The Republic of Haiti, a Caribbean nation with a rich history of French, African and Caribbean cultures, is currently in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. Nearly half of the Haitian population faces food insecurity, thousands have been victimized by armed gangs and poverty is running rampant. Haiti’s people are fleeing and their government is practically nonexistent. The crisis is at an absolute tipping point, but how did it get there?

Unfortunately, it started at the beginning of Haiti’s history. Haiti, formerly known as Saint-Domingue, was under French rule for centuries. The island’s population primarily consisted of enslaved Africans. The ongoing French Revolution inspired citizens of Saint-Domingue to fight for their freedom. The Haitian Revolution began under the leadership of a formerly enslaved man Toussaint Louverture.

On Jan. 1, 1804, after continuous resilience and courage from citizens of the nation, Haiti became the first independent Black republic in history. However, with independence came an insurmountable amount of debt to France, leaving Haiti’s economy to struggle for decades.

In the mid-20th century, Haiti fell under the dictatorship of Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, whose reign was defined by chaos and bloodshed. His son, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, took over after his death and continuing the bloody reign. He fled the country in 1986, and the nation was left traumatized by the authoritarian leadership of him and his father.

Political uncertainty has plagued Haiti since then, with a series of coups taking place over many decades. U.S. involvement in Haitian political affairs, combined with natural disasters such as Hurricane Matthew, a cholera outbreak and the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in 2010, have devastated the country’s infrastructure and government, leading to internal crisis.

The 2010 earthquake is especially still having a devastating impact on the country. It killed over 220,000 people and left 1.5 million people homeless, with many remaining in shabby and exposed housing. The recovery efforts have been spearheaded by different groups around the country, but have been stifled due to continuous smaller natural disasters and issues with funding.

Beginning with protests in response to increased fuel prices, Haiti has been in yet another state of crisis. Eventually, the protests evolved into demands for the removal of the country’s then president, Jovenel Moïse. His controversial policies— dissolution of the parliament and mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic left many Haitians angered and frustrated with his leadership. His assassination in 2021, and the subsequent assumption of power by Haiti’s quite unpopular Prime Minister, Ariel Henry, has left the nation in disarray ever since.

Without clear leadership, Haiti is on the brink of collapse. The nation’s capital, Port-au-Prince, has been overrun with rebel forces, who have taken over an estimated 80% of the city, according to a report from the United Nations. Gangs have victimized thousands of people, conducting a series of kidnappings, arsons, assaults, rapes and homicides. Over 8,400 people in Haiti were killed, injured or kidnapped in 2023 alone, an astounding 122% increase from the previous year. Two of Haiti’s largest prisons were stormed by armed gangs, enabling thousands of inmates to escape. The situation in Haiti has become so disjointed that Prime Minister Henry fled to Puerto Rico in early March and hasn’t step foot on Haitian soil since. Due to pressure from the United States, as well as the gangs in Haiti, he has announced he would officially step down from power once a transitional government is established.

It is clear that Haiti is in need of help. However, foreign involvement is complicated. In fact, Henry sought out international assistance in restoring Haiti, but other nations, specifically the U.S, have been reluctant to intervene because of decades of failed foreign involvement in Haiti’s affairs.

As previously mentioned, the U.S. has occupied Haiti at least three times directly since the nation’s birth, and their occupation has had a negative impact on the people of Haiti. Every time, they’ve disrupted the nation’s sovereignty, and who’s to say that won’t happen again? It’s evident that Haiti lacks the organization to pull itself out of its current conundrum. Intervention from other countries may help to alleviate it, but, at what cost?

With U.S. citizens being stranded in Haiti and the crisis raging on, the U.S. is increasingly likely to intervene again. Now that American lives are at stake too, the U.S. is finally shedding light on the humanitarian crisis. And much to the disappointment of Haitians, their urgency has come too little, too late.

“It’s maddening for the Haitians and it’s maddening for me, and two weeks ago, if you recall, this situation was not at all urgent to the secretary of State and the U.S. government, despite the fact that it has been urgent for 32 months,” said Dan Foote, the Biden administration’s former special envoy to Haiti who resigned back in 2021.

The U.S. government has been airlifting U.S. citizens from Haiti to Florida since early March, acknowledging the ever growing gang violence in the country is preventing Americans from taking commercial flights.

The U.S. has also pledged millions of dollars in humanitarian aid, though it’s reportedly not getting into the right hands, according to American missionary Miriam Cinotti.

“Forces need to come on the ground to help settle Haiti, these gangs are not going to stop because there’s no government, there’s nothing to make them stop,” Cinotti told NewsNation. “They’ve been doing this for three years and it’s really sad that humanitarian efforts are not getting to the right hands and to the people. It’s sad, and it’s not fair.”

The crisis in Haiti is such a deep and complex issue that words can barely convey its true direness. Citizens of Haiti are in desperate need of help, and peace needs to be restored in Haiti, not only for the sake of their safety, but for the sake of their rights. Although foreign intervention may seem like a solution, other nations have repeatedly ignored the voices of the Haitian people. For now, their future remains uncertain, but bringing this crisis to light is key to kickstarting a chance.