Something extraordinary is happening in Haiti – that much is clear. It’s impossible to know where it’s heading, but it looks like it could be the stirrings of a new revolution of sorts. Over the last few months, after the last elected officials in Haiti left office, the country was left only with people who’d usurped roles. The de facto government then began openly admitting that it had lost control of entire areas of Port au Prince, ceding them over to gangs. That only increased the gang warfare, as rival groups jockeyed for supremacy. Kidnappings and killings skyrocketed. Getting kidnapped had become a risk of daily life in the city in a way it hadn’t been before.
The pushback has played out in brutal fashion. As the gangs tried to extend their control last week, something they didn’t expect hit them back: People. The first major event came after police arrested just over a dozen gang members last week, and were transporting them back to the station when a crowd stopped the vehicles and surrounded them. It’s unclear yet if the police coordinated with the neighborhood residents, but the gang members were pulled off the vehicles, beaten and burned in a pile of tires. From there, the fury has spread, with civilians realizing that the poorly trained gang members may be more heavily armed than them, but they’re badly outnumbered, and could be overpowered.
We covered the newest developments on today’s Counter Points, which you can get for free wherever you listen to podcasts. Paying subscribers to this newsletter get the show in video form and ad free. Links are below.
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The immediate target of this new revolution is the gangs, and gang members are bearing the brunt of the violence, but the public’s ire has also been directed at US backed Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who is credibly accused of playing a role in the assassination of the previous President Jovenel Moïse.
The movement is now being called Bwa Kale, and Haitians following it closely say that the name was coined spontaneously when video of this woman ricocheted around the island. Bwa Kale roughly means chop wood, which resonates with Haitians who still take pride in the gathering of enslaved people on August 14, 17971, in an area of the forest known as Bwa Kayiman, where they plotted a successful revolution, overthrowing slavery and freeing themselves. There have been multiple uprisings since, as colonizing powers have repeatedly tried to force Haitians back into submission, and have impoverished them in the process.
The current crisis dates to July 7, 2021, when Colombian mercenaries assassinated the Haitian president, Moïse. Joseph Badio, one of the men accused of orchestrating it, made two calls early that morning in the wake of the assassination to Ariel Henry, who had recently been appointed prime minister by Moïse.
A new investigation published yesterday by the Center for Economic Policy and Research, which does great work when it comes to research in the Caribbean and Central America, reported that Badio had also ridden in the convoy on the way to the president’s home the early morning of the assassination, and had been in touch many times in the preceding two weeks with Ariel Henry.
Henry has fired judges and prosecutors who have tried to expose his role in the killing. As prime minister, he was not in line to become president, but in the wake of the assassination, the United States, with its European partners, put out a statement saying they would recognize him as the official leader. US envoy to Haiti Dan Foote soon resigned in protest, saying that the US only anointed Henry leader because Henry was willing to accept planeloads of Haitian migrants from the Biden administration. Six months ago, in an interview on Counter Points, Foote warned that Haitians might soon take matters into their own hands.
Henry, perhaps not surprisingly, has come out against the Bwa Kale movement. The Miami Herald, predictably, has called for outside intervention. But the mistake there is thinking that the problem is that the US has neglected Haiti, or not paid it enough attention, when in fact US attention has been Haiti’s biggest problem.
So far, the movement appears to be largely leaderless, and it involves a small number of police who are trusted by the community, working in tandem with them. I’m told one SWAT officer in particular, who everybody calls Sniper, has become something of a folk hero, and has taken the lead since the beginning on major operations. There’s also one commissioner, Jean Muscadin, who has previously taken an aggressive approach to gangs in his district, and has been accused of involvement with extra judicial killings. He’s since become associated with Bwa Kale, with people warning gang members they need to either turn themselves into Muscadin or face mob justice. Where this goes, nobody knows, but it’s certainly worth paying attention to.
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