Thu | Jun 1, 2023

Editorial | Hunker down on Haiti

Published:Sunday | May 21, 2023 | 2:01 AM

Bystanders look at the bodies of alleged gang members that were set on fire by a mob after they were stopped by police while travelling in a vehicle in the Canapé Vert area of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Bystanders look at the bodies of alleged gang members that were set on fire by a mob after they were stopped by police while travelling in a vehicle in the Canapé Vert area of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Last week’s flurry of diplomatic discussions in Kingston didn’t produce a breakthrough on how to help Haiti out of its worsening security crisis. Which only means that Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) have to hunker down further and not, as is too often the case, succumb to Haiti fatigue.

In this regard, a planned meeting in Kingston between CARICOM and Haiti’s political factions in Kingston must work overtime at helping to build internal consensus on the way forward. Jamaica must further assert leadership in this process.

As a close neighbour, Jamaica not only has a legitimate interest in Haiti’s internal security, but it is best suited among Port-au-Prince’s CARICOM’s partners to perform the role of honest-broker. Jamaica-Haiti relations haven’t historically been characterised by the angst that is often a feature of relations between Haiti and some of its other northern Caribbean neighbours.

It is significant, therefore, that Prime Minister Andrew Holness appears to have treated Jamaica’s involvement in the process not as a pro forma endeavour, but as a matter to which he has attached his specific imprimatur, notwithstanding the larger CARICOM frame within which the initiative is set.


The prime minister should, however, go further. He should appoint a highly respected and experienced former diplomat as his special representative/envoy on Haiti, charged with engaging with all political factions in the country, as well as the international community, to maintain momentum and more sharply inform the Jamaica/CARICOM response to the crisis.

Doing so wouldn’t mean the incapacity of Jamaica’s foreign ministry, and its leader, Kamina Johnson Smith, to deal with the Haitian question. Rather, the matter demands the type of urgent, dirty fingernails political engagement for which, given their many other obligations, Ms Johnson Smith and her technocrats are unlikely to have the time, or for which that machinery is best suited.

Haiti’s long-standing political crisis deepened with the July 2021 assassination of the country’s president, Jovenel Moïse, and the failure, since then, of political factions to settle on a process for the return to constitutional government and the restoration of democratic norms. The situation has worsened over the past year with the escalation of gang violence that has overwhelmed the capacity of the tottering state.

In this respect, Haiti, as was implied by the UN secretary general, António Guterres, during his visit to Jamaica last week, has a policing problem whose solution is more in the civil realm rather than a heavy-booted, militarily focused intervention that characterised previous interventions, of which Haitians, of most stripes, are suspicious. Policing has to be backed by political action to help foster trust among the country’s notoriously fractious political class and to build capacity to shore up the state.

Mr Guterres, as he reminded during his Kingston visit, has asked the Security Council to back support for equipment and training of Haiti’s national police and for the “the presence of an international robust police force to crack down on the gangs”.

Two issues primarily have so far confounded the secretary general’s effort. Many countries with the capacity to help are reluctant to do so. For some, Haiti isn’t an urgent or even important policy priority on which to expend political capital, especially if there is a possibility of becoming mired in a long, politically fraught operation.


And there is, from the side of many Haitians, low levels of trust for the international community – born in large measure out of behaviour of outsiders, and undelivered promises of past interventions.

CARICOM, of which Haiti is a member, brings greater trust to the table. The community, however, without the capacity to undertake, on its own, the necessary policing action that must be in parallel with a political settlement. How these issues are reconciled, while also providing support for Haiti’s long-term development, remains outstanding.

At their meeting in Jamaica last week, CARICOM’s foreign ministers reiterated the community’s “continued commitment to stand with Haiti and leverage support from international partners to support efforts on the ground”.

A subsequent meeting between the regional ministers and the British foreign secretary, James Cleverly, declared a “commitment to working towards achieving durable solutions to the multidimensional crises affecting the Republic of Haiti … and promote continued international attention and support for Haiti towards the relief of the present suffering of the Haitian people”.

Obviously, wealthy nations, in particular those whose actions contributed to the pauperisation of Haiti and the undermining of its political and institutional development, have an obligation to economically support its transition and stability and democracy. Their active, on-the-ground involvement, however, would likely be fraught.

Fundamentally, Haiti is foremost a Caribbean and Latin American problem, to be solved primarily by the Haitian people with the support of their neighbours, who share many of the same issues. Which is why we repeat a previous suggestion that CARICOM, as part of the community’s initiative, place the Haitian issue formally on the agenda of the Organization of American States, seeking the hemisphere’s help in dealing with the internal security situation.

Brazil is the country that could readily muster a civil force of the required size and capacity for a policing operation. That would be potentially problematic given the experiences of many Haitians with Brazilian soldiers under UN’s command in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. However, the return of Lula as Brazil’s president offers a greater political and ideological alignment that would make a CARICOM-led initiative, with Brazilian support, not only palatable, but workable.

Prime Minister Holness and his Haiti envoy, should he adopt this suggestion, should quickly pursue this option.