Gang competition and violence have blocked the country’s main port, crippling the delivery of fuel to electricity generators, and thus plunging Port-au-Prince, the capital, into darkness.
Robert Rotberg is the founding director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s program on intrastate conflict, a former senior fellow at CIGI and president emeritus of the World Peace Foundation.
Haiti needs to become a ward of the United Nations. The storied Caribbean nation, the Western Hemisphere’s poorest, is fully insecure. The state has forfeited control of most cities and much of the countryside to avaricious gangs, nearly all of which now run wild. Haiti’s national police has failed to master the gangs, which fight each other and the hapless police to control commercial opportunities, hospitals, schools and the narcotics trade.
Gang competition and violence have blocked the country’s main port, crippling the delivery of fuel to electricity generators, and thus plunging Port-au-Prince, the capital, into darkness. Hospitals and much of the rest of country can no longer function.
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In the slums of Port-au-Prince, leading gangs kill wantonly, burn down houses at random, and plunge whole populations into penury and homelessness. Cholera is rife.
Criminal gangs effectively rule half of Haiti. They have close ties to the political classes and the economic elite, and engage freely in kidnapping and sexual- and gender-based violence. Nearly 1,000 Haitians have lost their lives in the past year from gang attacks.
This is not the first time that Haitians have required outside assistance to stabilize their state. But now internal chaos and lawlessness have so crippled the ability of Haitians to sustain normal activities and to feel safe that its Prime Minister admitted defeat and pleaded for intervention and help earlier this month.
“I ask the entire international community, all the countries friendly to Haiti, to help us, to help us to fight this humanitarian crisis,” Prime Minister Ariel Henry said. “We need them to give all kinds of support to prevent a lot of people from dying.”
Canada and the United States sent armoured vehicles and other military materiel to Haiti on Saturday. That could give Haiti’s police additional weaponry, but to quell the power of the gangs, Haiti needs far more.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres wants to create “an international force” to bolster the efforts of Haiti’s police. In response, the United States drafted a UN Security Council resolution recommending “the immediate deployment of a multinational rapid reaction force.”
That is the obvious next step: to secure Haiti forcibly under the auspices of the UN. From 2004 to 2017, Brazil and Nepal provided the military muscle to reduce lawlessness in Haiti, and largely succeeded. But Haiti was less desperate then than now. That is why becoming a full ward of the UN, perhaps for as long as a decade, is as critical as it is necessary, despite the suspension of Haiti’s national sovereignty that such an imposition would imply. Simply “assisting” Haiti’s outgunned police is not going to do the job.
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Even more important is the composition of the “rapid reaction force.” Mr. Guterres may have particular recruits in mind; they must be incorruptible, French-speaking and formidable. Rwanda’s military fits that bill much better than other potential candidates; tough-minded President Paul Kagame has already dispatched his troops to combat an Islamist insurgency in northern Mozambique. They also have been active in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Haiti would be far away, but why not introduce battle-hardened troops who can beat back the marauding gangs and are unlikely to succumb to drug dealing blandishments?
Once the rapid reaction force does its gang-curtailing job, the UN also needs to dispatch political and economic managers to uplift Haiti so it will never again experience abysmal governance, economic collapse and general hopelessness. Those interim governance leaders, on behalf of the UN, need to focus on turning Haiti back into a nation that can stand alone and prosper. Chileans helped Haiti before, and Uruguay and Costa Rica could also be tapped to participate in a medium-term UN mission.
But it should be run by French speakers. They should be drawn from Canadian ranks and could well include Haitian diasporic leaders who are Canadian citizens and have run enterprises, municipal or commercial. Conceivably, too, Haitians who have long lived in Boston, Brooklyn or Miami, could also serve.
Even before president Jovenel Möise was assassinated more than a year ago by mercenaries, the country lost whatever little cohesion it had achieved despite two American interventions, the UN stabilization mission and several weak presidents.
Wherever they come from, peace enforcers and governance managers are necessary now. Haiti cannot wait. Nor can the rest of the hemisphere, which has watched Haiti crumble and finally collapse.