Most problems were not problems long enough to be interesting.
— Larry Niven, PROTECTOR
Haiti has remained a problem long enough to be interesting.
Viewing its situation as that of 1) a prior substrate of what project managers call enterprise environmental factors 2) being affected by present phenomena, which PMs would call organizational process assets, we have:
- Failure cascade demonstrating self-organized criticality; elements in chronological order:
|2010 (Jan 12)||7.0 MW earthquake near Léogâne, 25 km west of Port-au-Prince|
|2011 (Mar)||first of my ~20 visits through 2019, generally under umbrella of UMCOR/UMVIM|
|2014 (Jul–Dec)||≈50% oil price crash due to fracking, leading directly to early 2018 PetroCaribe funding collapse, quickly causing restricted fuel availability; economic effects as described in Ayiti Pa Nimewo Yo|
|2017 (Oct)||MINUSTAH transition to MINUJUSTH, greatly reducing peacekeeper availability|
|2018 et seq||decreasing ability of Police Nationale d’Haïti to maintain Westphalian/Weberian nation-state institutional monopoly on violence|
|2019 (Sep)||my most recent, somewhat eventful, visit|
|2019 (Oct)||MINUJUSTH withdrawn altogether|
|2020 (March)||COVID-19 lockdowns begin in much of developed world; supply chain disruptions|
|2021||rapid increase in gang activity in Port-au-Prince, severely affecting road access to Tiburon Peninsula (where 4 of 10 départements of Haiti are located)|
|2022||extreme food insecurity for ⅛ of Haiti’s population|
- Événements annexes, to coin a term:
|2021 (July 7)||assassination of President Jovenel Moïse|
|2021 (August 14)||7.2 MW earthquake in Département Nippes, 150 km west of Port-au-Prince|
Haiti est omnis divisa in partes tres, as Julius Caesar would have written. The part most relevant to this report is the Port-au-Prince metro: ~160 km², ~3.7 million people, ⅓ of the entire country’s population, living at a density only modestly lower than that of Manhattan Island, but with few buildings taller than four stories or anything most Americans would recognize as public transportation.
Pòtoprens offers specific opportunities to the baz now plaguing it. Its density puts nearly 300,000 people within a pedestrian commute of any one spot, which greatly lowers the game-theoretic discount parameter w to a value that crucially minimizes the likelihood of future interaction with any given individual. It is by far the most important node of the national highway network. Its port facilities handle a large majority of incoming goods. As the national capital, it automatically contains bureaux intended to monitor, approve, or otherwise regulate economic activity.
The worst violence directly affects the most desperate neighborhoods: Martissant and Cité Soleil. For the metropolitan area as a whole, the numbers I’m seeing are pointing to a 2022 rate of, very roughly, 65 homicides per 100,000 population. My worst-case estimate is around twice that, still well below what I believe to be the most dangerous city in the world (Caracas, at 246 when last I checked), but far higher than anyone would want to have to live with. The number for the Kansas City metro is around 10, which is noticeably worse than a few years ago. And as in KC, violent death in PAP shows something like a Pareto distribution, where ⅕ (or less) of the area has ⅘ (or more) of the homicides.
Meanwhile, rural Haiti, largely thanks to a much higher value of w, is among the safest places in the world—from two-legged predation. The problems there are vector- and water-borne disease and malnutrition, making for a long list of what are, to us, easily preventable ailments (including anemia and hypertension, both at pandemic levels). Interruption in the flow of goods, carried by vehicles that can no longer regularly be fueled, over a handful of readily blocked highways, are making the malnutrition noticeably worse, and with it, all the illness. The desperate hinterlands are the secunda pars of Haiti; and the tertia pars is everything outside of Port-au-Prince that is (somehow) relatively unaffected, “relatively” being an economy with a per capita GDP one-thirtieth that of the US and a diet of 1850 kcal/day for the average person.
But PAP gets all the attention; referring to Prof. Cline’s structural media biases list, we find “Expediency Bias” practically guaranteeing that for North American media consumers, Haiti = its capital and largest city. And since their manpower, and indeed leadership, are ultimately drawn from the general population, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Homeland Security Investigations concentrate on PAP too.
One-third of the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area is now controlled by gangs. The number of gangs in PAP does not seem to have increased much, if at all, in the past year, but the physical extent of their activities (and presumably capabilities) has grown noticeably. This may be ascribed to a further deterioration of the PNH and acquisition of greater firepower by the baz. US media is unsurprisingly attracted to the firepower factor, not only from “Visual Bias” (guns are [ cool | scary ]), but also as ICE/HSI are incentivized to emphasize it in support of maintaining, and if at all possible increasing, their budget and headcount.
As I have noted before, Haiti has no tradition of an armed citizenry and does not recognize any general right to keep and bear arms, either in the 1987 Constitution nominally in effect, or in the new Constitution proposed in 2021, which explicitly states (Google translation): “The Armed Forces of Haiti have a monopoly on the manufacture, import, export, use and possession of weapons of war and their ammunition, as well as war material.” I note that everyone reading this probably knows at least one person who advocates a similar, if not identical, constitutional change for the US, and who as part of that advocacy would unblinkingly redefine many civilian firearms as armes de guerre.
In combination with the current US ban on arming the PNH due to past human-rights violations, this sets up a perfect Baptist-bootlegger coalition where the smuggling of small arms can be simultaneously furiously denounced by the bien-pensants and massively enabled by the inescapable economics of Prohibition. And while I would hardly call it win-win, as mentioned above, on the US side, the DHS stands to do quite well out of it. Our tax dollars at work.
What is not clear from the reports I have read so far is just how many guns are involved. Given the cultural/political background of a lightly, not to say un-, armed populace, it might not be that many, and of course (often nonmathematical) American journalists aren’t, especially during a Democratic Administration, going to ask impertinent questions of Federal agents who have just laid out several big icky guns on a table in front of them (“Status Quo Bias”). There are ≈150 gangs in all of Haiti; if my earlier speculations about the applicability of Dunbar’s Number hold, their total manpower cannot greatly exceed 20,000, and it could be far less. The PNH number ~10,000, or did a few years ago. A few thousand ARs or AKs would go a long way toward supplying the baz, and there are close to 20 million ARs and (presumably) several million AKs in the US. Also a million recent Haitian expatriates. Arming the gangs does not look difficult, mathematically. I expect the larger problem is ammunition.
Elaborating on the Caesarean tripartite division, I suggest three possible futures for Haiti, from least to most ambitious (and effective), albeit from most to least likely:
1. “Robin Dunbar” — to borrow another term from project management, a “progressive elaboration” of the status quo; the gangs continue to evolve, possibly transcending Dunbar’s numerical thresholds and demonstrating Biddle’s “permissive loyalties,” such that they are able to exercise local monopolies on violence and, in some sense, begin providing/protecting public services. It is (to say the least) difficult to foresee these effects scaling to more than, say, any single gang controlling more than a tenth of the Port-au-Prince metro, much less the rest of the country. It may nonetheless produce a noticeable reduction in the violent death rate in a few fortunate neighborhoods.
2. “Smedley Butler” — initially, a brigade of Marines pacifying PAP, which could probably be completed within 72 hours of landing and with few, if any, American casualties. Great, now what? I note that the ostensibly high-minded motivation for such an action would in fact incorporate just as much behind-the-scenes maneuvering as in 1914–15, but in the service of an array of First World NGOs rather than National City Bank of New York and the Haitian American Sugar Company. Our R1-university-credentialed political class would undoubtedly support it (under a Democratic Administration) and, of course, respond with rage to any suggestion that their motives were self-interested. For how thoroughly even private charities can be subject to the less attractive corollaries of public choice theory, see Schwartz’s Travesty in Haiti. Exit conditions would remain … obscure, although our calamitous withdrawal from Afghanistan suggests that eventually we’d just give up and slink away, thereby precipitating a massacre.
Just to make this one more complicated, there is no question in my mind that it would save thousands of lives in the first year alone. With accompanying public-health measures (as were indeed carried out in Afghanistan), that number could easily reach six figures in less than a decade.
3 .“Bruce Gilley” — drawing a close analogy to the “Galinhas” scenario at the end of his paper, Haiti leases the entirety of Île de la Gonâve to the US for $1/year for the remainder of the 21st century. Its 743 km²—half the size of Jackson County, MO, where I reside—and (initially) ~90,000 people become a much larger and more economically variegated version of Labadee, the private coastal property of Royal Caribbean ~10 km northwest of Cap-Haïtien. This would entail instituting Anglo-American common law and establishing English alongside kreyòl ayisyen as an official language, effectively displacing French (spoken fluently by only ~2% of Haitians). It would also require, at first, strenuous modulation of immigrant flows from the Haitian mainland, although doubling the population each decade through at least mid-century seems feasible. However instructive, and constructive, a (quasi-) natural experiment this might be, in anything like the current political environment in the US, it would be hysterically opposed by wokists.
(I note that current conditions on la Gonâve are primitive even by Haitian standards, with severe scarcity of water and a near-complete absence of electricity.)
Returning, as I must, to the question of missions activity, I am informed that as of June, travel is (ironically) restricted to relatively isolated regions of the country, that is, areas where the gangs cannot profitably operate. Some sections of the Port-au-Prince metro are passable and some are not. Flying into Aéroport International Toussaint Louverture (or Cap-Haïtien International Airport) and then directly to an airstrip near one’s destination is quite a bit safer than attempting ground transportation through Delmas or Tabarre, much less Martissant, on the way to any destination on the Tiburon Peninsula. Certainly if I were to travel to Mizak (Musac), in La Vallée de Jacmel, I would engage one or another of the missionary aviation organizations and fly FPR- or FLL-CAP-JAK.
The great question is whether the places I would be on the ground in are within secunda or tertia pars Haiti, and that leads to the final, conceptual tripartite division, one of triage. Haiti is nearly the physical size of Maryland, with approaching twice the population, and, in its own inimitable way, about as diverse. Some of it isn’t, even now, in enough trouble to be worth spending the money to bring in people like me. Some physically small but visually lurid portion of it is untenable insofar as people like me would be worth more as hostages than as whatever we were supposed to be doing, a predicament which would be … less than helpful. The remainder, where North American randos (as I have earlier self-identified, l’imbéciles blancs pour Haïti) might actually accomplish something—while deliberately incurring some imperfectly managed risks—is the target zone.
The origin of large but rare cascades that are triggered by small initial shocks is a phenomenon that manifests itself as diversely as cultural fads, collective action, the diffusion of norms and innovations, and cascading failures in infrastructure and organizational networks … when [a] network is highly connected, cascade propagation is limited … by the local stability of the nodes themselves, and the size distribution of cascades is bimodal, implying a more extreme kind of instability that is correspondingly harder to anticipate.
Global cascades in social and economic systems, as well as cascading failures in engineered networks, display two striking qualitative features: they occur rarely, but by definition are large when they do.
— Duncan J. Watts
Longtime readers will know that in these posts, I am wont to make dark allusions to Haitian calamity as a possible forerunner of the trajectory of our own society. While my intent is to encourage truly effective preparation, rather than silliness like fleeing to a hideout and stockpiling supplies, I encourage careful examination of our own stresses to look for critical thresholds.
Like Haiti, the US has an (in our case, soi-disant) elite that despises most of the general populace, although ours at least claims to care about the marginalized. There has been some degree of breakdown of basic services here, although it tends to occur in such a way as to affect people whose reaction creates real political pressure to fix it—I am thinking of electricity-grid failures. Other failures have, so far, hit already-marginalized populations: high COVID-19 death rates among relatively impoverished, dark-skinned minorities; withdrawal of police protection from historically violent neighborhoods.
I think the key to monitoring trends that may engender catastrophe is to recognize that the supporting elements grow at the margin. A quarter of the population becomes susceptible to major depressive disorder due to a combination of multiple lifestyle factors (poor diet, lack of exercise, insufficient sleep, inadequate socialization, limited or no sunlight exposure, rumination). Growing neoteny and/or decreasing testosterone delay workforce entry and, again at the margins, foster gender-identity confusion.
A general breakdown, if it occurs, may well be the result of these phenomena exceeding some value beyond which institutions visibly fail for lack of competent manpower. One striking difference between Haiti and the US is the lack (in most places) of a substantial gang presence here, although I am given to understand that they are a political factor in Chicago. The appearance of, shall we say, inadequately legitimated organizations purporting to restore order in some troubled community—the New Black Panther Party comes to mind—would be a significant marker.
Hemingway’s “gradually, then suddenly” remains the best colloquial description of the experience of cascading failure. The key precipitating event in the US might be a mainstream refusal to accept the results of an election. I, for one, will be watching reactions to the November midterms carefully.
In the spirit of a certain institution of higher education we all know and love, a syllabus …
- Recent articles and reports:
- Haiti is at War
- US officials warn of surge in gun trafficking from Florida to Haiti
- Haiti gang violence: 209 killed in Cité Soleil in 10 days
- Haitian Gangs Trigger Gun Trafficking From Florida to Their Caribbean Nation
- Gangs advance on the seat of Haitian government power: ‘Haitians are hostages’
- Haiti’s Spiraling Gang Violence Threatens to Cut Off Capital and Hamper Earthquake Recovery Efforts
- GIEWS Country Brief: Haiti 12-August-2022
- Across Haiti, Fuel Shortages And Power Outages Bring Life To A Halt
- HAITI: Impact of the deteriorating security situation on humanitarian access
- Supporting material: