Haiti on the Knife’s Edge

Haiti on the Knife’s Edge

The struggling Caribbean nation cannot seem to get off the ropes. In fact, one journalist said Haiti “is a place that could explode very easily and at any time, because the situation is so bad.”

During the summer of 2021, President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated, thousands of Haitain migrants were deported, and a strong earthquake devastated much of the country. As a result, many cities are more chaotic than ever. Roughly 165 armed gangs roam the streets. These militias often intercept needed supplies. Furthermore, kidnappings have increased 300% and fuel shortages plague the fragile power grid. 

Fiammetta Cappellini, the Haitian representative for an international charity, said the situation is worse than it was in 2004, when a longtime dictator’s expulsion created a power vacuum. “Here, now we are back to what it was in those days, where in some communities, neither the police nor any other type of law enforcement institution can enter, and therefore the population becomes hostages to the armed gangs,” he said. “Having no other point of reference, the people develop a sort of cohabitation with the gangs that have become the authority running the neighborhood,” he added.

How We Got Here

Recent hardships are just the latest ones in a very long line of difficulties stretching back to the country’s founding in 1804. Back then, a country that began with a successful slave rebellion, the only successful takeover of a nation by former slaves in history, was roundly unwelcome in the family of nations. The United States did not establish formal relations with Haiti until 1862. However, the Americans quickly became very interested in what essentially became an American protectorate. More on that below.

First, some additional background. During the colonial period, France stripped Haiti’s resources. Current satellite photographs show this legacy. The Dominican Republic, which occupies the eastern two-thirds of Hispaniola Island, looks like a tropical paradise. Haiti looks like a moonscape.

Making matters worse, following the Napoleonic Wars, France was determined to bring its former colony to heel. The so-called Haitian Indemnity Crisis began in 1825, when French warships sailed into the capital and demanded a payment of 150 million francs (roughly $40 billion today). The troubled nation finally made the last debt payment in 1947.

In 1911, Citibank (then the National City Bank of New York) acquired the debt. Shortly thereafter, the Americans worried that political instability and other issues would trigger debt default. So, under the “gunboat diplomacy” ideas that were prevalent at the time, the U.S. invaded Haiti in 1915. The Americans occupied the country for twenty years. A military strongman, François ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier, assumed power in 1956. He and his son ruled Haiti until the late 1980s.

For a number of years, it looked like Haiti was on the right track and might be able to overcome this history. But a crippling earthquake hit the nation in 2008. Since then, the Trail of Tears has continued in Haiti.

Contractors in Haiti

There is no quick way to fix Haiti’s problems. However, all these issues have a common effect. People do not trust the government to protect them or take care of their needs. In many cases, this assessment is accurate. For various reasons, the government simply does not have the right tools. That is where private military contractors step in.

People everywhere have a right to walk down the street without dodging armed gangs. Contractors, many of whom are former police officers, know what to do in these situations. Visible deterrence and appropriate responses are usually the two key ingredients. 

Armed gangs usually scare people. Armed contractors usually make them feel better. Frequently, contractors use a neighborhood-by-neighborhood approach. Once the presence of armed contractors forces gangs to disband in one area, the contactors move onto another area.

Trouble is inevitable in these situations. When it arises, contractors usually are better able to defuse it than government soldiers. Contractors know how to de-escalate these situations and use violence only when absolutely necessary.

Aid distribution is a problem area as well. Because of government corruption, foreign aid often ends up in the wrong hands or on the black market. Private contractors often handle aid distribution from start to finish. Longshoremen unload supplies, contractors transport them, and armed contractors either oversee distribution or are on standby if needed.

Contractors also play a pivotal role in post-earthquake rebuilding. The country was struggling to get on its feet after the 2008 quake when the 2021 quake hit. These disasters, which destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure, give contractors an opportunity to rebuild it. This rebuilding usually starts with large capital projects, like schools and hospitals.

There is some overlap in this area. Not all armed contractors go home when rebuilding starts. Many stay behind to provide security.

Injury Compensation Available

When contractors are injured or killed in Haiti or elsewhere, the Defense Base Act replaces their lost wages and pays their medical bills. 

These victims must immediately report their injuries to their supervisors. Claims examiners often use technicalities like delayed, incomplete, or inaccurate reports to deny claims without reaching the merits. In other words, they take the easy way out if they can.

Special reporting rules apply in occupational disease claims, like repetitive stress injuries. Usually, victims need not report these issues until they know the full extent of their problems and they connect those issues to their work environments.

A few weeks after the report, a mediator usually presides at a settlement conference. Occasionally, these conferences resolve these matters. But only preliminary evidence is available at this session, so a final settlement is often not a good idea. Furthermore, attorneys cannot make legal arguments at these sessions. Instead, they are basically paper reviews.

The environment is much different at a subsequent hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. An ALJ is not an elected or appointed judge. However, an independent ALJ is usually the next best thing. These professionals examine all the evidence in the case, as opposed to some of it. Furthermore, during an ALJ hearing, attorneys can introduce evidence, challenge evidence, and make legal arguments. 

Some victims may appeal undesirable results to federal court. However, in most cases, the ALJ result is final. The ALJ either enters a judgment or, more likely, approves an out-of-court settlement.

For more information about DBA qualifications, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.