The Biden administration this week sent a delegation to Haiti to discuss ways to help Haiti's police confront gangs that have taken control of most of the struggling nation's capital, Port-au-Prince, deepening a humanitarian crisis in the struggling Caribbean nation. The U.S. is considering Prime Minister Ariel Henry's appeal for an international force to help Haiti's outgunned police fight the gangs, one of which has blockaded the country's main fuel terminal, crippling transport and worsening shortages of food and potable water as Haiti faces its first cholera outbreak in three years. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has urged foreign leaders to answer Henry's call for an international force of specialized troops.
Anti-government protesters are calling for Henry's resignation, and some rights advocates argue against intervention, saying the foreign troops have only added to Haiti's problems. France, Haiti's former colonial ruler, demanded massive reparations in the 19th century that crushed the country with debt. The U.S. occupation from 1915 to 1934 stifled dissent and benefited American businesses. United Nations peacekeepers were blamed for bringing cholera to Haiti and sparking a 2010 outbreak that killed 10,000 people. And some of the U.N. peacekeepers were accused of sexually exploiting and abusing Haitian women and girls. "History has shown us more than once that foreign forces bring us more problems than solutions," Rosy Auguste Ducena, a lawyer and program director at the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights in Haiti, told Al Jazeera. Will a foreign intervention help Haiti, or make matters worse?
Sending a U.N. security force would be a good start
Something must be done to stop "Haiti's convulsive descent into pandemonium following the assassination" of President Jovenel Moïse last year, says The Washington Post in an editorial. The country's "breakdown of infrastructure and public order" has not stopped accelerating since Henry took power, "largely owing to Washington's puppeteering," 15 months ago after Moïse's death. Henry's "unelected, illegitimate government" has "either enabled or promoted the country's dissolution into criminal gang fiefdoms allied with the country's elite," and made "no serious attempt" to curb the violence and prepare for elections to restore some semblance of democracy.
The "descent into pandemonium" is killing people. "Water and fuel supplies have been blocked, schools are closed, grocery stores are mostly shuttered, and a resurgence of cholera is taking its toll." Interventions by the Clinton administration and the United Nations "provided few long-term improvements," and any armed mission to Haiti risks provoking more violence. The world also must remember the "cautionary tale" of the spreading of cholera and sexual abuse by members of the U.N. peacekeepers deployed in Haiti for 13 years, ending in 2017. "Yet weighed against the cratering prospects of a failed state whose main export is asylum seekers, many Haitians would support — if with misgivings — the chance at restoring some semblance of normal life."
What Haiti needs is support controlling its own destiny
"Haiti is in free fall," says Lydia Polgreen in The New York Times. We can agree on that. A gang leader known as Barbecue, whose real name is Jimmy Chérizier, has had his men block the distribution of fuel and food with flaming barricades. Gangs, many linked to political and business leaders, "have all but shut down Haiti's economy," and "hunger is bearing down on many families." Cholera is back. But that doesn't mean letting the "deeply unpopular" prime minister invite yet another armed intervention is the solution. What the world owes Haiti is "First and foremost to leave it alone," and "give Haitians the time, space and support to imagine a different future for their own country."
Dan Foote, a former U.S. special envoy to Haiti, put it this way: "It is time to give the Haitians a chance. What's the worst that can happen? They make it worse than we have?" Fortunately, a broad group of Haitian political parties, trade unions, grassroots groups, and human rights activists has already proposed a "detailed framework for political transition" known as the Montana Accord. It "calls for an appointed interim president" who would lead the country to new elections. The interim leader they chose, former Haitian central bank governor Fritz Jean, has pledged not to run for the presidency. That would be a refreshing change in a country long plagued by "politicians seeking to line their own pockets." The first step toward helping the first Black republic fulfill the promises of its revolution "may be for the rest of us to get out of the way."
Force is a necessary part of any solution
"The failure of Haiti's state is likely imminent," says Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) in The Hill. The country faces a humanitarian crisis and a political disaster, it's true, but sending medical aid and helping to organize elections won't fix anything. "The gangs are the root cause and have increasingly grown in power since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse a year ago. They have now virtually seized Port-au-Prince, most recently blockading the entrance to the Varreux fuel terminal." The apparel industry, Haiti's largest formal-sector employer, "has shuttered factories and faced great operating difficulties due to insecurity." The violence is disrupting food shipments.
"The solution, though not simple, is manageable," Cassidy continued. The United States should respond to the prime minister's request for security assistance by getting the Organization of American States to field "a multilateral force to maintain order in Haiti." Chile and Brazil have experience in Haiti and could pitch in. "The United States, while not sending troops, would support with training, logistics, and funding repurposed from USAID and State Department aid programs in Haiti rendered ineffective in large part due to the environment on the ground." The security forces could secure "critical infrastructure such as the ports, the industrial sector, the electric grid, and the government offices." Once "a semblance of peace has been restored," Cassidy envisions, Haitian leaders could "resume seeking a solution to the political impasse which is exacerbating the security and humanitarian crisis."
Replacing Henry with legitimate leaders is crucial
Haitians do have a lot of decisions to make, says Rosy Auguste Ducena at Just Security. "What kind of international support is needed to restore basic security? How can Haiti effectively mount elections that will inspire trust and participation? How should the country regulate gas prices?" One thing is certain: Ariel Henry is "not the person to decide these questions." He "lacks legitimacy and popular support," and his leadership has been a disaster, leading to a collapsed economy, "daily terrors and privations, and in recent weeks, a new level of crisis and demonstrations in the streets."
"Haiti must return to democratic order, but elections are impossible now, without security and public trust." If the U.S. really wants to help, argues Ducena, it should "stop propping up an illegitimate government preying upon the Haitian people and support the establishment of a representative transitional government. Only a transitional government with broad support will have the legitimacy to stabilize the country and eventually mount participatory elections that can install more effective leaders." And helping to prevent the concentration of power in Henry's hands isn't the only thing Washington can do. A lot of the weapons gang members are using have come through Haitian ports illegally, from the U.S. So, please, "stop the illicit arms flow from the United States to Haiti."