Lewin urges caution, but Saunders says CARICOM too slow to act on Haiti
Former Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Major General (ret’d) Stewart Saunders believes CARICOM has been too slow to intervene as gangs continue to tighten their grip on Haiti, which has been racked by political and social...
Former Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Major General (ret'd) Stewart Saunders believes CARICOM has been too slow to intervene as gangs continue to tighten their grip on Haiti, which has been racked by political and social unrest since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021.
“I think the time has been right for boots on the ground from long in Haiti,” he told The Gleaner on Monday as Jamaica's Prime Minister Andrew Holness, Foreign Affairs Minister Kamina Johnson Smith and former JDF head Lt Gen Rocky Meade visited the French-speaking country as part of a CARICOM mission.
Weeks ago, Holness had indicated Jamaica's willingness to support a multinational intervention effort in Haiti.
On Monday, the JDF also announced that it would be conducting “crisis contingency operations with the United States Southern Command and the Canadian Armed Forces”, driving speculation that an operation could be imminent.
The JDF added: “This type of training augments the JDF's capability to respond to missions throughout the region … .”
Since Moïse's assassination, conditions have deteriorated in the country with its police force overtaken by vicious street gangs who have imposed mob rule in the capital and other sections of the country.
At their recently concluded 44th regular meeting in The Bahamas, CARICOM heads reiterated that the community must play a leadership role in addressing the deteriorating situation in Haiti.
“I strongly believe that [CARICOM] has not been prompt as it ought to be in dealing with these issues. I also believe that we need to show that we have the capacity to assist Haiti, which is in our backyard, and provide quite a lot of problems for us from the perspective of the arms-for-drugs trade,” Saunders told The Gleaner.
“Years ago, we tried to get our policemen working with the Haitian National Police, but that did not materialise as such. It had a lot to do with the Haitian administration. By the time an agreement is reached and you get around to putting things in place, it's another group who knows nothing about the agreement,” he explained.
“We have been slow getting off the ground with Haiti. The time has been right for this a long time ago,” he added.
Rear Admiral (ret'd) Hardley Lewin, Saunder's predecessor, said that Haitians must be allowed to determine their future, with the region providing the help needed.
“The first thing that is required is that there has to be some agreement among all the relevant parties, including the Haitian diaspora. They have to come to some agreement on what they want and the way forward before the regional or international community can then position themselves to see how they can best assist them to achieve what they want … ,” Lewin told The Gleaner.
He said that the first intervention has to be aimed at restoring calm.
“A number of things have to be satisfied for any boots to be on the ground in Haiti. First of all, we have to agree that Haiti is in a bit of a mess and has been so for a very long time. For instance, there has to be an arrangement of how we are going to bring some calm. There has to be an interim administration and an agreement on that for right now. The prime minister's time has expired. Then there has to be a timetable and the process as to when elections can be held to put a government in place,” Lewin said.
The former CDS added: “The impression should not be given that all of Haiti was on fire as there was still a functioning governance process in its second-largest city of Cap-Haïtien and people were carrying on with normal lives.
“The problem is in Port-au-Prince that is having a serious problem and we must not lose sight of that and rush there,” he observed.
But Lewin said he does not detect any great appetite from any country to rush into Haiti.
“I think that posturing is sensible. The solution – immediate, medium and long term – has to come from the Haitian themselves. We can only help ... ,” he stated.