Almost 1,000 Americans Stranded in Haiti

( – Haiti, the most troubled of the Caribbean nations, has been in a state of crisis since rising fuel prices triggered riots six years ago. Now it’s officially a failed state, with street gangs battling the collapsing government for control. US citizens are now fleeing the country — when they can. Close to 1,000 Americans are still trapped in Haiti, though, and the State Department is looking at ways to get them out.

Haiti Is Collapsing

Haiti, a former French colony that broke away when slaves rebelled against Napoleon in a bloody revolution that lasted from 1791 to 1804, is the oldest independent nation in Latin America and the Caribbean. However, since it was founded, it’s lurched from instability to authoritarianism and back again.

The current crisis began in 2018 when Venezuela — another collapsing state — stopped shipping fuel to Haiti. Shortages and rising prices triggered riots and the prime minister resigned. However, protests continued through 2019, then were boosted by the government’s poor response to the 2020 pandemic. There was an attempted coup in February 2021, in July the president was assassinated, and in 2022 open warfare broke out between the country’s powerful gangs. The last democratically elected members of the government resigned in 2023, leaving Haiti with no real leadership.

This January, former Haitian senator Guy Philippe, at the head of an armed militia, started demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry. Gang leader Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherisier, whose G9 gang plays a major role in the ongoing violence, echoed these demands.

On March 1, Henry flew to Kenya to meet the African nation’s leaders; the next day, Cherisier’s gunmen organized a massive jailbreak at Haiti’s two largest prisons. The violence spread across the capital, Port Au Prince, closing the airport. Cherisier said this was part of a strategy to prevent Henry from returning. Henry has now agreed to share power with the “opposition” — Cherisier and his fellow gang leaders — until a new government could be chosen.

Americans Trapped in Violent Chaos

Meanwhile, violence is raging across Haiti, with gangs fighting running gun battles with the disintegrating police force on the streets of the capital — and hundreds of Americans are trapped there. Many US aid workers and missionaries work in Haiti and now a lot of them want out. The problem is that both of the country’s international airports are closed.

On March 17, a veteran-led rescue group, Project Dynamo, rescued two US missionaries and flew them to the neighboring Dominican Republic. The same day, a charter flight organized by the State Department flew another 47 Americans from the Cap-Haïtien airport to Florida.

Hundreds more are trapped, though. State Department official Vedant Patel says “approaching a thousand” Americans have registered for help through the department’s website. He added that officials are evaluating what transport options remain. The problem is that while the Cap-Haïtien airport is just about usable, it’s over five hours’ drive from Port Au Prince through dangerous gang-controlled territory. Project Dynamo CEO Brian Stern says his group operates in areas where US government support is “not yet present” — and, for now, that includes most of Haiti.

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