Posted on July 12, 2021

Why Haiti Still Despairs After $13 Billion in Foreign Aid

Maria Abi-Habib, New York Times, July 8, 2021

The streets of Haiti had been clogged for months with angry protesters who burned tires, stormed banks and robbed stores. Gangs, with the sometimes tacit permission of the police, have been kidnapping nuns, fruit vendors and even schoolgirls for ransom.

And then on Wednesday, the country slid deeper into turmoil, when a convoy of gunmen brazenly rumbled up to the home of the president, Jovenel Moïse, in the middle of the night and shot him dead.

Almost every time Haitians think their circumstances cannot get any worse, it seems the nation takes another ominous turn, and it is now teetering on the verge of a political void, without a president, a Parliament or a functioning Supreme Court.


Haiti’s troubled history goes deep, lying in its roots as a former slave colony of France that gained its independence in 1804 after defeating Napoleon’s forces, and later suffered more than two decades of a brutal dictatorship, which ended in 1986.

Then, after a powerful earthquake devastated the country in 2010, an influx of foreign aid and peacekeeping forces appeared to only worsen the country’s woes and instability.

Haiti’s failures have not occurred in a vacuum; they have been assisted by the international community, which has pumped $13 billion of aid into the country over the last decade. But instead of the nation-building the money was supposed to achieve, Haiti’s institutions have become further hollowed out in recent years.

When the president let Parliament’s term expire last year, it left Haiti with 11 elected representatives — Mr. Moïse and 10 senators — for its population of 11 million, eliciting a strong condemnation but little repercussion from Washington. For the next year and a half, until his assassination, Mr. Moïse increasingly ruled by decree.

Haiti is less a failed state than what an analyst called an “aid state” — eking out an existence by relying on billions of dollars from the international community. Foreign governments have been unwilling to turn off the spigots, afraid to let Haiti fail.

But the money has served as a complicating lifeline — leaving the government with few incentives to carry out the institutional reforms necessary to rebuild the country, as it bets that every time the situation worsens, international governments will open their coffers, analysts and Haitian activists say.

The aid has propped up the country and its leaders, providing vital services and supplies in a country that has desperately needed vast amounts of humanitarian assistance. But it has also allowed corruption, violence and political paralysis to go unchecked.

Although they deny it, Haitian politicians, including the government, have traditionally relied on gangs to sway elections in their favor and to expand their political turf. In the last three years of Mr. Moïse’s term, more than a dozen massacres by gangs linked to the government and police forces have killed over 400 people in anti-government neighborhoods and displaced 1.5 million people, yet no one has been held accountable for the crimes.


“There will be a lot of calls for international intervention and sending troops, but it’s important that we take a step back and see how international intervention has contributed to this situation,” said Jake Johnston, a research associate for the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, who coined the term “aid state.”

“There’s already been billions of dollars spent on so-called nation-building in Haiti, which has only contributed to the erosion of the state and politicization of these institutions,” Mr. Johnston said. “To now say we need to do more of this, well, that won’t work.”

The assassination of Mr. Moïse on Wednesday punctuated yet another chapter in the country’s violent decade. The assassins who raided Mr. Moïse’s compound killed a president who was brought to power in 2016, winning the election with only about 600,000 votes. Just 18 percent of voters cast ballots, and there were widespread accusations of fraud.