Another foreign intervention will not solve the crisis in Haiti

The country needs a solution coming from its people.

Street vendors offer produce at a market after Haiti's Prime Minister Ariel Henry pledged to step down after months of escalating gang violence, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti March 12, 2024. REUTERS/Ralph Tedy Erol
Street vendors offer produce at a market after Haiti's Prime Minister Ariel Henry pledged to step down following months of escalating gang violence, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on March 12, 2024 [File: Reuters/Ralph Tedy Erol]

On March 12, Haiti’s Prime Minister Ariel Henry tendered his resignation amid escalating violence in the country. Ahead of his announcement, the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) met behind closed doors to craft a transition plan, which includes the creation of a presidential council and the appointment of an interim prime minister. Meanwhile, the United States backed yet another foreign intervention, promising $100m for a United Nations force to be deployed in Haiti.

In early April, members of the presidential council were named and a political accord on the transition was finalised. That, however, has not reassured Haitians. In fact, there are mounting concerns about the credibility of the council members and their political allegiances, particularly with the Haitian Tèt Kale Party (PHTK), which is embroiled in the current crisis.

Haitians do wonder how those implicated in the turmoil can be entrusted with its resolution and how another intervention encroaching on Haitian sovereignty would not fail miserably as previous interventions did.

The current crisis is of foreign making and it can only be resolved if foreign interference stops and Haitians are allowed to regain control over their country.

Failed solutions

Throughout its history, Haiti has endured a series of external interventions that have eroded its sovereignty and directly led to the current crisis. After the Haitian revolution of 1791, which brought liberation from French rule, France managed to force the Haitian authorities into paying indemnity in exchange for recognising Haiti’s independence in 1825. This massive debt along with its interest had to be paid over 120 years and undermined the economic development of the country for two centuries.

In 1915, the US invaded the country, occupying it until 1934 and laying the foundation for the sustained US policy of violently interfering in Haitian internal affairs and undermining democratisation. In the 1990s, 2000s and 2010s, interventions by the so-called UN “peace missions”, as well as the implementation of structural adjustment policies by institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, further eroded Haiti’s sovereignty and deepened its crisis.

The most recent coup supported by Western powers saw the removal of democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. Following his ouster, a UN Security Council resolution created the Core Group, comprising representatives of Brazil, Canada, the European Union, France, Germany, Spain, the United States and the Organization of American States.

Over the past two decades, this group has exerted strong influence over Haiti’s political and economic affairs. It has not only dictated who should run the country, but has also facilitated the incursion of foreign military forces into Haiti and undermined the re-establishment of a national armed force after the army was disbanded in 1995.

In doing so, the group has overseen a deepening political, social and economic crisis in Haiti, which has now led to the disintegration of state power and the takeover by various gangs.

The US, in particular, bears direct responsibility for gang proliferation and empowerment, having done little to tackle the trafficking of US arms into the country.

As a result, today, Haitians struggle not only with poverty and hunger but also with what resembles a “slow genocide”.

Criminal gangs control the capital, Port-au-Prince, and surrounding municipalities, where they dominate over 90 percent of the territory. They operate with brazen impunity, terrorising the population through kidnappings, rapes, murders, and looting.

Between July 2021 and April 2023, 2,845 people, including 84 policemen, were murdered, according to a 2023 report by the Haitian organisation Fondasyon Je Klere (FJKL). Many more have been killed in the past year. Some 360,000 people have been displaced, including more than 50,000 who have fled the capital in recent months.

Violence has led to the closure of businesses, job loss, and economic collapse. Even before the current escalation in violence, some 58 percent of the population was already living below the poverty threshold, suffering from inflation as high as 50 percent. Schools have been shut down, depriving the youth of their right to education; health facilities have also had to close doors, depriving many of access to healthcare.

Haiti is grappling with a hunger crisis as well. According to the World Food Programme, 1.4 million Haitians are on the brink of famine. The ongoing violence has severely disrupted food distribution channels. Additionally, fuel shortages, rising expenses, and exorbitant levies imposed by gangs are driving up market prices.

A major factor in food shortages is also the devastation of rural communities, which have been the backbone of Haiti’s agrarian economy. They have long faced neglect by those in power, receiving little support for their agricultural activities and struggling with limited basic services – whether it is water and electricity or health and education.

The practice of allocating land for free industrial zones and the cultivation of cash crops for export that benefit foreign corporations and Haiti’s Western-backed corrupt political elites has further worsened food shortages.

Land grabs have worsened in recent months, as gangs have started forcibly taking over peasant lands and illegally selling them to interested parties. This has exacerbated the plight of rural communities.

Haitians have thus been plunged into despair, their communities shattered and their hopes wavering in the face of relentless violence.

The way forward

In this context, the new transition plan proposed by CARICOM, seemingly endorsed by the Core Group and involving PHTK stakeholders, is unlikely to resolve the crisis.

Similar past interventions have introduced leadership and policies supposedly aimed at alleviating the crisis in Haiti, only to make it worse. Former Haitian leaders like Gérard Latortue, Michel Martelly, and Ariel Henry – endorsed by the same entities now advocating for a new intervention – have permitted gang violence to flourish; some have even established close ties with these groups.

The Haitian people remember past failures and do not trust Western-backed UN-led interventions, the most recent of which brought a cholera outbreak that claimed the lives of some 10,000 people. Consequently, the Haitian population is likely to reject a new foreign intervention.

Furthermore, civil society, rural communities and grassroots political movements find themselves sidelined in the current transition plan, with just one seat in the presidential council among the nine allocated to them. Thus, they will have almost no voice in constituting the transitional government. This lopsided representation poses a serious threat to the credibility of the interim administration.

In this context, the Grassroots Patriotic Front, a nexus for various Haitian social movements, including our peasant organisations and political parties advocating for genuine change and national sovereignty, is calling for the creation of a National Monitoring Committee, which is to wield control over the executive during the transition. The committee would have wider representation of the political, social and rural sectors and ensure effective action on pressing issues, such as insecurity and economic revitalisation, while laying the groundwork for fair elections within the stipulated two-year timeframe.

In order to tackle violence effectively, law enforcement must undergo improved training, receive sufficient resources, and be subject to accountability, all under the direction of the transitional government and with vigilant oversight from the proposed National Monitoring Committee.

While the national armed forces can play a crucial role in re-establishing national security, extreme measures risk worsening chaos. Therefore, a National Security Plan devised by Haitian experts and implemented by the transitional government, offering diverse strategies to combat organised crime and the illicit trafficking of arms, is essential for ensuring a definitive solution to Haiti’s security challenges.

In parallel, the transition should focus on restoring the institutions of public administration and judiciary, which are vital for achieving social peace. Social movements such as those engaged in the Grassroots Patriotic Front and similar groups should play a key role in this endeavour to ensure standards for transparency and democratic governance are observed. This transition should pave the way for the establishment of a new social contract and a redefined state committed to serving the national interest.

The food shortage crisis can be tackled internally by supporting Haitian farmers and investing in Haitian agriculture. The country has the land and the resources to feed itself. Rather than making the poor dependent on aid, financial resources should go into reviving and protecting rural peasant communities and fostering a range of production activities, including agriculture, agroforestry, livestock breeding, fisheries, and crafts.

Furthermore, food distribution can be ensured by supporting small-scale vendors known as madan sara, who perform a vital role in delivering food to urban centres. Even in these dangerous times, they continue to brave unsafe routes to provide local markets with essential goods.

If the international community wants to see the Haitian crisis resolved, then it can support these local efforts. It can provide assistance in a matter determined by the Haitians themselves – be it through technical support to address rampant insecurity or humanitarian aid to combat starvation in the immediate term. Haiti will also need international solidarity and support in seeking financial reparations for unfairly imposed past indemnities and fending off further attempts to violate its sovereignty.

The plight of the Haitian people cannot be ignored or trivialised. It necessitates immediate and concerted action, but the answer is not another foreign intervention. Western powers ought to honour Haitian sovereignty and endorse local solutions instead of imposing their own preferences. The will of the people who are bearing the brunt of this catastrophe must be upheld.

The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.