US must answer call to assist in Haiti

The assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, who was murdered in his home by mercenaries in an early-morning raid last Wednesday morning, has prompted international outrage and anguish, particularly here in Boston, home to one of the largest Haitian settlements outside of the island nation. The fallout from the assault— which also left his wife seriously wounded— continues to ripple with new arrests of alleged conspirators, including some with apparent ties to the United States.

And with the Haitian government already weakened and strained by mounting controversy over Moïse’s legitimacy, there’s good reason to fear a cascading crisis that will bring more bloodshed and hardship for an already much-beleaguered country.

Moïse was a divisive figure, both in Haiti and here among the Haitian American diaspora, which — much like their fellow Americans — is hardly a monolithic group, politically speaking.

Before his death, Moïse was roundly denounced by critics on the left, who said his regime was tracking more and more into the realm of autocracy. Moïse did not follow through on promised elections for the nation’s bicameral  legislature, badly disrupting the balance of power and, now, in the aftermath of his murder, there is a desperate leadership vacuum.

On his watch, the Haitian economy tanked, violent gangs were empowered, and kidnappings became a rampant threat. In June, the US State Department issued a red-alert warning to all US citizens “not to travel” to Haiti under any circumstances.

What might this mean here in our neighborhoods? For one thing, it will put extra stress on the roughly 25,000 people in Boston— and an estimated 83,000 in Massachusetts— who have Haitian roots. Many families here are essential to the sustenance and survival of dependents back home. That burden is likely to become all the heavier if the situation continues to spiral downward.

To make matters worse, the spread of Covid-19 has gone virtually unchecked in Haiti, which essentially has had no vaccine roll-out to speak of. A member of the Supreme Court who might have taken charge of the decapitated government died from the disease a week before Moïse’s assassination. A humanitarian catastrophe is no doubt imminent.

All of this would be easier for an increasingly isolationist America to shrug off were it not for the proximity of Haiti to our own borders— and our long, intertwined histories. Previous crises triggered waves of desperate refugees, many of whom died in mass drownings. There is talk now of potential US intervention in the form of direct military involvement to secure the nation’s already scarce resources and to prevent a full-on descent into chaos.

Such an outcome seems more and more likely — and more and more needed— by the day. And, indeed, at least one of the men who has taken leadership in the days since Moïse’s murder has asked for US troops to be sent in. We can and must answer the call.

Past US incursions— including 20,000 troops that dislodged a military junta in 1994— have at least led to relative stability and a resumption of elections. It’s far from ideal. But what is the alternative? The US cannot just sit back and watch as one of our closest neighbors spirals into more disorder, disease, and death.

It’s time for the Biden administration to act swiftly and come to Haiti’s aid, facilitate vaccine distribution, and assist the remnants of its government in setting up new elections.