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  • Writer's pictureThe Red Line

Episode 116. Haiti: Cauldron of the Caribbean

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As Haiti grapples with an unprecedented crisis, the spectre of state collapse under the weight of rampant gang violence has cast a long shadow over its future. The Caribbean nation, once a beacon of freedom and resistance, now finds itself mired in a power struggle that pits armed gangs against each other in a bid for dominance of the nation, leaving civilians caught in the crossfire. Amid this chaos, the international community watches with bated breath as plans for an intervention loom on the horizon, sparking debates on sovereignty, the efficacy of foreign assistance, and the potential for lasting peace. Yet, the success of such an intervention hinges on a myriad of factors, including the willingness of local actors to cooperate and the ability of external forces to navigate the complex socio-political terrain of Haiti. With the stakes higher than ever, the question remains: Can the proposed intervention quell the violence and restore stability to this beleaguered nation, or will the chaos simply continue? We ask our panel of experts:




PART I: A History of Hard Times - (02:48)

with Marlene L. Daut

- Prof of French and African Diaspora Studies at Yale University

- Author of "Awakening the Ashes"

- Co-Creator of H-Haiti

  1. Historical Economic Strain and Foreign Interventions: Haiti has faced significant challenges since its inception as the first black nation in the Americas and the first to abolish slavery. These challenges include crippling financial demands from France, trade embargoes, and destabilizing interventions by foreign powers, notably the United States. Such interventions have historically sought to control Haiti's political and economic trajectory, contributing to long-term instability.

  2. Internal Political Turmoil and Military Influence: The assassination of Haiti's president in 1914 led to a U.S. intervention that established a pattern of military and paramilitary involvement in Haitian politics. This pattern was exacerbated by the rise to power of figures like François "Papa Doc" Duvalier, who created a highly repressive state apparatus and paramilitary groups that have evolved into today's gang structures.

  3. Economic Policies and Dependency: The imposition of economic reforms, particularly during the 1994 Clinton administration, led to a drastic overhaul of Haiti's economy. Reductions in tariffs and the opening of markets to international competition decimated local agriculture and industry, making Haiti heavily dependent on imported goods, particularly from the United States. This has had lasting negative impacts on Haiti's economy and sovereignty.

  4. Societal Impact of Gangs and Violence: The dissolution of formal military and paramilitary structures, coupled with foreign interventions and economic policies, has facilitated the rise of gangs and criminal organizations. These groups often have political aspirations and are heavily armed, contributing to the current high levels of insecurity and violence in Haiti.

  5. Current Political Crisis and Lack of Governance: The assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in 2021 has led to a power vacuum and a succession crisis, with violence and gang control escalating. The de facto leadership is unable to conduct elections or restore stability, leaving Haiti without elected officials and in a state of paralysis. This situation underscores the critical need for a solution that respects human life and justice, prioritizing the will and welfare of the Haitian people.

PART II: Governing at Gunpoint - (20:38)

with Jess DiPierro Obert

- Award-Winning Investigative Journalist

- Writer for New Humanitarian

- Currrently Based in Haiti

  1. Escalation of Gang Control: Since the summer of 2018, following the PetroCaribe scandal, Haiti has experienced a significant shift towards increased violence and gang control, particularly in Port-au-Prince. By 2021, armed gangs controlled more than 80% of the capital, including key infrastructure such as airports, ports, fuel terminals, and major highways. This has severely restricted movement within the country and has allowed gangs to extort, kidnap, and traffic drugs to fund their operations.

  2. Political Vacuum and Rise of Powerful Figures: The assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021 created a power vacuum, with Prime Minister Ariel Henry assuming control without an elected body to support him. The situation has led to the emergence of major political players vying for leadership, including Ariel Henry, gang leader Jimmy "Barbecue" Cherizier, and Guy Philippe, each with their own complex backgrounds and support bases.

  3. Economic Exploitation and Proxy Conflicts: Gangs have infiltrated nearly all aspects of life in Port-au-Prince, using kidnappings, extortion, and drug trafficking as sources of income. They impose fees on transportation and goods, severely impacting the economy. Additionally, these gangs are often supported by businessmen and politicians, further entangling the conflict with Haiti's political landscape.

  4. Calls for International Sanctions and a Transitional Council: There are suggestions for the U.S. to impose sanctions on those implicated in the armed groups' activities and for a cleaning out of the government and political elites. A transitional council and a bolstered justice system are proposed to hold political elites accountable and establish security through a more capable and trustworthy police force and army, rather than relying on foreign intervention.

  5. Public Sentiment and Future Outlook: While there's a divide in public opinion regarding foreign security intervention, there's a consensus on the need for more economic production, a bolstered justice system, and clean governance. Despite these desires, the current trajectory suggests that the situation in Haiti is likely to worsen before it improves, challenging the notion that "it can't get much worse" with the reality that it often does.

PART III: Raid and Repeat - (35:52)

with Evan Ellis

- Prof. of Strategic Studies at the US Army War College

- Fmr Policy Planning Staff for the US Secretary of State

  1. Empowerment of Gang Coalitions: The two main gang coalitions, G9 and GPEP, have combined forces, significantly outpowering the Haitian police force. Their empowerment comes from arms, illicit money, and extortion, presenting a substantial challenge to restoring order and addressing the issue of political legitimacy in a nation without recent elections or an elected Congress.

  2. Challenges of International Intervention: The proposed UN-sanctioned peacekeeping force, led by Kenya and including troops from various countries, faces significant operational challenges. These include urban combat in a terrain unfamiliar to the peacekeepers, potential civilian casualties due to gangs blending into the population, and the intricacies of establishing political legitimacy post-intervention.

  3. Logistical and Financial Constraints: The success of the peacekeeping operation is hampered by logistical and financial constraints. The operation requires sophisticated equipment, adequate training, and a substantial annual budget estimated between $250 to $300 million. However, current pledges and actual funds fall significantly short of this requirement.

  4. Questionable Effectiveness of the Haitian Security Forces: The diminished capacity of the Haitian National Police and the nascent state of the Haitian army raise doubts about their ability to tackle gang violence effectively. The reliance on an international peacekeeping force underscores the severity of Haiti's security vacuum and the complex dynamics of political power struggles within the country.

  5. Potential Implications of US Withdrawal or Non-Intervention: Complete US withdrawal or non-intervention could lead to absolute chaos, affecting not only Haiti but also its neighbors and potentially the wider Caribbean region. Issues such as migration, the spread of organized crime, and the destabilization of the Caribbean are significant concerns that highlight the interconnectedness of security, governance, and humanitarian issues in Haiti and the importance of sustained international engagement.

PART IV: Raid and Repeat - (52:17)

with Chris Sabatini

- Snr Fellow for Latin America Studies at Chatham House

- Snr Prof at the London School of Economics

- Fouder of America's Quarterly

  1. Unprecedented Challenges: The current crisis in Haiti is characterized by three distinct challenges: donor fatigue from international entities like the UN, US, Canada, Brazil, and Chile; an unprecedented extent of criminal activity with gangs exerting control over 80% of Port-au-Prince and delivering 60% of humanitarian aid in rural areas; and a power vacuum created by the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, leading to increased state penetration by criminal elements.

  2. Economic and Environmental Degradation: Haiti's struggle is exacerbated by fundamental economic and environmental issues, including a lack of basic infrastructure, a depleted labor force, insufficient foreign investment, rampant deforestation, and an education system in crisis. These problems are deeply intertwined with the country's political instability and are crucial to understanding the comprehensive challenges Haiti faces.

  3. Dominican Republic's Delicate Role: The Dominican Republic's role in the crisis is complex, given its shared history and border with Haiti. While there is potential for the DR to influence the situation, historical prejudices, nationalistic sentiments, and the potential for violence to spill over the border make it unlikely that the DR will play a public or significant role in resolving Haiti's crisis.

  4. Questionable Leadership Options: The prospects for finding a leader who can unite Haiti and address its myriad problems are bleak. The political landscape is fragmented, and potential leaders, including those with criminal backgrounds, are unlikely to garner popular support or trust, making the path to a consensus-oriented government exceedingly difficult.

  5. The Need for Multilateral Military and Humanitarian Intervention: Addressing Haiti's crisis requires a committed, multilateral military and humanitarian effort led by experienced and well-equipped forces. This includes establishing a legitimate, coordinated international presence to secure the country, disarm criminal gangs, and deliver humanitarian aid directly, bypassing criminal networks. The challenges of implementing such an intervention, coupled with current geopolitical dynamics, make it uncertain whether the international community will undertake the necessary actions to stabilize Haiti effectively.

Haiti: Cauldron of the Caribbean

(Released March 7th 2024)



I: Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Suceed

- By Jared Diamond

II: Awakening the Ashes

- By Marlene L. Daud

III: No More Haiti

- By Lachlan Summers


For episode transcripts, monthly geopolitics Q&A’s, member-only videos and to support the show, check out our Patreon here:


This episode is dedicated to our Patreon members: David Mayers, Alex Buchholz, Blake, Louis S, Josh, Warren Greaves, Breezyyy, Mack Dolley, Bryan Goodwin, Dodo and a Special Dedication to Fabrizio Napolitano


Episode Corrections: - During Part III, one of our guests mentions the association of the Pakistani contingents with the cholera epidemic that broke out in Haiti. After some additional fact-checking, we have found that it was the Nepalese contingent, rather than the Pakistani contingent, that is more closely associated with the nation's cholera outbreak.


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