Three million Haitians suffer from armed violence and the situation deteriorates daily in the country, warns Marisela Silva, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross for Panama and the Caribbean (ICRC).
Silva, who is Peruvian and recently traveled to Haiti, calls for international help "ASAP" to face the "humanitarian crisis" generated by gang violence.
Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, is going through a deep crisis exacerbated since the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in 2021. More than 500 people were killed by criminal gangs in the first quarter of this year, according to the UN, which called for the deployment of a specialized support force in March.
This is a summary of Silva’s interview with AFP in Panama, the ICRC’s regional headquarters, held on Wednesday.
Question: What conclusions do you draw from your recent visit to Haiti?
Answer: Unfortunately for the Haitian population, the situation in Port-au-Prince is deteriorating further. I have been visiting and accompanying our team there for almost two and a half years and armed violence is much closer to residential areas. There are signs of expansion of armed violence in other areas of the country as well.
Q: In what areas does Haiti need help?
A: We have approximately 3 million people (ndlr: out of a total population of 11.4 million) affected by armed violence and this has an impact in terms of their lack of access to basic health services, movement restrictions and the impossibility to access essential services.
Q: Is violence the biggest problem facing Haiti?
A: There are many problems that coexist. One of them, indeed, is high-intensity armed violence, but there is an economic problem that puts pressure on the population and one in terms of sanitation that unfortunately creates a breeding ground for a cholera epidemic.
"More media crises"
Q: Haiti, the UN and some leaders are asking for an urgent aid fund. Do you see it viable?
A: It is necessary for the international community to take firm action in order to enable this humanitarian response to the needs of an extremely vulnerable population. The suffering and affectation of the population requires a firm and timely response.
Q: How much does the Red Cross value this international aid?
A: It is a support that cannot necessarily be measured in a monetary way, but it must be sustainable. If today one compares the impact of the armed violence in Haiti with Ukraine, with that devastating armed conflict, we may be surprised to identify that in the same week there can be many more deaths and injuries in a context like Haiti than in a context like the from Ukraine, Afghanistan, Yemen or Syria. The point is that all these crises, as well as the Haitian one, deserve attention from the international community and committed support.
Q: Why do you think that help is taking so long to arrive?
A: There are three main reasons: the first is the fatigue of an international community that has invested for many years in the Haitian context. The second element is that States are suffering from an economic recession. And the third element is that there are crises that are, in one way or another, much more publicized, such as the conflict in Ukraine.
"The chicken or the egg"
Q: The United States and several presidents who participated in the Ibero-American Summit talk about drawing up a plan to pacify Haiti before sending any aid. Does the Red Cross believe in this proposal?
A: As the ICRC, based on our principles of impartiality, neutrality and independence, it is not up to us to speak out. What we can say is that when the sequence between aid and pacification is posed, it is the question of the chicken and the egg: which comes first?
Q: What consequences does the Red Cross believe that the construction of the wall that the Dominican government is building to stop the migration of Haitians could have?
A: The measures that States can take in relation to migratory flows must always be aligned with their respective international obligations regarding the protection of people.
Q: Is Haiti doomed to remain the poorest country in the Americas?
A: The hope that this sentence is not such is something that we cannot lose.