Latin America Advisor

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Would Intervention by Foreign Troops Help Stabilize Haiti?

Photo of Ariel Henry Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry has called for a foreign military intervention in order to stabilize the country, which is beset by a cholera outbreak, as well as shortages of food and fuel after gang members blocked a key fuel terminal. // File Photo: Haitian Government.

Haiti, gripped by criminal organizations and on the brink of a humanitarian disaster, appealed to the international community earlier this month for a foreign armed intervention and aid to help stabilize the country. The U.N. Security Council last Friday unanimously approved sanctions against powerful Haitian gang leader Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, and U.S. officials have said the government would revoke the visas of current and former Haitian officials who are involved with gangs. Considering Haiti’s history of foreign interventions, what would be the implications of another intervention, and is it necessary? What is at the root of Haiti’s current crisis, and how is the situation likely to play out? What types of sanctions can be expected, and how would they affect the country economically, as well as its bilateral relations with the United States?

Bocchit Edmond, Haiti’s ambassador to the United States: “This time, an intervention would be different. It would be to buttress the National Police and buy time to beef up security around the country. Also, it would help to restore security to enable the government to organize democratic, free and fair elections within a reasonable time. So, it’s not a classic peacekeeping mission. This crisis is structural in that it dates from Haiti’s founding, the history of social exclusion and the absence of administrative, political and economic modernization. This has fostered corruption and hobbled the state, which has been captured by a sordid mix of political and economic special interests. In the short term, we want to strengthen our security forces’ capacity. In the medium to long term, we want to improve our economy to create jobs for the hundreds of thousands of youths who have been enticed into banditry by the gangs and their enablers. The sanctions, in turn, as stipulated in Resolution 2645 will affect those who finance and arm the gangs, as well as the gangs themselves. These are not sanctions against Haiti itself as a state. The United States is a valuable partner in combating insecurity and providing humanitarian assistance. We count on U.S. customs authorities to interdict arms shipments from its territory, as Haitian customs have found hundreds of weapons, thousands of bullets and related accessories smuggled from the United States in containers and packages sent particularly from South Florida.”

Peter Hakim, member of the Advisor board and president emeritus of the Inter-American Dialogue: “Today, there is no effective path to resolve Haiti’s multiple crises, which are destroying the economy, undermining the remnants of political institutions, and threatening widespread loss of life. That is the basis of a powerful argument that nothing can be accomplished until Haiti’s violent gangs are reined in and their domination of a large share of national territory is ended. Even with increased international funding, the Haitian police and military are far too small, under-funded and poorly trained and equipped to accomplish much on this front. That all means substantial external security support, i.e., ‘boots on the ground,’ are required to rout the gangs—or at least substantially curb their power. There is an obstacle, however. Many, perhaps most, Haitians oppose another foreign intervention, after so many have failed, often leaving Haiti worse off. That history and opposition it provokes also dampens any international inclination to intervene again. My conclusion: if foreign governments and international organizations want seriously to help reverse Haiti’s downward slide and contribute to its orderly development, they, first and foremost, must work patiently with disparate Haitian political, social and economic factions–including the current government, the business community, and a range of civil society groups, especially the Montana group—to help them seek agreement on two vital issues: creating a pathway for presidential and congressional elections in the next year or two and establishing a functioning governing structure until elections determine a new national leadership. This will require collaboration among many countries and a strong U.S. team of diplomats. Washington’s leadership would signal the importance of the twin tasks and bolster Haitian confidence in U.S. commitments. Confidence would be boosted further by far larger-scale international efforts to tackle Haiti’s humanitarian tragedies. Perhaps, such support might even convince Haitian skeptics that a serious amount of external assistance will need to be protected by a sizable contingent of armed force.”

Jacky Lumarque, rector of the Université Quisqueya: “The easily adopted Resolution 2653 by the U.N. Security Council last Friday is a light bandage on a gaping wound. In what sense can the sanctions (asset freeze, travel ban and arms embargo) affect the more than 200 active gangs, which during more than four years of looting and kidnapping have accumulated substantial spoils of war, gaining their autonomy from their sponsors? They operate outside the formal sector, do not travel and do not have bank accounts. Moreover, faced with the grips of gangs on most of the territory, the survival reflex of the population tends to perpetuate a kind of insecurity economics with its products, markets, customers and suppliers, resulting in high transaction costs inaccessible to the population and which only the wealthy can absorb, exacerbating inequalities and destroying the foundations of the economy. The second resolution in preparation by Mexico and the United States for international security assistance recalls the bitter memory of past foreign interventions, whether bilateral or multinational. The dilemma for Haiti is that, faced with the lamentable state of its security apparatus today, many Haitians call for an urgent military intervention to help stop the dangerous progression of the gangs and prevent the humanitarian disaster on the horizon. But make no mistake: a military intervention cannot be a solution. The Haitian crisis goes beyond security and is at the same time social, economic, political and moral. It is the consequence of decades of bad governance, corruption, complicit relations between the authorities and the gangs, systemic social exclusion, a rent-based economic model and inept interference by the international community. It is time to think beyond the humanitarian paradigm that has always guided international aid to Haiti and approach the crisis through a technical assistance to the Haitian security forces backed by a robust program of capacity building and economic and social development. A stone’s throw from the United States, the most prosperous economy on the planet, such a challenge must be within the reach of the international community.” 

Georges Fauriol, fellow at the Caribbean Policy Consortium and senior associate at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS): “The logjam precipitated by the notion of a ‘Haitian-led solution’–as the country spiraled into chaos–was recently broken by having Haiti’s interim prime minister, Ariel Henry, conveniently request international assistance. Henry, scorned by large segments of the public, presides over a nonfunctioning state apparatus competing with a universe of gang networks with political connections and pretentions. The ensuing international hesitation is shaped not only by the checkered outcomes of three recent full-scale interventions (in 1994, 2004 and 2010), but also affected by the disintegration of the Haitian polity–democratic governance/humanitarian rationalizations were plausible in previous interventions but don’t quite fit the picture in 2022. And in the aftermath of the chaotic Afghanistan pull-out, the White House is sensitive to how an operation into Haiti is to be characterized. The United States and international partners are stepping into a governance vacuum more akin to Somalia, in effect a criminalized state with a large community of restive constituencies and the bases for political mobilization. This suggests a ‘calibrated’ response (as characterized by the Biden administration), or more specifically, a four-tiered initiative and a 90-day schedule: 1.) a robust international police force to sustain access to key fuel and shipping terminals; 2.) replenishment of the diminished material stock of destroyed/stolen Haitian National Police vehicles, accompanied by tactical assistance/training teams; 3.) insertion of emergency/medical teams to stabilize what’s left of the medical infrastructure; 4.) active support for a Haitian national consensus dialogue to chart a 2023 governance path–best facilitated through regional partners such as Caricom and others. Achieving results will require continuous engagement by and consensus in Washington.”

Keith Mines, director for Latin America at the United States Institute of Peace: “Haiti is experiencing the greatest crisis of its modern history, in oversimplified terms caused by a breakdown in governance that led to a collapse in public security. Gangs exerted themselves in the vacuum and are using control of food and fuel to exert raw power in a kind of Hobbesian condition as we once saw in Somalia. The power of the gangs can only be broken by a more potent force, and at present there is no mechanism within Haiti to generate that force, thus more and more are calling for foreign intervention. The international community and many Haitians are justifiably cautious about intervention, given the problems some have wrought. But one should remember it was a single contingent that brought cholera and another contingent that brought sexual predations, even as thousands of foreign security personnel served in Haiti with distinction, bringing a transition to democracy, stronger institutions, the space to hold elections and a basic level of security. And ‘intervention’ in the current context can come in many forms; it is not synonymous with occupation. Advisors and trainers to a Haitian force could be the right formula, and the ticket to those advisors and trainers should be creatively considered. For all the white noise surrounding private contractors, they have very effectively brought peace and stability to parts of Darfur, Afghanistan and Haiti itself. But any work on security, aside perhaps from a temporary humanitarian corridor, must be part of a larger process for a political reset that will facilitate a national dialogue leading to a viable election. The bigger danger now is inaction, and the inclination to speak loudly while generating no stick could resign Haiti to months or even years of desperation.”

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