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Haiti Is In Turmoil — But Is International Intervention The Right Solution? : Consider This from NPR – NPR

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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in non-English language).
JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:
Down with the prime minister, down with the occupation – these were the words being chanted recently by protesters outside of the French Embassy in Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti. Nicholson Pierre was one of the organizers. He and fellow demonstrators were protesting against everything from government corruption and the possibility of foreign intervention in Haiti to the seeming impunity criminal gangs enjoy in the country.
NICHOLSON PIERRE: (Through interpreter) So today, the population is left on its own. And the bandits are the law. Today, the country is going to the slaughterhouse.
SUMMERS: Haiti has been in turmoil for decades.
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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: We have breaking news from Haiti, where the country’s president is dead this morning.
SUMMERS: But the assassination of President Jovenel Moise last year pushed the Caribbean country further into crisis. Haiti’s current prime minister, Ariel Henry, has been accused of being involved in planning Moise’s murder. Henry has denied any involvement. And conditions in the country seem especially dire. Electricity and clean drinking water are in very short supply. There’s been an outbreak of cholera. Half the population in Haiti is facing acute hunger. And for the last two months, a coalition of gangs blocked the country’s main seaport and the massive fuel depots that keep Haiti going.
Over the weekend, the blockade finally ended, but it’s not clear when fuel will begin flowing again. Haiti’s government has asked for international assistance, and the United Nations is weighing a motion to send an international force into the country to help stabilize the situation. But many Haitians, like Nicholson Pierre, are against international intervention.
PIERRE: (Through interpreter) If ever the United Nations would send foreign forces on this land, we’re going to fight even more.
SUMMERS: Pierre says that when the U.N. last sent peacekeeping troops into Haiti starting in 2004, all they brought was kidnappings, rape and cholera. Others see no other option but to accept outside help.
GEORGES MICHEL: Myself, I see this intervention as inevitable because you have gangs like in Somalia. And you don’t have the manpower. You don’t have the guns to destroy this injection.
SUMMERS: That’s historian Georges Michel. He says this is all painful because Haiti, the first Black-led republic in modern history, cherishes its sovereignty. And past interventions, including by the U.S. in 1915, in 1994 and 2010, were seen as humiliating by Haitians.
MICHEL: I would see something in French. (Speaking French).
SUMMERS: At this point, he says, Haitians are not far from another humiliation.
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SUMMERS: Back at that protest in Port-au-Prince, demonstrators eventually made their way to the U.N. offices, passing huge piles of trash that hadn’t been picked up in weeks. Some of the protesters smashed glass bottles on the street to vent their frustration. One of them, Junior Albert Augusma (ph), said he knows things are bad, but he does not want foreign troops in his country.
JUNIOR ALBERT AUGUSMA: Please let us live. That’s all we ask for. We are human beings. We want to be respected. And we want to be able to decide by ourselves.
SUMMERS: CONSIDER THIS – many Haitians are desperate for a Haitian-led solution to their country’s problems. They point to the troubled history of foreign interventions in Haiti. And yet, at the same time, some feel the situation in their country is too dire to turn down international help. So what lessons can be learned from the failures of past interventions?
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SUMMERS: From NPR, I’m Juana Summers. It’s Tuesday, November 8.
It’s CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. The United Nations has reported that close to 100,000 Haitians have fled their homes as gangs have overtaken the capital of Port-au-Prince. Last month, the U.N. Security Council unanimously voted to impose sanctions on armed gangs in Haiti. And Haiti’s prime minister, Ariel Henry, along with 18 Cabinet officials, requested the help of international military forces. Now the U.N. is debating whether more international intervention is needed to stop the chaos in Haiti. NPR correspondent Michele Kelemen has more.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: As cholera spreads through Haiti’s capital, armed gangs are blocking fuel supplies. And Haitians lack access to clean water. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is sounding the alarm.
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ANTONIO GUTERRES: In the present circumstances, we need an armed action to release the port and to allow for humanitarian corridors to be established. I’m talking of something to be done in support of the Haitian police.
KELEMEN: The U.S. and Canada delivered armored vehicles and other supplies to Haiti’s national police. U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield says the U.S. and Mexico have also drafted a couple of Security Council resolutions, including one that could set the stage for the kind of armed intervention that the secretary-general wants.
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LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Colleagues, if there was ever a moment to come to the aid of Haitians in dire need, it is now. Faced with extreme violence and instability, Haiti’s leaders and people are crying out for help.
KELEMEN: She says the U.S. and the U.N. have also learned lessons from past interventions. A U.N. peacekeeping mission brought cholera to the island over a decade ago, and the U.S. has a long record of failures in Haiti, too. Thomas-Greenfield says diplomats are working on something different this time.
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THOMAS-GREENFIELD: This resolution will propose a limited, carefully scoped, non-U.N. mission led by a partner country with the deep necessary experience required for such an effort to be effective.
KELEMEN: Both Russia and China, which hold vetoes on the Security Council, sound hesitant to back even a limited mission. China said it should be treated with caution. Russia also criticized the U.S. for a separate resolution that would impose sanctions on armed gangs and their supporters. But both measures are backed by Haiti’s foreign minister, Jean Victor Geneus, who spoke to the Security Council.
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JEAN VICTOR GENEUS: (Non-English language spoken).
KELEMEN: “I have this sensitive mission,” he said, “of bringing to the Security Council the distress call from the people of Haiti.” He said millions of children can’t go to school, and gangs are plunging the country into chaos. In a nod to concerns about the legitimacy of the current government, the foreign minister said it is committed to future elections as soon as the security situation allows it. The government came to power after Haiti’s president was assassinated over a year ago. The top U.N. diplomat in Haiti, Helen La Lime, says her office is ready to help.
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HELEN LA LIME: Any comprehensive resolution requires a Haitian-led political solution. But a political solution continues to be elusive and on its own is no longer sufficient to address the current crisis.
KELEMEN: She urged the Security Council to act decisively. The U.S. is hoping for a vote soon on its draft resolutions.
SUMMERS: NPR’s Michele Kelemen.
Haiti has a long, complicated and painful history with international intervention that stretches back to the country’s founding in 1804. Robert Fatton is a Haitian American professor of politics at the University of Virginia. He spoke to my colleague Rachel Martin about the failures of international intervention in Haiti.
ROBERT FATTON: It’s very clear that the last intervention, the one in the ’90s and the one at the beginning of the century, did not resolve the problems that Haiti is confronting and was confronting. The one in 1994 was actually welcomed by most Haitians because it was the restoration of President Aristide, who at that time was extremely popular. But afterwards, when the U.N. intervened to replace the American troops, that was a much more complicated affair.
In the first instance, it had to deal with gangs at the time, and that minister intervened in the slums of Port-au-Prince. And that intervention was rather violent. But in the process, a lot of people who were not necessarily involved with the gangs suffered the consequences. But what really prompted even more recriminations was the cholera epidemic. Initially, the U.N. rejected the idea that it brought it to Haiti, and finally, it had to recognize that. And some 12,000 people have died as a result of that. There were commitments in terms of reparation, if you wish, to be given to Haiti, and those were never really materialized.
RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: What’s the origin of the gangs in Haiti?
FATTON: The dominant person in the gangs is a fellow by the name of Cherizier, who’s also known as Barbecue. And Barbecue used to be a member of the police, and he eventually created this gang. There’s a federation of gangs. Now, there are private sectors who are also involved in the gangs because they want to make sure that they have access to gas and that other gangs don’t prevent them from getting the gas. There are also gangs that are supported by the political class. The problem is that the gangs now have become a power unto themselves. And as a result of that, the situation in Haiti is really a catastrophic situation.
MARTIN: Is this a fight for absolute power or is it just a struggle to get resources?
FATTON: Yeah, it’s very much all of that. The tendency in Haiti is that politics is a zero-sum game. People don’t have access to wealth. It’s like a business. You get elected. You want to stay in office, and you want to accumulate illicit resources. The problem is precisely that – that the pie is very small, as it were, and people want a piece of it. So politics is a venue to get that piece. And it’s the same thing for the gangs. The very presence of Cherizier, the former police officer, as the leader of the gang is a symptom of the real poor record of foreign intervention in Haiti.
MARTIN: I mean, today, Haiti’s the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, but it wasn’t always thus. It was once one of the fastest-growing economies in the Americas. It was a major Caribbean vacation destination. There used to be a Club Med resort there, which shocked me.
FATTON: Yes. Well, one should not either think that those were great days. There was some economic growth in the ’40s and in the ’50s. And then Duvalier came, and the economy collapsed. Now, Jean-Claude Duvalier came to power after the death of his father in 1971, and there was kind of a technocratic project. Haiti would become, supposedly, the Taiwan of the Caribbean. So there was some economic growth. The disparities were enormous, and…
MARTIN: Yeah.
FATTON: …There was still significant corruption. And one of the problems with the economy – at least this is the way I see it – is that the programs that were imposed by the World Bank and the IMF have not worked. They’ve created a very dependent economy.
MARTIN: Do you go back often?
FATTON: I haven’t been back since 2019 because of COVID. Now, I must confess that I come from the Haitian elite. So the problems of the Haitian elites are very different from the problems of the vast majority of Haitians. You have the chasm in terms of living standards, in terms of economic viability, as it were. So we are talking about different worlds.
MARTIN: Yeah. It’s hard to find the words to ask this question, but in light of everything that you’ve told us, how do you imagine a more stable Haiti? Do you imagine it?
FATTON: Well, I’m personally quite pessimistic. Maybe the fear of an utter catastrophe might prompt some sort of national compromise, whereby the different political parties, civil society, can finally arrive at a Haitian solution to Haitian problems. So there is an element of hope. But if you look at the realities of the country, it’s a very grim picture. The economy is falling apart. Inflation is at about 35%. The local currency has lost, essentially, its value. You have this insecurity. You have a government that is completely illegitimate in the eyes of Haitians. There has been protest after protest in the streets of (inaudible) and in the larger cities in Haiti. And yet, the Ariel, our lead government, is still in power because it is receiving foreign support.
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SUMMERS: That was Robert Fatton, a Haitian American professor of politics at the University of Virginia. You heard reporting earlier in this episode from NPR correspondent Eyder Peralta.
It’s CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. I’m Juana Summers.
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