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NEWS

July 8, 2021

"HAITI CANNOT BE ABANDONED," SAYS AVSI's REPRESENTATIVE AFTER PRESIDENT'S ASSASSINATION

In this interview, Fiammetta Cappellini talks about the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and how AVSI is helping the most vulnerable population through yet another crisis.

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AVSI has been present in Haiti since 1999, with field offices in Les Cayes, Cap-Haitien, and Port-au-Prince. Currently, AVSI is implementing 25 projects across multiple sectors including education and child protection, health—with an emphasis on food security and nutrition–agriculture, water, reforestation, environment, and livelihoods and business development. In this interview, Fiammetta Cappellini, AVSI Country Representative, talks about the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and how AVSI is helping the most vulnerable population through yet another crisis.

How is the situation in Haiti?

Fiammetta Cappellini: The country has come to a stop. Traffic has been halted and the borders are closed. Nobody is leaving their homes. The situation in the country has been highly unstable for several months, and we have seen an increase in violence, especially by armed gangs. The opposition to this president was very strong. Still, as a humanitarian NGO, we are very concerned about the population, especially those who live in the most vulnerable neighborhoods and areas. In these areas, a large part of the population depends on humanitarian aid, which is now suspended. We do not know when the organizations will be able to continue their operations because we must be able to guarantee the safety of our staff before resuming activities.

The Haitian authorities said they had killed four people who took part in the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and arrested others. Who do you believe could be behind the attack? 

FC: At this stage, it is complicated to say what exactly happened and analyze the events from a political point of view. As a humanitarian organization, we at AVSI do not feel we should examine the socio-political implications of these dramatic events. What we can say is that the country has been unstable for some time. Yes, we know that armed gangs have played an essential role in violent events that have happened in recent months, yet this is not enough to attribute responsibility when there is no basic information. From the information we have, we have no reason to believe that the attack on the president was the only or main work of armed gangs. I think we should rule out that this murder could have had the objective of a kidnapping; this is certainly not the explanation.

The political and economic destabilization of Haiti is very serious. How has the population been reacting? Are there any protests? What is the current level of poverty in Haiti?

FC: In the last three years, the country has been going through a very serious economic and social crisis. Economic indicators show that over half the population is below the extreme poverty line: starving. We have observed that the most vulnerable population has been on the brink for months. We are concerned that most of the population lives in unacceptable conditions. Almost the entire population in Haiti now depends on international cooperation and humanitarian aid. The local government needs to help more, otherwise, the situation could worsen even further in the coming months. There have been many protests recently, both against corruption and the undemocratic path that the country has been going through for over a year. The protests have increased. The population is losing all hope. They live day by day.

Recently, the United States and the UN have decided not to intervene in Haiti. Is the country internationally isolated?

FC: Haiti has received a lot of attention in the past years, especially ten years ago after the earthquake, but there are deeply rooted historical and endogenous problems that cannot be solved from the outside. However, it is true that over the last three years, when Haiti faced  yet another crisis, nobody has done anything. Understandably, the world’s attention is elsewhere. There are so many global crises, and the pandemic has radically shifted interests. Still, Haiti cannot be abandoned because it cannot find a solution to its problems alone. We hope that the world will renew its interest and accompany Haiti by supporting its path towards democracy and helping the vulnerable population.

Recently, nuns and priests have also been kidnapped. Is the Church under attack? Is AVSI able to carry out activities?

FC: The recent kidnappings, including of clergy and religious, must not make us think that the Church is under attack. Haitians are very religious. Generally, clergy and religious are highly esteemed by the population. The fact that they, too, have been victims of violence only proves how lost the country is. AVSI has been able to remain operational in recent months. There have been very few moments in which we had to suspend activities due to unrest, but we observe rigorous protocols and security measures to protect first our beneficiaries and then our staff. Our interventions are so crucial for the population that we always try to do everything possible to reach the communities where we have a commitment. Our relationship with the Haitian people is deep and historical. We are on the ground, and we do not leave the most vulnerable behind.