Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Jaime Calle Moreno discuss how Haiti's ongoing gang war is threatening to drag the country deeper into chaos, plus more on heavy rains in Pakistan, elections in Gabon and Singapore and U.S. student loan interest resuming.
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This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Jaime Calle Moreno, Awais Ahmad, Sophie Perryer, Jess Fino and Jeff Landset. Produced and edited by Jimmy Lovaas. Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe.
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Copyright © 2023 Factal. All rights reserved.
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 Aug. 24.
In this week’s forecast we’ve got gang wars in Haiti, heavy rains in Pakistan, elections in Gabon and Singapore and U.S. student loan interest resuming.
You can also read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you can find a link to in the show notes.
Information compiled by Jimmy Lovaas
JIMMY: Up first, we’ll take a look at the deadly gang wars that are threatening to plunge Haiti deeper into chaos. For more on that I’ve got fellow Factal editor Jaime Calle Moreno.
JIMMY: Hello, Jaime.
JAIME: Hi, Jimmy, how's it going?
JIMMY: Good. Glad you're here. We've been seeing a pretty troubling uptick in violence in Haiti recently and I'm, well, I've been anxious to have you on to talk about it. To start, can you kind of give us a bit of a recap or some background?
JAIME: Yeah, of course, Jimmy. So, since the last time we spoke about Haiti, which I think was last year, the situation has not improved whatsoever, really. And to give you a quick snapshot of the current situation, large parts of Port-au-Prince, the capital, by up to some reports of 80%, are now being controlled directly by criminal gangs, with gunshots and continued insecurity, including kidnappings, sexual abuse. These are happening every day at this point across large swathes of the city and also in other larger population areas. Criminal gangs are becoming much more brazen in the way they operate. They're well equipped with large arsenals of weaponry, even using drones in some instances. And unfortunately, there's a steady stream of members from quite a youthful recruiting pool across cities that feel that they're disenfranchised, disillusioned and very much economically marginalized because of the general dire situation that the country is in. This is paired with the public being fed up with Ariel Henry's management of the country's current predicament. And just to give you one quick estimate, the UN recently came out with a report that said that close to 2,500 people had been killed across the country due to gang violence with more than 900 injured and another 950 kidnapped. What makes the situation much worse is that the country's police force is by all intents and purposes very ill equipped to handle the level of crime scene in the city alone. To give you a little bit of context, there's about 9,000 police officers for the country – entirely – so, for around 11 million people. By comparison, in London alone there's 34,000 and in New York, 36,000. And so this for population areas that are much smaller than than Haiti is. They struggle daily to try and curb the violence and they just don't, by numbers alone, they just don't reach the flashpoints or hotspots in time. And so effectively, it means the country's only avenue for curbing gang violence is being overrun. Add to that, that since January, there hasn't been a single elected official; there's no elections in sight as long as the security panorama continues the way it is. And medical centers, international medical NGOs are also having trouble operating in such rampant levels of crime. And so all in all, Haiti is in a very, very critical state.
JIMMY: And what's the latest? How are things at the moment?
JAIME: Well, since August 10 or 11th, around there, there has been an increasing number of attacks by specific gangs in certain neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince, primarily in areas that are entrances into the rest of the city. This is obviously piled on more necessity for humanitarian assistance in what is already a grave situation. In four or five days between the 10th and 15th of August, the criminal group Gran Ravine, which is from an area called Savane Pistache in the south – this is led by a guy called Renel Destina, whose alias is "Ti Lapli", he's also being sought out by US authorities for kidnapping a US citizen – they entered in these four or five days the Carrefour-Feuilles area, which is just next to Savane Pistache, and began indiscriminately firing guns and burning down houses in what is mostly a kind of show of force for other gangs vying control for these neighborhoods. The shootings continued incessantly for days and the most recent toll from the local NGO indicated that around 31 citizens were killed and that out of those out of those 31, thirteen were burned alive. And these numbers could go even higher, with some residents saying they couldn't count the number of bodies around them. These five or six brutal attacks have led to a major displacement as residents attempted to flee the violence, with pictures showing individuals carrying mattresses, baskets, anything really to try and run away from what was happening around their homes. The latest estimates from the UN migration show that around 5,000 people have fled from Carrefour-Feuilles and surrounding areas alone.
JIMMY: What are the reactions to all this violence been like, you know, both the Haitians themselves and by the international community?
JAIME: So the civilian reaction first. One of the new developments that we've seen this year in the general violence that we're seeing in the country has been the introduction of armed self defense civilian groups – essentially vigilantes – that began taking matters into their own hands, at the lack of a response from police, which is generally how vigilantes groups end up becoming quite prominent is because there's no support really from institutions and civilians feel they have no other recourse available. This movement has been called "Bwa Kale", which means peeled wood, and we started seeing these pop up in April. But in the latter parts of the month, one of the biggest cases of vigilante extrajudicial killings was when 11 alleged gang members had been caught by police. The bus – there was a bus filled with these alleged criminals that had then been taken by civilians who then beat them, burned them alive using tires in what was a very public display. This is just one example of such instances and it really points to how the general public's response is pretty much deteriorating with how the situation is unfolding. Humanitarian need is only growing and it only goes to push further individuals more to the brink of desperation. The public has been crying out for Ariel Henry's departure (the prime minister) and protests have stemmed from more killings. And this is only set to continue as the situation doesn't seem to be improving. On the other side, the international community has begun putting into action a non-UN multinational force that would arrive to Haiti with the sole purpose of curbing gang violence, training local officers and effectively keeping the peace by force. The US has reportedly submitted a draft to the Security Council regarding such a force, or has actively said that they would, with Kenya taking the lead, announcing that after a security assessment was conducted in person, which I think happened in the last week around Monday I believe, they would commit to sending 1,000 Kenyan police officers to Haiti to attempt to stop the violence that way and also training officers, and the like. It's difficult to be able to tell whether or not this will be accepted by other countries as, kind of, calls for this multinational force had been ongoing since October of last year. The UN has also, alongside its Secretary General Guterres, have been repeatedly calling for this to happen, emphasizing that it wouldn't be directed and operated by the UN, but that it remains absolutely necessary for Haiti to turn the corner. Needless to say, though, Hait’s experience with foreign intervention is fraught with issues. It’s led – from 2005 to 2017 it led to a massive cholera outbreak that killed, I think at least 10,000 people. There's been numerous colonial interventions in its long history that left the country worse off than before and it's left a really bad image of peacekeeping missions, let alone an actual military or policing force. A multinational force of this kind would not be well-seen by local residents and it would not be surprising to see very large protests because of it, as well as a very committed effort by criminal gangs to kick them out of the country, something that one of the gang leaders named "Barbecue" [aka Jimmy Chérizier] has already said. It would undoubtedly lead to more widespread violence.
JIMMY: Well, I know you can't predict the future, but what do you think folks should be watching for next?
JAIME: Well, unfortunately, Jimmy, it's bad to say, but more violence and insecurity is bound to happen with more shootings, kidnappings, instances of extrajudicial vigilante killings, robberies, sexual violence – you name it. Gangs, like I mentioned before, have more power than ever in these neighborhoods and from what the past weeks tell us, they have no qualms in showing that force through indiscriminate violence. It is yet to be seen whether, firstly, the international community accepts the idea of a multinational policing force in Haiti, and secondly, you know, what exactly that force looks like? What countries would join in? How expansive would their operations be? Where would they be based? All of these questions are yet to be answered. And so it's difficult to foresee how that policing force would actually function. Nevertheless, even with a major global policing force present in Haiti, the violence is not likely to stop. And unfortunately, the violence affects every aspect of the country: its agricultural production, its ability to transport fuel across large parts of the country itself, sanitation services, clinics and hospitals, the mired political situation that really hasn't changed whatsoever because of the large levels of violence. Pair this with incoming tropical storms, adverse weather and the possibility of more natural disasters that Haiti has already experienced. There really is no real respite for Haiti on the horizon.
JIMMY: Well, we'll stop there for today. But as usual, I thank you so much for getting us caught up and what we need to know and always appreciate your time on here, Jaime.
JAIME: Thanks for having me, Jimmy.
JIMMY: Take care.
Heavy rains expected across Pakistan
Information compiled by Awais Ahmad
JIMMY: Pakistan’s meteorological department is warning of potential urban flooding and landslides this weekend. That, due to monsoon rains expected across large parts of the country.
Monsoon currents from the Arabian Sea, combined with a westerly wave, are bringing heavy rains to the country’s north, including Pakistan-held Kashmir and Islamabad.
Heavy rains are also forecast for parts of Balochistan and southern Punjab beginning tomorrow.
Dam owners have been urged to monitor reservoir levels and farmers being advised to use caution.
This new spell comes after more than 23,000 people were evacuated along the Sutlej River in Punjab due to the risk of flooding by rising water levels.
Now, while the monsoon rains have not brought the catastrophic destruction of last year, the national disaster agency has reported that more than 200 people have died and 300 injured since the start of the monsoon season, with the province of Punjab reporting the highest tolls.
The province of Balochistan has seen the worst structural damage due to poor infrastructure, with nearly 4,200 homes damaged or destroyed since June.
Information compiled by Sophie Perryer
JIMMY: Gabon will have elections on Saturday.
Bongo entered office in 2009, succeeding his father, Omar Bongo, who had ruled the oil-rich Central African nation since 1967.
In 2018, he suffered a stroke which forced him to retire from public life for several months to recover.
Of course, it was during his respite, soldiers from the Republican Guard staged what turned out to be an unsuccessful coup attempt.
Now, despite allegations of corruption and enduring unemployment and poverty, Bongo is the favorite candidate in Saturday’s poll.
His Gabonese Democratic Party is also expected to retain a majority in the country’s legislature.
Several opposition parties agreed on Aug. 19 to form a coalition known as Alternance 2023 and unite behind a single candidate to avoid splitting the vote.
Still, a challenger victory remains unlikely.
Singapore presidential election
Information compiled by Jess Fino
JIMMY: Voters in Singapore will also elect a new president next Friday.
In the previous election in 2017, Halimah Yacob was the only candidate to qualify for the vote, becoming the first female president in the country.
This time, three candidates have joined the race, including former Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, former chief investment officer at wealth fund GIC Ng Kok Song, and former chief executive of insurer NTUC Income Tan Kin Lian.
Now, more than 2.7 million people are expected to vote in this third presidential election since the public was given the right to vote in 1991.
This year’s election will be open to all ethnicities after the race was reserved in 2017 for members of the minority Malay community, who had not held the presidency since 1970.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, member of the ruling party People's Action Party, recently said the party has been hurt by a series of scandals and resignations.
U.S. student loan interest resumes
Information compiled by Jeff Landset
JIMMY: Millions of Americans are a step closer to restarting payments on student loans.
Beginning Friday, federal student loan interest will resume.
The U.S. government froze payments on federal student loans in March of 2020 and set interest rates to 0 percent in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Lawmakers then extended the freeze nine times over the course of three years.
What’s more, lawmakers won’t be able to pause payments again due to a provision in the latest debt ceiling deal.
The Biden administration promised a “Plan B” for student debt relief “as quickly as possible under the law.”
Now, millions of households will soon feel a financial strain they haven’t felt in several years.
They will need to allocate a portion of their paychecks to paying off student loans when payments are due in October.
Undoubtedly, some borrowers will say they’ll need to choose between paying off debts and buying groceries.
It also means other debts, like credit card or mortgage payments, may become delinquent.
Finally, analysts say once payments resume, it'll also likely mean a hit to the retail sector.
JIMMY: As always, thank you for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast and newsletter each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. Please subscribe and review wherever you find your podcasts. We’d love it if you’d consider telling a friend about us.
Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors Awais Ahmad, Sophie Perryer, Jess Fino and Jeff Landset. Our interview featured editor Jaime Calle Moreno and the podcast is produced and edited by me – Jimmy Lovaas. Our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.
Until next time, if you have any feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing email@example.com
This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed.
Copyright © 2023 Factal. All rights reserved.
Music: 'Factal Theme' courtesy of Andrew Gospe