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Haitians eye foreign help warily as gangs, cholera outbreak take toll

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(PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad) — As Haiti continues to grapple with gang violence, inflation and rising cholera cases, a proposed U.N. security response is being met with caution by some Haitians.

“Everyday you’re hopeless, feeling like you’re left behind, you’re deserted, nobody’s doing something to keep you safe,” Stephanie Andressol told ABC News.

Andressol lives near the border separating Haiti and the Dominican Republic. She says she and other women refuse to beg for handouts and want to work to support their families. However, they don’t feel safe in the streets.

“I haven’t been able to go to Port-au-Prince just because I’m scared of being raped,” Andressol said. “Gangs would tell me to take off my clothes and see if I have money.”

Gangs are openly in control of some neighborhoods, setting up checkpoints along roads to commit robberies, residents say. Some schools have reopened, but classrooms remain mostly empty, as it isn’t safe for children to go to school.

Gang violence coupled with inflation have forced businesses to close, leaving people without jobs.

“We had a shipment of water coming in, there were like two thousand gallons, they got held up, and they took the truck and the water,” Janco Damas, the owner of a commercial bakery in the Centre Ville section of Port-au-Prince, told ABC News.

The rising prices of flour and shortening meant operating at a loss for the bakery once popular for selling potable water and Haitian paté — a pastry dish made with flour and meat or fish. Production dipped and so did the number of customers.

“The streets are dangerous, people don’t leave their house,” Damas said.

In a country that takes pride in being the world’s first Black-led republic, 4.7 million people now face acute hunger, according to the United Nations’ World Food Programme and Food and Agriculture Organization. For the first time in Haiti, 19,000 people are facing catastrophic hunger levels, the U.N. organizations said last week.

The civil unrest has also coincided with a cholera outbreak. Between Sept. 26 and Oct. 8, 2022, the Haiti Ministry of Public Health and Population reported 32 lab-confirmed cases of cholera and 224 suspected cases from Port-au-Prince and Cité Soleil, according to the World Health Organization. A total of 189 people have been hospitalized, of which 16 deaths have been reported. The most affected age group is 1- to 4-year-olds, the ministry’s data shows.

Ariel Henry, the prime minister and acting president of Haiti, has appealed for international help, saying the gangs are too much for the Haitian National Police to handle.

In September, fuel prices shot up as the prime minister announced an end to fuel subsidies. This led to widespread riots throughout the country. Also, that month, gangs blocked access to the Varreux terminal in Port-au-Prince, which stores about 70 percent of the nation’s fuel.

“The whole country, it’s at the last straw, and there’s no security,” said John Draxton, a North Dakotan who moved to Haiti 10 years ago as a missionary and now owns a butcher shop there.

“[The people] don’t ask for food, even if they’re starving to death, they just say we just need security,” Draxton told ABC News.

The United Nations Security Council on Monday heard two resolutions drafted by the United States and Mexico to address Haiti’s current situation. One resolution seeks to impose financial sanctions on criminals.

The second resolution “would authorize a non-UN international security assistance mission to help improve the security situation and enable the flow of desperately-needed humanitarian aid,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the U.N. Security Council in a briefing on Haiti.

Some Haitians say they are against foreigners stepping in to assist. Others welcome the help, although they might be doing so reluctantly.

“The history speaks for itself, so preferably all Haitians would definitely want for us to resolve whatever is going on back home, without the meddling of the U.S. or any country,” Oriol Vatelia, who was born in Haiti and now lives in Port St. Lucie, Florida, told ABC News.

“But, I guess that’s just part of the playbook, when it gets so bad you almost have no choice but to accept whatever that comes your way,” Vatelia said.

The political climate has been especially volatile following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021. Moïse had faced calls for his resignation before he was killed. At the time of the assassination, he was holding on to the presidency by decree, after failing to call elections.

Haiti’s last presidential election was held in November 2016, while parliamentary elections scheduled for November 2019 were never held after the prime minister postponed them. Not holding these elections ignited major discontent in Haiti, which many believe put Haiti on its path to the present-day crisis.

Following the assassination of Moïse, Haiti faced a series of calamities, including a magnitude 7.2 earthquake, Tropical Storm Grace, the spread by COVID-19 and presently, the threat of cholera. Combined, these crises have led to over 3,000 recorded deaths.

Prime Minister Henry is now facing calls for his removal from office. So far, he too has failed to deliver fresh elections, even after repeated requests by Haitians and the international community. Henry said elections would happen this year, but so far, no date has been given.

The worsening situation has resulted in people leaving Haiti in droves, seeking respite in other countries by both legal and illegal means.

The Biden administration has faced pressure over its handling of Haitian migrants who have surged at the southern U.S. border, including the deportation of thousands back to Haiti.

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