Diaspora

US State Department and the Republic of Haiti: A well-deserved travel ban continues. But what else? | Opinion – NJ.com

A mother carries her son as she runs past a burning barricade during a protest against the government in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Friday, Nov. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)AP
By Yonel Pierre
Once upon a time, Haiti was the most prosperous French colony in the Caribbean, and it largely contributed to France’s opulence. No one could have ever envisioned that such a land of great fortune could have been reduced to a desolated place where violence and political corruption grow ever exponentially.
France was not the only beneficiary of Haiti’s past fortune. Other countries also owe a debt of gratitude to that tiny island country.
After gaining its independence in 1804, Haiti endeavored to free others. It did. Haitians also took up arms alongside American soldiers in the Battle of Savannah during the Revolutionary War in 1779.
Haiti opened its door to the world. Until recently, it was the truest Caribbean tourist destination. Many would come from afar to enjoy the Haitian sunshine and the picturesque beauty. For example, Bill and Hillary Clinton had their honeymoon in the country. Haiti was regarded as a clean and safe place to visit. The Haitian people were kind and welcoming.
That reputation has faded into oblivion.
Time and again, the country has known its share of misfortune. The Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake was the culmination of a string of events that reshaped its landscape and the reputational image it once enjoyed. The succession of corrupt and inconsequential governments adds to its dysfunctional state. Recently, it has been plagued by a surge of gang violence and a constant state of fear and trepidation that, at any time, terror may visit upon anyone — including a democratically elected president.
While I am not opposed to the longstanding travel ban, I ask, what else? The ban is merely the acknowledgement of a multidimensional national crisis.
Conversely, one should note the shared responsibility of powerful countries such as the United States, France and Canada directly or indirectly in the creation of the labyrinth into which Haiti has plunged.
Since the early 1900s, the United States, for instance, has been very much involved in the shaping of Haiti’s politics. That involvement has exacerbated the worst dilemmas in the country’s existence. A recent example was the dismantlement of the Haitian army and the creation of the new National Police Force once President Aristide was brought back to complete his embattled presidential term. The weapons embargo imposed on the Haitian government at the time was another U.S. foreign policy debacle that deserves serious consideration.
Other Western nations are not without their share of responsibility. As armed gangs come to replace the social and administrative void left by the absence of a well-functioning government, most friendly nations stood by and observed, then decided to slow-step into the conversation.
Whereas under the arms embargo imposed in 1994 the Haitian government was prohibited from purchasing weapons, high-ranking Haitian officials found ways to bring loads of weapons into the country for personal use — hence the genesis of the development of loosely formed groups of bandits using those weapons to terrorize innocent people.
The weak police force obviously does not have the responsive capacity. The gruesome assassination of a sitting president proved it; the recent killing of beloved Police Commissioner Harrington Rigaud strongly evidenced it.
The daily existence of the Haitian people is governed by lawlessness and abject poverty; the neighborhoods where children go to school and live are controlled by merciless armed gangs. Their government remains indifferent to their cries.
It’s time that the international community assumes its responsibilities vis-à-vis Haiti.
Haiti had helped the world. Isn’t it time that the world saves Haiti — from itself?
I urge that the age-old arms embargo be lifted and that Haiti be assisted in the reestablishment of a well-trained army to maintain peace and security.
I further urge that the international community applies appropriate measures to hold public officials who receive and use international funds accountable for their expenditures.
Those initiatives, among others, may lead to the resurgence of a more stable and safer Haiti: a better Haiti.
A Jersey City resident, Yonel Pierre holds a doctorate in Public Affairs and Administration.
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