Break Haiti’s death spiral by empowering its police – The Hill

Gang-related violence has brought Haiti to its knees. 
Murderrapekidnapping and intimidation are preventing any semblance of daily life. Haitian cries have produced little or no action. Is it possible to help Haiti in a new and more effective way?
Frustration and disillusionment dominate discussions.
“Oh, that is Haiti — hopeless.”  
“See what a mess the U.S./United Nations/Canadians/Brazilians made of it before?” 
“Haitians should solve their own problems.” 
“Any help will just advantage the existing elites and incorrigible politicians.”  
Are we guilty of the “soft bigotry of low expectations” that former President Bush called out? Is this an argument against human improvement?
As the world dithers, the disaster expands. Now we also have disease in the form of cholera, growing famine, the closing of health and social centers, mass movements of people and other threats to neighboring lands. Lives are at risk right now.
Isn’t it time for the U.S. to act?  What is the role of a great nation if not to help make a neighboring country safer and more just for its people, especially when there is no functioning government?
Three dramatic changes could open up the promise, potential and resiliency of Haiti’s people.  
First, expand support of the Haitian National Police to restore public safety. With a functioning force estimated to be 10,000 or so, the HNP is less than half the size needed for a country of 11 million — and they are often outgunned. Many are not paid and their families are at risk in the neighborhoods they share with gang members.  
Haiti’s gangs are an addressable problem: They lack popular backing and are often at war with themselves, yet are growing more skilled and aggressive. No one believes that the existing HNP can control the gangs on their own. In surveys taken by the Haitian Health Network of its 200 clinic and hospital members (representing tens of thousands of employees) this past fall, over 90 percent of respondents called for outside help.  
There is no need for thousands of troops over several years. Even a couple of quick wins would break the oppressive feeling that nothing can stop the gangs. This alone would reinvigorate the HNP.  
Examples include U.S. Special Forces units in 15 or so Haitian cities in 1994-1995 and the British commandos who took out Sierra Leone’s West Side Boys in 2000.  
These deployments can be swift and short-term, unlike prior efforts in Haiti, Iraq, Afghanistan and many other nations, with the initial goal of making the Haitian police capable of securing the life-sustaining arteries of the country.
What are the vital public safety elements for the HNP to succeed?  
The longer-term support to build a viable HNP can come from partners (such as the thousand-strong Haiti international police monitors and mentors deployed in 1994-1995, led by former New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly) with some emergency capabilities.  
Leveraging the extensive logistical, communications and private security assets that many nonprofit organizations employ could also help the HNP near term. Current “workarounds” cost millions and lack coherence.
The HNP must expand beyond its overly centralized model to encourage the development of local and community police forces that are more responsive and agile. A single national police force is a bad idea for democratic expansion.
Additionally, break the political impasse with an emphasis on putting the Haitian people first. Rather than taking sides, Haitians, America, the U.N. and its allies must call for all who aspire to heal, unite and lead Haiti to:
Any serious Haitian leader must deliver solutions to these pressing problems.
While public safety is paramount, the restoration of freedom of speech and assembly is a precondition for progress. Election plans must follow this process — another change from the past.
The nation must also develop new financing models. Funding will be tight. Systems of taxation and payment for services are long overdue and everyone must play by the same rules — that will take time. Today, its most available funds are remittances from the Haitian diaspora, donations to thousands of service institutions and some corporate interests. Consolidating some of these assets will improve society-wide results — the foundation for greater progress. A cohesive funding approach could build local initiatives such as police anchored and paid in their communities and help to support critical national initiatives to improve schooling, literacy and vital infrastructure.
Haiti is not doomed. We cannot be spectators to its current death spiral. Better choices abound. Now is the time to act.
Rick Barton of Princeton University is a former U.S. ambassador, assistant secretary of State, deputy high commissioner for refugees and author of “Peace Works: America’s Unifying Role in a Turbulent World.”
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