Editorial | Take lead on Haiti, PM
Jamaica’s willingness to send police and soldiers to be part of a multinational force to help return public order and security to Haiti has the general support of this newspaper.
But Jamaica must not merely be an appendage to another Great Power initiative on its neighbour. Rather, as should have happened months ago, this must be a project in which Jamaica and its partners in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) exert leadership, in a coordinated effort with the Organization of American States (OAS). And having taken the public on the matter, and as a close neighbour that could bear the spill effect from Haiti’s instability, Prime Minister Andrew Holness should be CARICOM’s point man on the programme. And if necessary, appropriate a role akin thereto.
Even before the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, Haiti faced one of its not infrequent periods of political instability. There were disputes over when President Moïse’s term should actually have ended, and the absence of an elected Assembly was not in place, essentially meaning president rule by decree. President Moïse’s killing, however, pushed the country deeper into crisis, teetering on becoming a failed state.
The government of Mr Moïse’s unelected successor, Ariel Henry, has, at best, a tenuous grip on the country. Armed gangs behave with impunity. Law and order in Haiti have almost completely broken down.
Nearly 80 police officers have been murdered since Mr Moïse’s assassination, including 15 in the last fortnight of January. Police and their civilian, paramilitary-type supporters of ex-cops have taken to the streets to complain about the state of affairs. There are fears that the police might drop their hands all together, worsening the crisis.
As Haiti’s security situation deteriorated, ideas have been floated at the United Nations and the OAS on how to cauterise the crisis. Nothing has been agreed upon, in part because of lingering memories of how badly wrong previous interventions in Haiti have gone, including the one after the 2010 earthquake when billions of dollars flowed into the country, with little to show in development. Internal corruption notwithstanding, much of the money flowed out via foreign NGOs and the consultants and companies of the countries that provided much of the aid.
Yet, it is clear that Haiti needs help with a reset. Last October, Prime Minister Henry wrote to CARICOM’s leaders, requesting, according to the community, “assistance to alleviate the deepening humanitarian, security, political, and economic crises” in his country.
CARICOM was sympathetic, but said its heads of government “recognise that these initiatives could not be effectively realised until the security situation is addressed”.
“In that regard, heads of government take note of the appeal by Prime Minister Henry for the urgent assistance of Haiti’s international partners for short-term assistance to address the security and humanitarian crises,” CARICOM said at the time.
What CARICOM ought to have done, as we argued then, was not “take note”, but aggressively take leadership of efforts to fashion a credible coalition in support of Haiti. As a hemispheric problem, initiatives to help Haiti right-side itself are better grounded in CARICOM, of which Haiti is a member, and the OAS, rather the UN’s Security Council, from which a resolution of condemnation emerged last October when gang leader Jimmy Chérizier sealed off the main port and blocked the movement of petrol.
The fact is, while Haiti’s problem currently manifests largely in terms of security, its roots are much wider and far more complex, demanding fixes that are not likely to be in the immediate competence of the United Nations, especially its Security Council. These institutions, as well as the powerful countries that command vital resources needed for the enterprises, have important roles to play in the project, but cannot credibly front its leadership. Their track record in Haiti causes suspicion and adds credence to those who feel that a new approach, with new faces at the helm – especially of people who better appreciate, and are more empathetic to the nuances of Haiti’s social, political history – makes sense.
According to Prime Minister Holness, Jamaica “would be willing to participate in a multinational security assistance deployment to Haiti under the appropriate jurisdictional parameters” in support of a return to a level of stability in which democracy can take root.
Jamaica and CARICOM should be forcefully articulating what those parameters should be and working with the Haitians and other partners on the initiatives that will help the revival of democracy.