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Author Fritznel Octave shares why Haiti needs a real cure that will address the roots of the problem.

How would you describe the root causes of Haiti’s current economic and security plight, especially the level of control that gangs are able to exert?

What are the potential benefits and risks of an international police deployment, especially given Haiti’s difficult legacy with foreign intervention and presence?

Why might such a decision be seen as controversial by some Haitians, and what do you feel is the best path to success?

These are the multimillion-dollar questions that people have been throwing at me from left to right this week. They are asking these questions in light of the recent approval from the UN Security Council on October 2, 2023, of an international police mission – Multinational Security Support (MSS) – led by Kenyan forces to shore off security and curtail gang violence in Haiti.

No one can truly answer these questions without being seen as controversial. The debate about Haiti has always been subject to polarization both nationally and internationally. However, looking at history and the context of Haiti’s multifaceted crises, one can suggest that to really solve its problems the country does not need just another foreign intervention.

First of all, Haiti’s current economic and security plight is deeply rooted in a long legacy of unresolved socio-political, cultural, and economic conflicts among Haitians themselves. These internal conflicts have resulted from the will of a tiny minority of the elites to oppose any form of progressive change in favor of the common good. The majority of Haitians have been forever trapped between the daily fight to survive and the interests of their oppressors manifested in various forms.

Secondly, there is the influence of foreign powers in the context of global dominance. Amid the permanent state of power struggles internally, foreign actors have easily exploited Haiti by influencing generations of bad leaders to implement policies that are detrimental to national interests. The more foreign powers have intervened in Haiti the weaker it has become. The minority elites have been often willing to allow and implement any policy as long as those policies are beneficial to their self-interests. Today, Haiti has no functional institution capable of serving its population adequately. This is a travesty for a country that was once considered a beacon of light to all oppressed people around the world.

The issue of gangs’ control over Haiti, notably Port-au-Prince – the capital – is the symptom of a resilient disease: the permanent fight among factions of stakeholders for control over the destiny of the impoverished and damned majority.  This fight can be traced all the way back to 1806 when the tiny elite decided to assassinate the Haitian revolutionary leader, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, just so they could make Haiti a country for the benefit of a few, in contrary to the ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity that should have inspired its construction. 

In the actual context, there may be some short-term and long-term benefits for Haiti from an international police deployment. But again, the question is: have the actors learned from the past? Have they evaluated the reasons behind the failures of past interventions?

In the short term, as was the case in 2004 after the resignation of Former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide followed by generalized chaos and uncertainty, an international police deployment in Haiti can quickly help the Haitian authorities regain control from gangs, re-establish order, security, and calm throughout the country. Similarly, assisted by the international police, the national police can become more capable of presiding over a secured climate for new elections to take place soon. Haiti has been without elected officials for more than two years. There is no parliament. The executive branch of government has been run by de facto Prime Minister Ariel Henry who is often invisible. An international police force can urgently help create confidence for the Haitian people knowing that they can go back to a normal life. Additionally, a safer environment created by the presence of international police can inspire confidence among Haitians to be engaged in real and necessary socio-political dialogue for the resolution of their problems.

In the long term, Haiti can benefit from the reinforcement and professional training of its national police. That’s one of the areas where past international interventions have always failed. Foreign presence often makes national institutions become more and more dependent. As those international inventions do not often provide much sustainable support in terms of professional training, materials, and equipment, once they leave, Haiti always falls backward in worse shape than before. Repeating the same cycle constitutes the main risk in making the decision to authorize another international intervention in the country. Another multinational police mission led this time by Kenya might find Haitians very difficult to deal with. Traditionally, Haitians do not cultivate a great deal of respect for foreign polices other than that of the United States. It could be very hard for the mission to be successful without the presence of the United States in it.

Generally speaking, Haitians do not see foreign interventions, of any kind, as an honorable thing. For some Haitians, this is a poison pill to swallow. To others, this is a necessary evil to resign with because Haiti’s leadership failed them. Haitians consider foreign police or military presence on the national soil as an insult to the heroes of independence who shed blood, sweat, and tears to give them that land and, more importantly, their liberty, freedom, natural rights, and self-determination as a people. Additionally, the legacy of foreign interventions is considered a heavy burden on the country. The last mission to Haiti, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), stayed in Haiti from 2004 to 2017. Some of the soldiers were accused of all sorts of human rights violations including rape and murder, and caused a cholera outbreak that killed nearly 10,000 people. 

Many Haitians are against such a decision because they strongly fear that history will repeat itself.

Since Haiti is in a de facto and out-of-control state, it needs help. But one that can help set the nation on a path to sustain a functional and effective government for the long term, not a band-aid solution through international police presence. The best path to success goes necessarily through a process of soul-searching; one that encourages constructive dialogues among Haitians to reconcile their differences, and then work together and agree on a plan for a durable solution. We need to understand what has gone wrong with Haiti and what needs to be done so that we don’t continue to be falling backward, repeating the same vicious cycle. I am afraid that the actors have not yet committed to follow that pathway.

Fritznel Octave

Author of Haiti Between Pestilence and Hope

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