In response to the massive 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti just off the shore of Saint-Louis-du-Sud on August 14, 2021, American Jewish World Service (AJWS), which has worked with human rights activists in Haiti since 1999, issued the following statement by its president and CEO Robert Bank, strongly encouraging the United States and the international community to center solutions put forth by the Haitian people and Haitian civil society organizations at this critical time of multiple and overlapping crises.
Statement of Robert Bank, President and CEO of American Jewish World Service
“Saturday’s earthquake presents yet another tremendous challenge for the Haitian people. The country was already dealing with an acute governance crisis, which only deepened after the country’s former President, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated last month. Moïse, who himself had overstayed his legal mandate, had systematically dismantled many of Haiti’s democratic institutions during the past four years. Moïse’s party, the Haitian Tèt Kale Party (PHTK), had also been linked to violent gangs, providing them with protection, money and guns in exchange for quelling political dissent. These same gangs now control the roads leading to the areas affected by the earthquake. Meanwhile, people across the country are also dealing with food insecurity and the COVID pandemic. The earthquake is truly one more crisis compounding many others.
“We are in constant contact with our partners across Haiti who are unequivocal in their belief that what is truly needed at this critical time are solutions developed by the Haitian people. Haitian civil society organizations are not only engaged in earthquake recovery but are actively working to build the democratic government that Haitians deserve.
“Our Haitian partners are clear that Haiti’s current illegitimate caretaker government, which came to power after Moïse’s murder, is not up to the task of responding to this crisis. Tragically, the government of Ariel Henry, the country’s acting president, is just a reconfiguration of the same bad actors from the previous Moïse government. And in the days since the earthquake, Henry has done little to create confidence that he or his government is capable of dealing with the challenges facing the country.
“We echo the demands of our Haitian grantee-partners who are insisting that the U.S. government and the international community respond to this latest disaster by putting Haitian civil society at the center of its response. Our Haitian partners also urge the U.S. to support the call for a new transitional government led by civil society that will be more committed to transparency about where aid money flows to address the damage.
“As an American Jewish organization which stands in solidarity with the forces of democracy and human rights in Haiti, we call on the U.S. government, international community, and all those seeking to support Haiti to:
- Respect the fundamental right of the Haitian people to shape Haitian solutions, and trust Haitian activists, community leaders to know how best to respond.
- Channel relief funds first and foremost to Haitian community groups and churches that have the trust of the communities most affected by the earthquake to respond transparently and with the ability to reach those most affected.
- Finally, and most importantly, we call on the U.S. government to follow the lead and guidance of Haitian civil society and democratic activists as they lead their country out of its current political crisis. Haitian civil society organizations and leaders have clear and specific plans about how to repair Haiti’s democracy. They seek to create a transitional government that can repair the broken electoral institutions, support the police in restoring law and order, strengthen the Haitian judiciary, and create the conditions for free and fair elections to take place in the future. A transitional government led by civil society will also have a greater chance of ensuring that humanitarian and emergency assistance will be directed to the places where it is most needed and will not be used to empower an illegitimate regime and the gangs that it supports.
As our Haitian partners respond to this earthquake, while prioritizing democracy, human rights, and stability in Haiti, we call on our government and all other governments and international bodies to support democratic Haitian solutions developed by the Haitian people and their civil society organizations.”
AJWS’s Support of Democratic Forces in Haiti
Following the assassination of Jovenel Moïse, Haiti’s former president, AJWS issued this statement outlining what President Biden and his administration should do to ensure the Haitian people are able to decide the way forward for their own political future. To date, the U.S. government has continued its policy of pushing for swift elections to occur in 2021, despite the near universal opposition of civil society. Civil society is calling for a transitional government, as outlined in the plans of the Commission for a Haitian Solution to the Crisis, a body created in January 2021 with the support of more than 300 Haitian organizations and institutions. On August 11, 2021, hundreds of AJWS activists across the country signed onto a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, urging him and the Biden administration to change course and support Haitians as they develop a Haitian-led solution to the crisis.
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