By Raj Kumar
Haiti has been experiencing one of the largest and longest humanitarian and political crises in the Western Hemisphere. With the recent blockade of the Varreux terminal that has caused acute food insecurity for nearly half the population, rampant gang violence leading to the deaths of 3,000 people, a cholera outbreak, and the absence of functional government, Haiti is poised for a sharp downward spiral into a substantially more chaotic state. While the terminal has been secured since November, the effects are still lingering. These problems can largely be attributed to the aforementioned lack of a strong and legitimate governing force. After the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in 2021, Prime Minister Ariel Henry came to power with the help of the US. However, since this was done without a representative election, his government is viewed as illegitimate. The Haitian Police does not have the ability to curb gang violence, as it is unable to command respect as a representative force of the people. In the eyes of many Haitians, it is considered another gang-affiliated force. There have been few attempts on the US’s part to work with the Haitian people to create a solution that will solve the political power struggle that has plagued the country for decades. It is easy to disregard this geopolitical problem because of its complexity, longevity, and deep-seated issues.
Disregarding the obvious ethical concerns of non-intervention, it is unlikely that either the Haitian people or the US want another refugee crisis. 26,000 Haitians have already been sent back after illegally crossing the border. As political turmoil grows just a thousand miles away from Florida, the threat to US border security becomes ever more apparent. Understanding how to move forward requires studying the failures of international-led intervention over the last two decades. Following the US's relatively ineffective peacekeeping mission in 1994, the UN led its own mission, which subsequently bred a long-standing aversion to foreign intervention. Thousands of documented sexual abuses, including some against young girls, and the negligent dumping of contaminated water, which led to over 10,000 civilians developing cholera after the 2010 earthquake, have tainted the image of such peacekeeping operations. In 2004, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was recognized by the US as a legitimate leader, despite the absence of a free and fair election. Subsequently, a coup by a pro-Aristide gang led to the destruction of the Haitian police, with the US sending marines to keep the peace at protests opposing the interim government. By the end of the intervention, a rebel takeover was averted, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court lawfully took power. Afterwards, Haiti started rebuilding its government, starting with the appointment of a new president and prime minister. However, the new governing party began to persecute Aristide supporters and thus continued a cycle of political violence that decades of UN military presence have failed to prevent. In 2004, when US Marines were dispatched to combat the pro-Aristide gangs, they operated covertly to avoid scrutiny from international peacekeeping forces. If the gangs had confronted US military personnel, there would have been little reason for restraint, and the cost of life would likely have been immense for very little reward.
Policies Through the People
Direct military intervention without the strict guidance of local representatives has shown clear flaws and worked only when accompanied by a self-sustaining political future for Haiti. A successful intervention needs to carefully consider both the short-term and long-term aspects of Haiti’s humanitarian and political health. The US should avoid picking political favorites to avoid delegitimizing the new government, even if it does not necessarily align with immediate US preferences. There are five policies that could help aid Haiti in these difficult circumstances:
1. Send immediate humanitarian aid in the form of water, food, medicine, and healthcare workers to Haiti and help local police hold control over the Varreux terminal and other ports of entry while aid is being distributed. Do not continue further direct military action.
2. Reestablish a special envoy to Haiti and start a joint operation to vet, recruit, and train a new Haitian National Police (HNP) with the Montana Group, an organization that is representative of the people’s interest in Haiti. Guide the HNP with military intelligence to flush out gang-controlled areas of Port-au-Prince.
3. Remove support from Prime Minister Ariel Henry and insist on a new election backed by the popular vote. Avoid direct confrontation with Prime Minister Henry’s military at all costs, but hold firm on promoting a new, legitimate government.
4. Launch an investigation into the assassination of President Moise and hold those guilty accountable.
5. Do not refuse Haitian immigrants who qualify as legitimate refugees.
Previous interventions led by US and UN forces have been ineffective at best and disastrous at worst. This does not mean, however, that the US is incapable of alleviating Haitians' suffering and guiding the country to a prosperous future with the country's best interests at heart.
Raj Kumar is the director for the Economics & Business team and currently a fourth-year undergraduate at the University of Washington Department of Economics.