Editorial | Speed on Haiti’s security
In scenes more chilling than in Jamaica 13 years ago, when gunmen gathered in Tivoli Gardens hoping to thwart the arrest of strongman Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke, Haiti’s powerful gang boss, Jimmy ‘Barbecue’ Chérizier, marched in Port-au-Prince last week, calling for the overthrow of Prime Minister Ariel Henry.
Mr Chérizier and his gangsters carried high-powered rifles.
In Jamaica in 2010, despite flare-ups elsewhere in the city, Mr Coke’s militia, and the violence it instigated, was confined primarily to a relatively small area in the western end of the capital. The Jamaica State, during the days of stress, was not on the brink of collapse.
The same cannot be said of Haiti. Although it still has functioning institutions, the Haitian state is at the precipice; its survival is uncertain. Indeed, the state’s obligation for the security of citizens, and any monopoly it pretends to have on violence, have been appropriated by gangs, such as that led by Mr Chérizier, which operate with impunity. They have killed and maimed thousands of people, and caused the hunger and displacement of thousands more.
So while Haiti faces a political crisis, which must be fixed, its immediate needs are security and humanitarian, requiring urgent help from its friends and neighbours to save lives. That, notwithstanding the arguments of those who say that a political accommodation must come first, must start with policing action to contain the country’s gangs.
Which is why this newspaper supports Kenya’s now-conclusive commitment to leading a policing operation in Haiti and urges Haiti’s hemispheric neighbours, especially its partners in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), to press at the United Nations Security Council for a mandate for the mission.
We also welcome the pledge by the United States to provide US$100 million to support the mission, but urge the Americans to provide more and other countries to join the initiative. Other CARICOM countries, too, must also join Jamaica, The Bahamas and Antigua and Barbuda in clearly committing members to the policing force.
LONG-STANDING AND COMPLEX
Haiti’s political, social and economic instability are as long-standing as their causes are complex. They, however, were exacerbated two years ago by the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. Since then, Dr Henry has been the stand-in prime minister, governing without a functioning legislature.
With Haiti’s National Police – hundreds of whose members have been killed by gangs – having largely disintegrated, criminals like Mr Chérizier determine who moves where, what or when in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere in Haiti. Gangs periodically blockade ports, preventing the entry of food and fuel into the country. By some estimates, around half of Haiti’s 11 million are threatened with hunger.
Nearly a year ago, Dr Henry called for a “specialised armed force” to help neutralise the gangs and return a level of stability to the country.
Clear support has been difficult to muster. However, in August Kenya announced that it was willing to lead a multinational, non-United Nations mission to Haiti, to which it would contribute 1,000 police officers. Last week at the United Nations, the country’s president, Daniel Ruto, confirmed that commitment.
“Doing nothing in the face of the isolation and economic distress and betrayal of the people of Haiti is out of the question,” Mr Ruto said. “Inaction is no longer an option.”
In the face of Mr Ruto’s declaration, the US announced its financial support and encouraged other countries to do likewise.
At the Security Council, however, some countries are concerned about what they consider to be a rush to send foreign forces into Haiti. Some Haitian critics, especially in the diaspora, see the proposed intervention as propping up Dr Henry, who, they argue, lacks legitimacy. They demand an end to all support for Dr Henry’s government, and call for the establishment of a transitional, consensus administration.
It may be true that Dr Henry’s government does not reflect the will of the Haitian majority, that, like administrations before it, it is marred by corruption and has not been able to deal with the security issue. However, it is disingenuous in the circumstance to solely blame the government for Haiti’s insecurity, and more than naive to feel that Haiti has the internal capacity to address the security crisis.
Clearly, the resolution of Haiti’s crisis is fundamentally the responsibility of Haitians. That, however, does not diminish the value of support of family and friends, such as the efforts by CARICOM’s Eminent Persons Group of three former prime ministers – Kenny Anthony of St Lucia; Perry Christie of The Bahamas; and Bruce Golding of Jamaica – to help coax political interests to an accommodation borne in compromise, possibly including an interim, transitional government.
However, the security of the Haitian people and ending the impunity of gangs should not be dependent on, and ought not to be made hostage to, the conclusion of that process.
But even as they secure Haitian lives, the partners’ next moral obligation (and in some cases the demand for reparatory justice) must be a long-term commitment to Haiti’s economic development.