A new report published by the United Nations illustrates the challenges of confronting ongoing crime and violence in Haiti, problems that are likely to be compounded by recent political instability.
According to the semi-annual report by the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), the Caribbean nation has seen 567 homicides since September 2015, an increase of over 16 percent compared to the previous reporting period, which registered 486 murders.
Based on recent population estimates, these statistics yield an annual national homicide rate of roughly just over 10 people per 100,000 -- relatively high by international standards, but still below that of many of Haiti's Caribbean neighbors.
The MINUTAH report noted that more than 80 percent of these murders occurred in the metropolitan area of the capital, Port-au-Prince, and indicated that about half were gang-related.
The number of reported kidnappings increased from 29 reports between March and August 2015 to 44 between September 2015 and March 1 of this year.
Reports of rape declined slightly, from 223 reports in the last reporting period to 218 during the most recent one, though MINUSTAH suggested that these numbers may not be accurate due to underreporting.
Overall, however, the report asses that criminal activity generally remained at the same levels as in the last two reporting periods.
InSight Crime Analysis
While Haiti has not seen the extreme levels of violence that plague many other countries in the region, continuing political instability in the Caribbean nation poses both a serious challenge in terms of maintaining security and a potentially a great opportunity for criminal networks.
Haiti's parliament dissolved in January 2015, and remained defunct until controversial elections in October brought a new legislature to power in January of this year. A provisional president has governed the country for the past several months, and it remains unclear whether a scheduled election will go ahead as planned.
On top of this political upheaval, Haiti is facing a major crisis of food insecurity and other economic problems. All of these issues have fueled numerous protests in recent months, some of which have turned deadly.
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None of this bodes well for a country where criminal organizations often have close ties to elites and politicians. The country's strategic geographic location and its extremely weak institutions make it an attractive setting for trafficking people, drugs, arms and other contraband. Moreover, local security forces and the justice system lack the capacity to adequately address the challenges posed by criminal groups, and corruption in Haiti remains a major issue.
The combination of these factors makes for fertile grounds for organized crime, which is of significant concern given Haiti's location along the Caribbean drug trafficking routes that US authorities say are growing in importance.