Haiti carrying on in spite of homeland violence
Armed members of G9 and Family (a criminal federation of nine of the strongest gangs in Haiti's capital of Port-au-Prince) march in protest against Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on Tuesday, September 19.(Photo: AP)

HAITI senior national men's football team Head Coach Gabriel Calderón says although the team is not directly hampered by the violence in their homeland, playing home games in the Dominican Republic is not ideal.

Haiti's home fixtures in the 2023-24 Concacaf Nations League have been moved to the Dominican Republic, its neighbour on the island of Hispaniola, because of gang violence and political protests that have been taking place in the country for over two years.

One of those games, a 0-0 draw with Cuba, has already been played and Calderón says the team was not pleased with the facilities offered to it at Pan American Stadium in San Cristóbal.

"To play in the Dominican Republic is not good at all for us," Calderón said after the team's 2-2 draw with Jamaica in Kingston on September 12. "The level of the stadium, the conditions, the infrastructure, the way to go to the field, I think is not according to a high level — to a professional level, to League A of the Nations League. This is a negative point that has a big impact on our performance so I think, hopefully, we can change the place to play at home. Haiti's not possible, of course, but we will try to find other places. We will try."

Jamaica striker Shamar NIcholson (right) turns away from Haiti defender Ricardo Adé (left), whose teammate Jeppe Friborg (centre) looks on during their Concacaf Nations League game at the National Stadium in Kingston on Tuesday, September 12. (Photo: Joseph Wellington)

The tension in Haiti escalated with the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in 2021 as gangs then went to war over territories, seeking to gain power and autonomy through gun and drug smuggling, extortion, and kidnapping.

As a result, numerous Haitians have left the island on boats, seeking refuge in other neighbouring territories. Jamaica has been one of these territories; its Government sent 36 Haitians back to their homeland earlier this month.

The Dominican Republic also closed its borders to Haitians but this is because of a conflict over the construction of a canal with regards to using water from the Massacre River, which runs through both countries. The canal is being built because of a drought in Haiti's Maribaroux plain.

A Haitian National Police document says 22 officers have been killed in the violence in 2023, adding to what it says are dozens killed in previous years. A lack of funding for the police force and administrative challenges have meant it has been unable to respond to the violence across the country.

This has then led to vigilante groups being formed to fight the gangs, leaving not only gang members dead, but citizens as well. The United Nations says over 850 Haitians were killed in violence in the first four months of 2023, adding to a tally in the thousands since the start of the uprising.

This has forced the national team, whose members all play overseas, to meet for camp only in countries where their upcoming matches take place.

"We don't have a place to train right now, that's the reality," Calderón said. "We are a difficult country. You know the situation and we adapt — but this is not a problem. We work very well, we perform. Even in the [Concacaf] Cup, we performed very well. No problem, we adapt. There's no excuse for anything."

Haiti has played six games since Calderón's appointment in May. In addition to the Nations League draws they won an international friendly with a 3-1 scoreline over St Kitts and Nevis, and a Gold Cup game 2-1 against Qatar. Their two losses also came in the Gold Cup, to Mexico (3-1), and Honduras (2-1).

But he says the team is not distracted by the uprising back home.

"It doesn't affect us," he said. "We are strong, we are mentally ready; we adapt to any situation. The team is very strong. We always are motivated. I always want more. I demand everything from everybody — you could see it in the field. A fighting team with young players, with new players was not easy, so we could do it."

Haiti's two goals were scored early in their draw with Jamaica. Don Louicius scored Haiti's goals in the 12th and 15th minutes, then Haiti's Ricardo Adé put Jamaica on the scoresheet with an own goal in the 51st minute. Bobby Decordova-Reid equalised from the penalty spot in the 83rd minute.

Haiti's next game is in Suriname on October 11, then they face Jamaica in the Dominican Republic three days later.

BY RACHID PARCHMENT Digital sports coordinator parchmentr@jamaicaobserver.com

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