For Marine biologist, Haitian gangs make work dangerous

Thanks to Jean Wiener, a marine biologist, fishermen from both Haiti and Dominican Republic recently shared their grievances in a rare encounter.

For Marine biologist, Haitian gangs make work dangerous

PEPILLO SALCEDO (Dominican Republic) -- Thanks to Jean Wiener, a marine biologist, fishermen from both Haiti and Dominican Republic recently shared their grievances in a rare encounter.

Wiener was able to oversee the meeting with Dominican naval officers armed with rifles. Wiener has been forced from his home in Bethesda (Maryland) to help preserve this biologically fragile region due to rampant violence in Haiti. The prize-winning biologist, now standing in the Caribbean heat at the mouth a spot called the Massacre River tried to find a solution to save both their lives and vital marine resources in an area under extreme climate change pressure.

Rodolfo Jimenez said that "constant fishing or overfishing in these areas have decimated an entire ecosystem." The director of an agricultural border program in the Dominican Republic, Rodolfo Jimenez, stated that the Haitian fishermen stood directly in front of Jimenez on the shore. They also claimed that they weren't responsible for the destruction in the Monte Cristi National Park, northwestern Dominican Republic.

Wiener's work has gained in importance over the years, in large part due to charcoal vendors in Haiti, who cut down trees for fuel and then wade into mangroves in the country, which are tropical vegetation that protects against the increasingly destructive hurricanes in the Caribbean. Haiti's coastline is becoming increasingly vulnerable to the increasing severity of ocean storms.

Wiener, the leader of Foundation for the Protection of Marine Biodiversity (FPMB), made the trip for the first time since November 2021. His absence was largely due to the violence that has engulfed the capital of Haiti in recent years, and even reached some rural areas. The government is already nominally present and was further undermined by the July 2021 assassination in his bedroom of President Jovenel Moise. Wiener's absence has been largely attributed to the violent gangs that have engulfed the capital and reached parts of the countryside. He now only visits Haiti a few times per year and must work remotely, delegating more responsibility to his staff scattered throughout the country. Haiti is too dangerous to travel otherwise. When he does arrive, as he did for three week in March, he travels through Haiti via puddle-jumper airplane. Traveling by road is dangerous, as major roads are blocked by gangs that love extortion. Many passengers make their way into cars, lying on the backseat.

Jean and others around the globe are faced with this conundrum. Climate change is playing a larger role in conflicts. This makes it harder to conduct scientific research and work on projects to mitigate the effects of climate. Global Witness, an environmental group, released a report last January stating that 2020 saw a record amount of environmental activists die. The death toll of 227 was also the highest recorded for a second year. Colombia had the highest number with 65 and Mexico the second with 30.

"The extent to the which failed states make a difficult for scientists and international scientific community to work with these issues simply means that it will be harder to solve these problems," stated Peter Gleick (president emeritus) and senior fellow at the Pacific Institute, an Oakland-based research organization that focuses on water issues worldwide.

Jessica Olcott Yllemo, senior associate for climate security at American Security Project, a Washington, D.C. nonpartisan group, stated: "If temperatures continue to rise, and you don’t have basic functions, because you don’t have a functioning Government, climate kind of just exacerbates all those different threats and hazards."

The U.S. indicated in several October reports that climate change would be a key part of its security strategy. This shift is a sign that climatic changes are exacerbated by long-standing issues. One study identified 11 countries as being of "greatest concern" because they were particularly vulnerable to climate change, and therefore unable to address the associated problems. Haiti was one of them.

Kidnappings have been going on for years and increased after the 2017 departure from a U.N. peacekeeping force. 16 Americans, five children and one Canadian were among a group that was abducted by the 400 Mawozo gang in October. They were held hostage for two months. Untold numbers of Haitian Americans have been abducted.

Fighting between 400 Mawozo and another gang resulted in the displacement of thousands and the death of at least 20 people, including six children, this week north of Port-au-Prince's capital. Officials warned that roads leading to Haiti's northern regions could be closed due to fighting. This is similar to what happened to the thoroughfare going south.

The March meeting Wiener established was at the beach of an estuary that could be easily reached by both sides, only a few steps from the Dominican border. The meeting took place on Thursday morning. A white mangrove provided shade for Wiener, the fishermen, their associations, and some environmental officials from both countries. A string of wooden posts stood behind them, used to hold seines for catching fish.

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