WORSENING CONDITIONS IN HAITI RAISE QUESTIONS ABOUT FOREIGN INTERVENTION
Photo: Prime Minister Ariel Henry, source: Wikipedia
JI-Port-au-Prince,The United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution (UNSCR 2653, 2022) calling for an immediate halt to the criminal violence in Haiti and imposing sanctions on the country’s most powerful gang leader, Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier. The resolution was spurred by a worsening humanitarian crisis in Haiti, where Chérizier’s gang has blockaded the main fuel terminal in the capital, Port-au-Prince, for the past five weeks. With fuel becoming increasingly scarce, many of the country’s essential services have ground to a halt, forcing schools and hospitals to close. The blockade is a response to Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s unpopular decision to eliminate fuel subsidies, which has significantly increased living expenses in Haiti. Former Haitian President Jovenel Moïse tapped Henry as prime minister shortly before his assassination, but had not yet sworn him in. Supported by foreign powers, including the U.S., Henry assumed power despite never being elected. Since then, Haiti has been plagued by uncontrollable gang violence, a cholera outbreak, economic inflation, and protests calling for Henry’s resignation. In recent months, rival gangs, some of which are financed by Haiti’s political and business elite, have fought over territory in Haiti’s capital. The gangs are armed with weapons smuggled from the U.S. and heavily outgun the Haitian National Police, who have been unable to restore order. Controlling dense urban neighborhoods and national highways provides the gangs with sources of revenue but also potential bases of political power, which they can use to help politicians in future elections.
Prior to this recent uptick in violence, which has displaced thousands, Haiti was already grappling with a complex emergency resulting from a series of crises that have left the central government paralyzed and in desperate need of foreign assistance. Since it gained its independence from France in 1804, Haiti has been subjected to numerous foreign interventions, none of which achieved sustainable positive impacts. The most recent, a thirteen-year UN stabilization mission (MINUSTAH), sought to restore public trust in Haiti’s government and rebuild the fractured national police force. In 2010 a devastating earthquake struck the Caribbean state, killing more than 300,000 and displacing 1.3 million Haitians. In response, the U.S. briefly deployed military personnel to assist Haitian and MINUSTAH led recovery efforts. The UN mission came to a controversial end in 2017 after public support soured following several scandals, including accusations of sexual abuse and exploitation by UN personnel and reports that Mission staff were responsible for triggering a deadly outbreak of cholera. Five years later, after President Moïse’s assassination and another deadly earthquake, Haiti remains in the grips of a dire complex emergency.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Henry called for an international deployment of security forces to combat the gangs, which now control large swaths of the country and many neighborhoods within the capital. Henry’s call for foreign intervention has been widely criticized by Haitian civil society organizations and political and social leaders who see him as an unelected and illegitimate leader lacking the mandate required to make decisions that could have grave impacts on Haiti’s sovereignty. The backlash is not, however, limited to Haiti’s political and social elite. Due to the country’s history of colonization and disastrous foreign interference, many Haitian citizens harbor a deep distrust for foreign meddling and reject the notion that another humanitarian intervention will help to reduce violence and corruption in the long term. Henry’s opponents have banded together to form the Montana Accord, a collection of Haitian civil society organizations and political organizations calling for the installment of a two-year transitional government leading up to elections and dismissing any prospect of foreign intervention. Dialogue between Henry’s administration and the Accord members has yet to achieve results and will likely remain deadlocked unless the fuel blockade is lifted and violence surrounding the discussions dissipates.
The inability of the Haitian government to enforce order in its capital has led many to believe Henry’s government will be unable to correct course without foreign assistance. The UN resolution passed last week was one of two drafted by the United States and Mexico in the Security Council. The second resolution, which was not voted on, called for authorization under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter of “a non-UN international security assistance mission to help improve the security situation and enable the flow of desperately needed humanitarian aid.” This second resolution now appears endangered as member states have been reluctant to volunteer the necessary personnel for such a mission. For now, it appears international engagement in Haiti will continue through the delivery of humanitarian aid and security assistance packages and support to civil society organizations rather than military force. Outside of UN channels, the U.S. and Canada delivered military and tactical equipment to Haiti’s beleaguered security forces in a bid to close the capability gap that exists between them and the heavily armed gangs. This kind of security assistance could be conditioned on securing a commitment from Prime Minister Henry to engage the Montana Accord in meaningful dialogue to resolve the existing political crisis. Foreign intervention is a controversial prospect in Haiti; however, as the humanitarian crisis worsens, neighboring states will likely feel increasing pressure to act.