By Anne Caroline Desplanques, Le Journal de Montreal, April 2, 2023
Members of the Haitian diaspora in Montreal are being extorted for hundreds of thousands of dollars by the criminal gangs in Haiti. Protestors are now calling for urgent intervention from Canada to put an end to the horror.
“Every week I get a call from Haiti. I am asked 'how much are you able to give?' We are constantly being extorted. All our money goes to [paying ransoms]. We are no longer able to pay” explained Joseph Flaubert Duclair, of the organization "Debout pour la Dignité" [Stand up for Dignity].
According to Fritz Alphonse Jean, [interim President elect] of the Montana Accord, an opposition group, kidnappings are rampant in Haiti. To the point that in the capital of Port-au-Prince, people barricade themselves in their homes and do not dare to go out for days, even weeks. Even if it means depriving themselves of food.
Jean, who barricades his own home, says “the city is completely besieged. We are in prison”. Those who dare to go out and stray from the few security corridors are beaten, raped, killed or kidnapped.
Forced to mortgage the house
The ransom demands reach relatives abroad, who must organize fundraisers. Pastor Joseph Jr Clorméus of the Church of God of Prophecy says his followers are being asked for US$420,000 for the release of seven people. He says this is just the tip of the iceberg.
“There are people who have mortgaged their homes, who are making loans, who are selling their property, elderly people who have to continue working,” he laments.
According to the pastor, if they do not pay, women and girls are subjected to collective rapes of unspeakable horror, and children are enlisted as soldiers.
"A high percentage of the population is now in favor of some form of international intervention", indicates Mr. Jean, even if his organization, the Montana Accord, is opposed to it since the previous foreign interventions in Haiti have failed to establish a lasting peace.
Many members of the diaspora in Montreal have long been of the same opinion, but the current horror leaves no other choice, indicates Mr. Flaubert Duclair, who underlines that public opinion is swaying here and there.
The Haitian police are not a solution
“We do not want a military invasion, but an operational force that intervenes on an ad hoc basis, he says. Canada must do that, we don't trust other countries."
Justin Trudeau instead announced ten days ago $ 100 million to equip and train the Haitian police so that they regain control of the situation. This sum is in addition to the $2 billion that Ottawa has already paid to the island since 2010.
For Mr. Flaubert Duclair, "it's madness to send that money", given the collusion between part of the police and the state with the gangs.
“Whose hands will the money fall into?” asks Mr. Jean.
Ottawa is waiting for an Elusive Consensus
The Haitian diaspora is torn over the prospect of Canadian intervention in Haiti. But in the face of the horror that has only worsened for two years, public opinion here and there is changing.
Pastor Joseph Jr Clorméus explains that the diaspora has become impoverished paying ransoms, exacerbating the crisis as the money goes to finance armed gangs. She therefore has no choice but to ask for help to stop the vicious cycle.
Mulry Mondélice, the associate dean for research at the Royal Military College in Saint-Jean, is an expert in international law and diplomacy. He believes that Ottawa must take action urgently to avoid a large-scale massacre.
He stresses that the national police, sanctions and humanitarian aid cannot solve the current violence, that has evolved into urban guerrilla warfare.
The House of Commons International Human Rights Subcommittee has interviewed some 15 witnesses since November to make recommendations to Ottawa on what to do in Haiti. No consensus emerged.
Bloc MP Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe, who initiated this process, believes that the priority should be to pressure Washington to stop the flow of weapons and ammunition. Most of the weapons and ammunition flowing in to Haiti come from the United States.
"It is absolutely necessary that a local group calls for unity" and defines a clear roadmap, because without that, "it would mean that we decide for the Haitian population," he said.
Call for consistency
But waiting for a consensus in Haiti is illusory, says Mondélice. "Ottawa needs to be consistent and respect its own foreign policy", he explained, "which involves defending human security and the rights of women and girls."
Being consistent would also, he says, mean listening to Haitians who overwhelmingly reject Prime Minister Ariel Henry's government. He took over the leadership of Haiti after the assassination of President-elect Jovenel Moïse in July 2021. Contrary to the Constitution, he made no move to organize elections.
The Montana group, an opposition group, has been proposing for months to set up a transitional government which would organize a free and democratic election. But Ottawa has ignored this outstretched hand.
"There must be a tactical force that provides on-site support, in coordination with the Montana group," said Frantz André, of the Quebec-Haiti Solidarity Committee. "Recognizing the Montana Accord would imply disavowing the government of Ariel Henry.”
Translated by CHIP editors
Posted April 25, 2023