process of budget reconciliation, setting aside the possibility of regularizing millions of undocumented immigrants who have waited years for a solution. The other, the agglomeration of thousands and thousands of immigrants, the majority Haitian, who had gathered for a moment under the International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas, waiting for an official demonstration of compassion that never came.
While Biden figures out what to do with this big immigration conflict, and counts on Mexico to not let them pass to the southern U.S. border—just like the prior U.S. government—the xenophobic rhetoric of ex-president Donald Trump surges again, saying that the United States has become a “cesspool of humanity,” falsely repeating that this massive migration is filled with all types of “murderers, drug dealers, and criminals.” Sound familiar?
Trump and his followers, of course, don’t understand the roots of the current Haitian exodus. It also wouldn’t matter to them, if they did. But Biden and his people are risking it all if they cannot find a solution before the fuse of racism reignites.
To read the Spanish version of this article click here.