Krabacher: Americans should pay attention to the gang-related carnage happening in Haiti
Susie Krabacher and Mark Schlakman
Guest Commentary Aspen Times
The space between dignity and respect for human rights as well as indifference concerning acts of inhumanity can be indiscernible, sometimes a consequence of unwitting lack of awareness.
While this might apply to hyper-partisan dysfunction typically fueled by simplistic narratives devoid of critical analysis, that’s not our focus in this instance.
Recognizing the challenges associated with keeping abreast of what’s happening in our own communities, we endeavor to draw readers’ attention to rampant, almost unimaginable gang-related carnage that’s occurring in Haiti, suggest what we can do and why we should do it.
As a backdrop, shock waves reverberated throughout Haiti after its president was assassinated last year and again amid a 7.2 magnitude earthquake, resulting in thousands of deaths. This fall, vexing fuel shortages were exacerbated when gangs blocked access to the main oil depot, coinciding with an outbreak of cholera. Just last month, Haitian police stormed that depot to restore some level of fuel supplies.
BBC reporting indicates more than 1,100 kidnappings this year through September, and nearly 1,500 people were killed, seriously injured, or disappeared during the past few months. Thousands were forced to flee, including at least 700 unaccompanied children.
We write informed by personal experience. Haiti was why our paths first crossed in Washington, D.C., during the late ‘90s. One of us operates HaitiChildren, a Colorado-based nonprofit, and travels between Aspen and Haiti throughout the year. The other resides in Tallahassee, has traveled to Haiti dozens of times and served as a senior adviser in the Clinton White House when we met, after serving as special counsel to Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles.
HaitiChildren provides a home, medical support, and schooling for 119 abandoned children in Haiti and 300 children living nearby.
About a month ago, gangs blocked access to Port-au-Prince via Route 1 International, the country’s main road, isolating HaitiChildren from food, medicine, and other essential supplies.
More than 3,000 people take advantage of HaitiChildren’s feeding programs. However, those who attempt to pass through gang blockades are subject to being kidnapped and tortured. Tragically, this understates their potential fate.
Eight HaitiChildren staff members were kidnapped on its bus recently on their way to work. Remarkably, they were released because the organization’s medical facility treats some gang members’ children without charge.
Simply put, those within the HaitiChildren village are struggling to survive. Nevertheless, this transcends an appeal for help from any one nonprofit — this is a larger call to action. Injustices must be confronted within our own communities, and many scenarios that challenge our sensibilities emerge periodically globally.
Our collective voices can be instrumental in contacting federal officials and, to some degree, our state and local officials to take steps in cooperation with the international community to respond to this ongoing persecution in Haiti.
If this violence and persecution continue unabated, it would not be unforeseeable if significant numbers of Haitians were to add yet another chapter to Haiti’s history of mass maritime migration to Florida.
As Chiles recognized as governor by launching an initiative intended to promote cooperation and technical assistance and other exchanges between the people of Florida and Haiti — whether motivated by altruism or enlightened self-interest — Floridians have cause and opportunity to make a meaningful difference irrespective of whether an overall solution continues to be elusive.
Susie Krabacher is co-founder of HaitiChildren. Mark Schlakman is senior program director of Florida State University Center for the Advancement of Human Rights.