Violence Escalates in Haiti

Violence Escalates in Haiti

One local said the capital of Port-au-Prince was “like a warzone” as a result of gang warfare and a police force that seems unable, or unwilling, to stop it.

On this particular day, members of 400 Mawazo stormed a church during Sunday services and killed a police inspector. “I tried to seek cover but there were so many bullets, such heavy fire. I’ve never heard anything like it before in my life. It was like a warzone,” the pastor said later. Outgunned and demoralized Haitian police officers, most of whom earn less than $100 a month, are no match for heavily armed and committed gangs.

As much as 60 percent of Port-au-Prince, a huge city that is about the same size as Los Angeles, is lawless, according to a watchdog group.

Political Discord in Haiti

The political and other violence in Haiti is nothing new for the people of this island nation. Such violence has been part of its history since General Toussaint Louverture established the world’s first former slave republic in 1804.

Although the French Revolution of 1789 brought a new breath of freedom to the French people, things in overseas colonies, like Saint-Domingue, did not change. The harsh Code Noir (black code), which Louis XIV ratified, remained in full force and effect. A third of newly-arrived African slaves died within five years. The French abused the environment as well. They cut down most of Haiti’s forests to make way for lucrative sugar and other plantations. 

In 1791, Louverture, with the aid of a shadowy voodoo priest known as Boukman, organized the slaves who had escaped to the mountains into an army. The United States government extended lukewarm support to the slave army. Abolitionist president John Adams committed substantial financial and military resources to the fight. Slaveholding president Thomas Jefferson withdrew this support. This political dance continued until 1861. After most slaveholding states seceded, America formally recognized Haiti.

This local conflict, like so many others, spread quickly. Spanish and British forces, trying to take advantage of the chaos, invaded Saint-Domingue. These foreigners left in 1795.

Napoleon sent a huge army to Haiti to crush the slave revolt in 1802. Yellow fever killed most of those soldiers and sailors. Finally, after the loss of more than 50,000 troops and a decisive defeat at the Battle of Vertières in November 1803, Napoleon gave up his hopes of a North American empire. He withdrew from Haiti and sold Louisiana to the United States.

But the instability in Haiti continued. In 1825, French king Charles X sent a huge fleet to retake Haiti. He cut a deal with President Jean-Pierre Boyer, in which Charles renounced all claims to Haiti and Haiti paid a whopping 150 million francs. Haiti borrowed most of the money from Western banks. It finally paid off the debt in 1947.

Issues with the repayment of this debt, along with fears over growing German influence, prompted Woodrow Wilson to send the Marines to Haiti in 1915. They quickly overwhelmed the Haitian army and occupied the nation. The American occupiers finally left in 1934, but not before several thousand Haitians died.

A period of additional instability, including another American occupation, followed the collapse of the Duvalier dynasty in 1986. In the early 2000s, Haiti appeared to be making progress for the first time. Then, a 2010 earthquake killed about 250,000 people and left over one million homeless. Given the island’s history, it didn’t have the infrastructure or the resources to deal with such a tragedy. With the government seemingly unable to help, many Haitians took matters into their own hands.

Contractors in Haiti

So, the contractors in Haiti have multiple responsibilities. They must provide security, oversee aid distribution, and generally help Haitians feel better about their country.

Security is not so much about getting the bad guys. Instead, security usually focuses on preventing the bad guys from doing bad things in the first place. Many private military contractors came from the law enforcement ranks. Most law enforcement agencies rely on visible deterrence, like frequent patrols, to cut down on crime. So, standing on a street corner and looking for troublemakers is nothing new for most contractors.

According to a recent report, corruption has cost about $4 million over the past several years. In a country where over half the people must live on about $2 a day, that is a lot of money. Vital foreign aid must get to the people it is supposed to help. In general, we are all more willing to do the right thing if we know someone is watching.

If contractors do these first two things right, the third priority takes care of itself. People who feel better about their country are less likely to support the armed gangs which control many areas of Port-au-Prince and other Haitian cities. American law prohibits contractors from taking back these streets by force. However, contractors can support police and other official government forces in their struggle to protect people.

Injury Compensation Available

Instability is a constant in Haiti, which means serious injury is a constant as well. A trauma injury, like a gunshot wound, can happen at any time. An occupational disease, like hearing loss, often comes on so gradually that many victims do not know there is a problem until their conditions are critical.

The average medical bill in situations like these is often tens of thousands of dollars. That is money most families simply don’t have.

Normally, when faced with such bills these families must make some very tough choices. Benefits available through the Defense Base Act, specifically the medical bill payment benefit, make these choices a little easier.

The Defense Base Act gives contractors a safety net, much like the VA disability system is a safety net for disabled veterans. DBA benefits are available for all reasonably necessary medical bills, such as:

  • Transportation: The overall infrastructure in Haiti, including the medical infrastructure, is weak. Therefore, local hospitals can often only stabilize patients, so they can be moved to a larger hospital that is usually in the United States. The resulting medevac bill could be almost as large as the hospital bill.
  • Medical Care: Emergency treatment is only the beginning. Most injured contractors need constant care for several weeks or even longer. After their discharge, they need follow-up care. Frequently, their injuries are permanent, at least to an extent. That permanence means future medical expenses.
  • Recovery: Physical or occupational therapy is usually the most expensive part of recovery. Physical therapy helps injury or illness victims regain lost bodily functions. Occupational therapy helps seriously injured victims learn a new occupation. Other recovery costs include medical devices and prescription drugs.

Frequently, DBA insurance adjusters only approve the cheapest option in these categories. A Defense Base Act lawyer helps ensure that victims get the treatment they need, regardless of the cost.

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