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Forecast Podcast: Shocking surge in Haiti gang violence leaves hundreds dead and thousands stuck in crossfire

Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Jaime Calle Moreno discuss a surge of gang violence in Haiti, plus more on Los Angeles considering a mask mandate, South Korea’s first lunar exploration mission, a vote in Kansas concerning abortion and Hungary’s controversial prime minister speaking at a conservative conference in Texas.

These stories and more are also available in our weekly Forecast email and you can subscribe for free.

This episode was produced with work from Factal editors David Wylie, Vivian Wang, Joe Veyera, Jess Fino and Jaime Calle Moreno.  Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe

Have feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed? Drop us a note: hello@factal.com.


Forecast Podcast Transcript

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.

JIMMY LOVAAS, HOST:

Welcome to the Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories and what they mean from the editors at Factal. I’m Jimmy Lovaas.

Today is July 28th.

In this week’s forecast we’ve got Los Angeles considering a mask mandate, South Korea’s first lunar exploration mission, a vote in Kansas concerning abortion, Hungary’s controversial prime minister speaking at a conservative conference in Texas and a look at surging gang violence in Haiti. 

You also can read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you can find a link to in the show notes.

Los Angeles mask mandate

Information compiled by David Wyllie

JIMMY: Officials in Los Angeles County, the most populous county in the United States, well, they may reinstate a public indoor mask mandate on Friday.

Coronavirus cases in LA County have flattened in recent days, but Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said cases at a community level must decline to “medium” by today to avoid a mask mandate tomorrow. 

Still, given the decline in cases over recent days, she said that the county may be in the position to hold off on a mandate.

Now, current guidelines say masks should be worn in indoor public places and masks must be worn in high risk settings such as on public transport, in airports and in seniors centers. 

A new mask mandate would mean anyone over the age of 2 has to wear them in indoor environments including shared office spaces, restaurants and bars. Nonetheless, some cities in Los Angeles County may choose not to enforce it.

South Korea’s first lunar exploration mission launches

Information compiled by Vivian Wang

JIMMY: South Korea is set to launch its first ever moon mission on Tuesday. The lunar orbiter, nicknamed “Danuri,” will be carried aboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

South Korea has made expanding its space program a priority recently, successfully launching its first domestically made rocket, the “Nuri,” just last month. That made the country just the seventh nation ever to independently launch a homegrown rocket carrying a satellite weighing at least one ton into space. 

New President Yoon Suk-yeol has vowed to begin a “space economy” era for the country, aiming for South Korea to develop a lunar lander by 2031.

Now, South Korea building a robust and successful space program, as envisioned by the government, could create friction with its neighbor North Korea. The reclusive regime has already slammed the Nuri rocket launch as hypocritical. 

South Korea is also planning to launch its first domestically-made spy satellite next year, in a project to place five of them into orbit by 2025. 

Kansas abortion amendment

Information compiled by Joe Veyera

JIMMY: On Tuesday, voters in Kansas will be the first to weigh in on possible abortion restrictions since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June. 

The vote is on a proposed amendment to the state’s constitution.

Of course, in the wake of the Supreme Court decision several states, primarily in the South and Midwest, have enacted significant restrictions on the procedure, mostly in the form of trigger laws. 

In Kansas, the right to an abortion is enshrined in the constitution, while neighboring Missouri and Oklahoma now have near-total bans on the books. 

The latest public polling shows a tight race in Kansas with the yes campaign holding a slight lead, but enough undecided voters remaining to swing the result. 

Now, if voters approve the amendment, abortion would remain legal in the state in the short-term, but politicians would have significantly more power to enact new restrictions. 

Thus far, anti-abortion advocates have remained quiet on what limits they may seek

On a national level, the result of the vote may also indicate how big of a role abortion rights may play in the November midterms.

Hungary’s Viktor Orban speaks at CPAC

Information compiled by Jess Fino

JIMMY: Hungary’s controversial Prime Minister Viktor Orban will give a speech at the U.S. Conservative Political Action Conference next week. Better known as CPAC, the event for conservative activists kicks off in Dallas next Thursday.  

The invite doesn’t come as a complete surprise, considering the nationalist leader gave a speech during the first CPAC conference to take place in Europe in Budapest back in May. 

Orban, whose rule has included crackdowns on immigration and press freedom, said at the time that conservatives across Europe and the United States must “take back” institutions in Washington and Brussels. 

He called for coordinating the “movement of our troops” ahead of 2024 – a year in which we’ll see the U.S presidential election and the vote for the European Parliament.

Now, Orban’s speech at CPAC comes amid outrage over recent comments by the far-right prime minister railing against “race mixing” in Europe. It’s anyone’s guess if he’ll bring that up in Dallas.

The speech is expected to include some topics already brought up in his address in May, including gender, “cancel culture” and the media. 

The four-day event, headlined by former U.S President Donald Trump, will also feature several other international figures, including former leader of U.K.’s Brexit Party Nigel Farage.

Haiti gang violence

Information compiled by Jaime Calle Moreno

JIMMY: Our last item for this forecast is on the deadly surge of gang violence in Haiti. For more on that I spoke with Factal Editor Jaime Calle Moreno.

JIMMY: Hello, Jaime. 

JAIME: Hi, Jimmy, how are you?

JIMMY: I’m well. Hey, seems like a pretty dire situation is underway in Haiti right now. The reports on the recent violence have been nothing short of shocking, really. What can you tell us about it? What’s going on?

JAIME: Yeah, so it’s been pretty harrowing to follow. Starting July 8 until around July 17, the UN reported that over 200 people were killed and another 250 people either injured or feared missing in that small 10-day span. The most recent violence happened specifically in the Brooklyn neighborhood of this larger Cité Soleil area, which is this really small commune in Port-au-Prince. The ongoing territorial war in this neighborhood has been between two large and really well armed criminal gangs, one called G9 An Fanmi and the other G-PEP, both of which have been repeatedly linked to opposing sides of the political spectrum in Haiti, and from what I’ve seen have been recruiting substantially in 2022. The criminal gangs reportedly began killing anyone they suspected of aiding the other which created this almost civil war-like environment for those nightmarish 10 days.

JIMMY: I’m sure most of our listeners have heard of Port-au-Prince and Haiti, but I suspect many may not be familiar with Cité Soleil. Can you tell us about that?

JAIME: Yeah, of course. So, Cité Soleil is a very densely populated and extremely poor commune in the capital’s northwest and was dubbed by the UN in 2004 as “the most dangerous place on Earth.” It borders the Toussaint-Louverture Airport and, while population estimates are difficult to ascertain, it houses anywhere from 200,000 to 500,000 people. It started being populated in the late 50s and early 60s and very quickly became, for lack of a better word, a shanty town that, due to arsons in other neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince, allowed people to flock to areas such as Brooklyn and also another one called Boston. Houses are made with scavenged materials and metal and the neighborhood lives in pretty dire conditions. There’s large waste seen in the streets and few have access to clean water, public sanitation facilities, and there’s rampant unemployment in the neighborhood. It’s also been historically stricken by a multitude of gangs. Around 30 of them operated in the area and looting, kidnapping, extortion, murder, shootings – you name it have been prevalent for decades. These gangs have held close to official rule of different regions within this area and with backing from these different political parties and exercising that control, funding has been continuously growing. Police are reportedly rarely patrolling the densely packed streets there, and the UN’s Stabilization Mission conducted a series of operations in the early 2000s to try and wrest control from the gangs and kind of bring some type of control back to Haiti’s central government. The UN operations were to some extent a success. They were able to get some control back, but the situation now, hampered by various earthquakes and lack of central authority, has to a larger degree allowed really, really well-resourced gangs to take back control again.

JIMMY: You know, besides just the really tragic human toll of all this, what kind of impact is the region seeing, you know, beyond all that?

JAIME: Yeah, so there has been widespread and indiscriminate killings, and so thousands of people have been reportedly trapped in their homes trying to stay away from the violence anywhere they can. Houses have been burned and others have been entirely displaced. Additionally, thousands more have been completely closed off to access to water, medicine, and food, that are partly due to the situation within Cité Soleil, but also because the aid typically is slow to arrive, and partly due to the gangs themselves. Now, gang members have blocked routes and access to the country’s three main oil terminals and so what you have is this massive fuel shortage in a country where diesel completely powers electricity. This has been felt across not just the capital, but also the country. And so coastal and inland cities remain without any access to fuel. This has also caused black market prices for fuel to skyrocket additionally. Also, this isn’t the first widespread instance of violence the capital has seen and by no means is Cité Soleil the only area to see it. Areas such as Martissant and Croix-des-Bouquets are entrenched in gang warfare. These are areas in which gang control is more prevalent than government presence itself. In late April, dozens of people were killed in similar territorial fighting by the 400 Mawozo gang. And in June, gang members attacked the country’s Palace of Justice and ended up occupying it for weeks. It’s pretty easy to see that gang violence then is extremely rampant. And additionally, this means the situation for civilians caught in the crossfire is, as you say, extremely dire. This leads to even more Haitians migrating elsewhere. And since they do this by any means necessary, they involve themselves in these difficult journeys to get to the US and then it further entrenches them in a very, very difficult situation.

JIMMY: What’s the outlook like? Is there any chance we’ll see something resembling peace anytime soon?

JAIME: Well, with these multiple gangs vying for control of various neighborhoods across the capital the situation is extremely fragile and, unfortunately, it seems like it’s going to remain. A weak central government under the auspices of current [acting] President Ariel Henry relies heavily on international aid, especially when it comes to funding the police force dedicated to trying to stop these mass surges of violence. The assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July of 2021 did the same and further depleted and weakened the central government, already battling an uphill battle. Any foreign aid as well has been either, sort of, unsuccessful in alleviating the current crisis, slow at best, or just entirely futile. For example, amid multiple humanitarian shipments, the UN unanimously voted to ban the sale of small arms, ammunition, and light weaponry to what they deemed to be Haitian non-state actors, but stopped short of a full weapons embargo because China vetoed it during the vote. Now, with that occupation that I mentioned of the Palace of Justice for weeks in the capital, hundreds of documents were seized, case files burned, and so while it’s been retaken by security forces, any attempts of trials and hearings have been postponed or completely ignored, which has left hundreds in pretrial detentions that, in terms of humane conditions, leave a lot to be desired. It’s very difficult to see any positives arising in the near future. And, you know, hopefully we could see a winding down of violent activity or some sort of UN or politically brokered deal in which gangs agree to allow residents and civilians of Cité Soleil and other areas to vacate, which is something that Doctors Without Borders and other humanitarian groups have been calling for. But this is just very unlikely in general.

JIMMY: Well, considering all that, you know, what do you think folks should be watching for next?

JAIME: You know, the current predicament is an extremely difficult one to tackle for really any government or police force. You have widespread shortages in every necessity and rampant poverty before, and of course after, the violence, with so many young men joining gangs. To them, it feels like the only avenue to take control and to gain something for themselves. Now, the more gang members, the more violence ensues, the longer the country takes to return to a relatively stable point, albeit with the same underlying conditions that fueled the conflict in the first place. I think fighting between gangs is undoubtedly going to continue. I mean, just as we speak here now, suspected G9 gang members set fire to a cathedral in central Port-au-Prince and clashed with other gangs throughout the night. I think people should therefore be watching heightened violent activity in specific areas such as Cite Soleil, Martissant, La Saline and Croix-des-Bouquets. These are all areas of Port-au-Prince itself. There will be some sort of respite in between attacks and clashes where food and supplies arriving from the UN and from Doctors Without Borders will somewhat alleviate the environment. But again, fuel and food blockades, attacks on humanitarian convoys of shipments are not completely out of the picture. And so that may be something that we see more of in the future. As is normally seen with these levels of violence, many Haitians will resolve to attempt illegal migrations or apply for asylum once out of the country. And this, of course, can lead to more Haitians taking part in migrant caravans, more incidents out at sea, and just other effects of large migratory movements. Yet, again, as we’re seeing elsewhere, many of these same people won’t be allowed into the countries that they’re trying to move to and will continue to be repatriated back to Haiti. Another thing is that police forces will probably be more aggressive in their daily operations, and so clashes between police and gang members will also continue more fervently than before. Overall, it’s a pretty rough situation that they’re in.

JIMMY: Well, Jaime, we’re out of time, but I really do appreciate your help explaining all this today. Such a serious situation that really needs more attention. Thanks for catching us up to speed.

JAIME: Thank you for having me, Jimmy. 

JIMMY: Take care.


 JIMMY: Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors David Wyllie, Vivian Wang, Joe Veyera and Jess Fino. Our interview featured editor Jaime Calle Moreno and our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

Until next time, thanks for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. You can, of course, subscribe for free. And if you have feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing hello@factal.com.

This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed.

Top photo: Trash accumulates in December 2021 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, which suffers from inadequate garbage collection and sanitation amid waves of gang violence. (Photo: César Muñoz Acebes / Human Rights Watch)

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