After 15 months of Haiti’s convulsive descent into pandemonium following the assassination of its president, there is at last serious discussion of international intervention to prevent a humanitarian disaster in the tormented island nation. U.N. Secretary General António Guterres on Sunday, the Associated Press reported, proposed that one or more countries deploy a rapid action force immediately in response to Haiti’s own plea for help to break the paralyzing grip of violence and the accelerating breakdown of infrastructure and public order.
That’s a step in the right direction, but it comes with a critical asterisk: Any move to put international boots on the ground to restore a semblance of stability in Haiti risks additional bloodshed, at least in the short term — and will fail if it props up the current government, which is widely despised.
Largely owing to Washington’s puppeteering, Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry was sworn in in July 2021 after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. His unelected, illegitimate government has been a predictable disaster. It has either enabled or promoted the country’s dissolution into criminal gang fiefdoms allied with the country’s elite. It has made no serious attempt to prepare the country for elections, nor undertaken good-faith negotiations with Haitian political parties and civil society. It has demonstrated its impotence by ceding control of the capital, Port-au-Prince, to mounting violence.
The result is dire. Water and fuel supplies have been blocked, schools are closed, grocery stores are mostly shuttered, and a resurgence of cholera is taking its toll.
In a letter to President Biden last week, a group of Democratic lawmakers provided additional detail about the Henry government’s failures. The letter also noted that even as Haiti’s turmoil has deepened, the Biden administration has failed to replace its special envoy to the country; the previous one resigned a year ago.
The Biden administration’s heedlessness has been compounded by its ongoing campaign of deportations; to date, it has flown more than 26,000 Haitian border crossers back to their native country, in most cases without allowing them to apply for asylum. It is unconscionable for the Western Hemisphere’s richest country to saddle the poorest with a stream of migrants amid an economic, humanitarian and security meltdown.
No one should take lightly the prospect of an international intervention in Haiti. Such efforts in recent decades, by the Clinton administration and the United Nations, have provided few long-term improvements. A U.N. peacekeeping force that was deployed for 13 years, until 2017, provided a modicum of stability but was responsible for introducing what became one of the world’s worst recent outbreaks of cholera. Some of its troops sexually abused Haitian girls and women.
That’s a cautionary tale. Yet weighed against the cratering prospects of a failed state whose main export is asylum seekers, many Haitians would support — if with misgivings — the chance at restoring some semblance of normal life. For an intervention to succeed, however, it’s not enough to suppress the chaos. New hope for Haiti must involve a path toward democracy — and a transition toward a legitimate government with popular support.
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