Caribbean Matters: The push for yet another ‘intervention’ in Haiti

Watching outside diplomatic efforts to once again “deal with” Haiti while knowing the history of past failed interventions there—which have kept Haiti from being able to govern itself—is frustrating and rage-inducing. Not just for Haitians, but also for anyone who’s been steeped in the history of Haiti’s ongoing punishment for having dared to become the first symbol of Black freedom from enslavement.

It’s a revolution for which they are still paying the price.

This week, headlines about Kenyan soldiers heading to the poorest nation in the western hemisphere once again blare “Haiti in crisis” and “gangs roam the streets,” while unelected Prime Minister Ariel Henry is well into his third year in power, propped up by the U.S.

Notably, elections have not been held since the July 2021 assassination of Prime Minister Jovenel Moïse that led to Henry’s ascension.

Caribbean Matters is a weekly series from Daily Kos. If you are unfamiliar with the region, check out Caribbean Matters: Getting to know the countries of the Caribbean.

In 2022, I wrote “Caribbean Matters: Intervention or no intervention? That is the Haiti question.”

As the world watches, Haiti is in crisis. The nation of nearly 11.5 million is currently facing so much: ongoing political unrest, protests against the current, un-elected Prime Minister Ariel Henry and the PHTK political party, protests against the U.S.-backed government, labor strikes, a cholera outbreak, gang warfare, and food shortages.

There are calls from certain sectors in Haiti, and in mainstream U.S. media, for intervention by the United Nations and the United States. There are also forceful arguments being made by longtime Haiti observers—political scientists, historians, and Haitians themselves—warning that outside intervention will not resolve the situation, and in actuality will make things worse.

This week, Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry attended CARICOM’s meeting, held in Guyana. 

From a Sunday Associated Press report:

Caribbean leaders met with embattled Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry on Sunday to talk about his country’s unrelenting gang violence, with one top official noting that his continued presence as head of government remains a main stumbling block to progress.

Bahamian Foreign Minister Fred Mitchell told The Associated Press that opposition leaders and other groups in Haiti oppose Henry as prime minister, even as the regional trade bloc known as Caricom keeps trying to help change the country’s situation.

Mitchell said the international community also questions how the country would function if Haiti’s prime minister resigns or is removed, adding that “there needs to be a political solution.”

The Guardian produced a short video about the gang situation in Haiti and its history last year; it’s an episode of the outlet’s aptly named “It’s Complicated” series.

Other perspectives are far more critical of the continuing role of the United States. Consider the thoughts of Jemima Pierre, Ph.D.—a Haitian-born professor at the Social Justice Institute at the University of British Columbia and a research associate at the Center for the Study of Race, Gender and Class at the University of Johannesburg.

Haiti — CARICOM Betrayal on Behalf of the U.S.?

If your knowledge of Haiti is derived entirely from the stories produced by western media outlets, you could be forgiven for believing that the following statements are true:

  • Haiti, a “failed state” over-run by “gang violence,” can only be returned to stability via the invasion of a foreign military force.
  • Haiti has a sovereign government with the legal authority to request a military invasion of the country to ‘“fight gangs.”
  • The United States, in pushing for Kenya and CARICOM nations to lead a foreign armed invasion of Haiti, is acting with the best intentions in Haiti and is committed to securing peace and stability in Haiti and the Caribbean region.
  • CARICOM is acting in solidarity with Haitian people and supporting Haitian sovereignty.

None of these statements is true. And, in fact, such statements help obscure not only the motivations behind the recent calls for foreign intervention in Haiti, but both the nature of Haiti’s current political-economic reality, and the history of how Haiti got to this moment. Yet the repetition and over-saturation of such claims in the media, even in the Caribbean region, has duped much of the world into cheering for a foreign military intervention in Haiti. The truth is, under the guise of helping Haiti, Haiti’s sovereignty and independence are actually being snuffed out.

[…]

To understand what is going on in Haiti is to understand how consistent the western imperial assault on Haitian people and Haitian sovereignty has been and remains. This assault is reflected in the reality that Haiti is currently under foreign occupation and has been for twenty years. This is no exaggeration.

The only solution to the current crisis in Haiti is the end of the current foreign occupation.

Perspectives like Dr. Pierre’s don’t get a lot of traction here, simply because they are highly critical of the United States’ and others’ role in the mess that is Haiti. Here’s another example:

“Why Is the US Paying Kenya to Clean Up the Mess We Made in Haiti?” writes Amy Wilentz, contributing editor at The Nation, in a scathing examination of the latest “push” for intervention.

I certainly did not imagine that it would be Kenya—a country whose name has never exactly been on the lips of all Haitians—that would be called on by the international community to save Haiti from its present imbroglio. “Called on,” is what I write, but what I really mean is “hired as mercenaries”—thus sparing the United States from spilling any of its own blood in whatever battles may be upcoming.

But indeed, at Haiti’s request and with the blessing of the US, Canada, and the UN Security Council, Kenya has been asked to send around 1,000 police officers into the country in the coming weeks. This force, along with a potential 2,000 further troops from several small Caribbean nations, is intended to tame the 200 gangs of Haiti, around 95 of which are based in the capital. So that makes 15 men, if all the countries sign up, to control each gang.

Not fucking likely, as a Haitian friend of mine said, discussing the Kenyan plan.

Mawozo 400, one of the largest of those 200 or so gangs, itself claims more than 1,000 members.

The Biden administration has pledged to provide $200 million for this pacification effort, half of it through the Defense Department and half to be appropriated (eventually, perhaps) by Congress. Though the top Kenyan court has twice ruled against the deployment of the national police on various procedural grounds, Kenyan President William Ruto said this week that he intends to send a contingent to Haiti within weeks, if not days.

Those supporting intervention have made their case as well. Here’s Christopher Schell’s opinion essay for the Carnegie Endowment back in October.

Haiti Only Has One Feasible Way Forward

The Kenyan-led UN peacekeeping force has many detractors, but no alternative can bring about the security the island needs to rebuild.

More than two years after the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, Haiti has lost all semblance of being a functional democracy—or even a working state. Violence is rampant, and Port-au-Prince is overrun with feuding gangs that are murdering, kidnapping, and impeding the flow of humanitarian aid to the island. Progress on economic and political fronts is nearly impossible under these conditions, which existed even before Moïse’s death. Moïse had been ruling by decree after he postponed the nation’s presidential election in 2019, and Henry has followed suit. Earlier this year, Haiti’s ten remaining senators left office. The nation now has no elected government officials.

The UN’s multinational security force will be led by Kenya, which has volunteered to send roughly 1,000 police officers, with an undisclosed number of officers from Jamaica, the Bahamas, and Antigua and Barbuda. The United States has pledged $100 million in logistical support. Although the UN authorization has been derided by some, in part due to the fact that the Kenyan police have a track record of excessive force, it could set Haiti on a better course if conducted correctly. Moreover, this iteration of a specialized armed force has the potential to elevate the status of African nations as world mediators—and potentially deepen the relationship between the African Union and the African diaspora.

Here’s more recent coverage—a 5-minute video from France 24, released on Feb. 15:

From the France 24 video notes:

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk has noted that more than 800 people were killed, injured or kidnapped across Haiti in January, more than three times the number compared with the same month in 2023. Another estimated 300 gang members also were killed or injured last month, he said. He said the recent intensity of gang clashes, which sometimes last several hours, “may indicate that some gangs have recently received new ammunition.”

Haiti also is recovering from a recent spate of violent demonstrations demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry. Türk said that at least 16 people were killed and nearly 30 others injured during the protests, mostly in confrontations with police. Meanwhile, gang violence continues unabated. For in-depth analysis and a deeper perspective on Haiti’s unprecedented gang violence eviscerating the impoverished Caribbean nation, FRANCE 24 is joined by Renata Segura, The Crisis Group’s Deputy Program Director for Latin America and Caribbean

It looks like Kenya is moving forward with sending troops despite rulings by the Kenyan courts, as Reuters reported on Jan. 30.

Kenyan president says Haiti mission to go ahead despite court ruling

Kenya is going to push ahead with plans to lead a U.N.-approved security mission to Haiti, despite a court in Nairobi last week blocking the deployment, Kenyan President William Ruto told Reuters on Tuesday.

The international force is aimed at tackling rampant gang violence in the Caribbean nation, which killed nearly 5,000 people last year, and is due to be initially financed by the United States.

Reuters also shared an interview with President Ruto, who said the mission could go ahead “as soon as next week.” 

As noted above, Henry headed to the CARICOM meeting before heading to Kenya. His reception at CARICOM was not all-embracing.

Antigua & Barbuda PM wants Haitian interim leader to step aside

Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne, Monday said that Haiti’s interim leader, Dr Ariel Henry, needs to “step aside” and allow for efforts to continue unimpeded in finding a solution to the socio-economic and political situation in Haiti.

Browne is among Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders attending the 46 Regular Summit of regional leaders in Guyana where the Haitian issue has so far dominated the four-day gathering. In a telephone interview with the Caribbean Media Corporation, (CMC) Prime Minister Browne said he believes Henry’s presence in the government is “part of the problem” as various stakeholders look to find a lasting solution to Haiti’s problem that has been increased with the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July 2021 and the emergence of criminal gangs terrorising citizens.

“With no disrespect, my dear friend Henry is part of the problem and I think there are many in Haiti who believe that the interventions that are planned by the stakeholder groups (are) intended to prop up Henry,” he said.

Haiti’s future continues to remain in a morass, and there are no immediate solutions on the horizon. Henry was scheduled to arrive in Kenya to finalize things on Tuesday. Here’s hoping that an armed intervention does not make things worse than they are now.

Join me in the comments for updates and for our weekly Caribbean News Roundup.

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