Escalating Gang Violence in Haiti, National Strike in Panama, and Wildfires in Europe
Haiti: Security Crisis Deepens as Inter-Gang Violence Escalates
The security environment in Haiti continues to deteriorate as intensifying gang violence throughout Port-au-Prince exacerbates the country’s ongoing political, economic, and humanitarian crises. Over the past weekend, tensions have escalated between Haiti’s G-9 and G-Pèp gangs which has led to intense gun battles within the Cité Soleil neighborhood; an estimated 52 deaths and 100-110 injuries have been reported thus far. Though the exact reason for the gangs’ confrontation remains unknown, violence will likely intensify in the near term until the feuding parties settle the issue. This localized spike in intense violence is indicative of a broader trend as gangs jockey for control in the power vacuum created by President Jovenel Moïse’s assassination in July 2021. In the year since the incident gangs have sought to expand their dominance and have often resorted to extreme violence—including broad scale murders and rapes targeting civilians—to achieve their goals. For example, in May 2022, a confrontation in Croix-des-Bouquets between the Chen Mechan and 400 Mawozo gangs resulted in nearly 200 murders and 198 kidnappings over two weeks, which included the abductions of two buses full of children and three UN employees. The insecurity has also exacerbated the country’s ongoing economic and food crises as gangs vie for control of the main highways. With Haitian food inflation currently around 52% and nearly 1 million food-insecure individuals in the capital, the World Food Programme (WFP) and other aid suppliers have been forced to find alternative transportation methods to deliver assistance, as the violence has made land options impassable due to roadblocks and targeted hijackings of aid vehicles. The government is currently unable to effectively address the growing violence due to understaffed and underfunded security forces, though the US, Canada, and the EU have pledged millions in additional funds to the UN initiative to help bolster the Haitian National Police (HNP). The impotence of the HNP has also stymied long-overdue elections to fill the vacant Presidency. Prime Minister Ariel Henry has stated that he does not intend on forming the electoral council needed to conduct the vote until the HNP can adequately secure a fair contest. Since Moïse’s assassination, PM Henry has served as a government caretaker, though many believe he is possibly complicit in the killing and, therefore, illegitimate, further perpetuating the cycle of crises currently facing the country.
Panama: National Strike Leads to Protests and Roadblocks
Numerous labor organizations in Panama have joined national strike actions and continue to hold nationwide protests against the cost of living crisis, which has led to travel disruptions, property damage and incidents of violence between protesters and security forces. Protests initially started on July 7, when The Association of Teachers of the Republic (ASOPROF) declared a 72-hour strike which has been indefinitely extended. The demonstrations have intensified in recent days, with student organizations, Indigenous groups, workers unions and medical associations joining the protests. While the majority of events proceeded peacefully, protests turned violent in Panama City on July 11, when protesters clashed with police outside of the University of Panama, throwing stones at officers and vandalizing a patrol car. Protesters in Panama’s western provinces of Veraguas and Chiriquí erected roadblocks along the Interamerican Highway over the weekend, causing traffic congestion and disrupting supply chains throughout the country. Another group of protesters blocked the Pan-American Highway with burning objects in the La Doña area of Panama City on July 12, interrupting local traffic. In an attempt to calm the unrest, government officials have announced austerity measures that include a 10% cut in government payroll and price caps on fuel and certain food items. However, it remains unclear if the government actions will be adequate to quell the protests, as Panamanians have held similar demonstrations denouncing inflation and surging commodity prices – triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – since April. The ongoing strike will have a substantial impact on the construction, foreign trade, shipping and medical care industries as most of the country’s workforce has participated in the work stoppage, and groups of protesters continue to block major routes. In the absence of additional economic measures deemed satisfactory by the leaders of labor organizations, protests are expected to continue across the country in the near-to-medium term.
Europe: Extreme Temperatures Trigger Devastating Wildfires
At least 1,744 wildfires have erupted across Europe in recent weeks as drought and high temperatures have persisted, threatening local economies and forcing numerous evacuations. The fires have left at least nine people dead, more than 150 others injured and burnt over 343,000 hectares across the region. High impact areas include the Iberian peninsula – particularly Portugal and Spain – while Greece, France, and Italy have also experienced a string of forest fires. The Portuguese government has declared a State of Contingency until July 15 as 1,700 firefighters continue to battle 14 active blazes across the country. In Spain, a wildfire in the eastern region of Extremadura has destroyed 2,500 hectares of land and prompted the evacuation of at least 400 residents. The regions of Castille, Leon and Ourense have been put on red alert amid anticipated temperatures of 42 °C (107.6 °F). Wildfires in France’s southwestern region of Gard have burnt more than 1,700 hectares, triggered power outages in parts of Landiras and prompted evacuations of thousands of local residents and tourists. Italy has declared a state of emergency in five areas surrounding the river Po – the region responsible for roughly a third of the country’s agricultural production. The area is suffering its worst drought in 70 years, and local authorities have imposed limits on personal and agricultural water usage. Wildfires have also continued throughout Greece, with cumulative burnt areas reaching 4,002 hectares. While the full extent of the regionwide economic impact remains unclear, the fires have likely caused significant property and infrastructure damage and substantially impacted agricultural lands and harvests. As extreme heat, high winds and drought persist throughout western and southern Europe, the threat of wildfires spreading to neighboring countries remains high.