Potential disaster awaits Haiti as U.S. prepares for armed intervention
Residents flee their homes to escape clashes between armed gangs in the Carrefour-Feuilles district of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Aug. 15, 2023. | Odelyn Joseph / AP

NEW YORK—On Monday, the United Nations Security Council voted to send a foreign “security mission” to Haiti—an armed intervention force. The body adopted a resolution, drafted by the United States and Ecuador, that authorizes the so-called Multinational Security Support mission—“to take all necessary measures”—code for the use of force.

Officials from Haiti, the U.N., and the U.S. say the intervention will be aimed at helping Haiti’s police suppress armed bands, or gangs, that cause deadly violence and have overrun the capital, Port-au-Prince. The U.N. reports that, as of Aug. 15, 2,439 Haitians had been killed this year.

“More than just a simple vote, this is in fact an expression of solidarity with a population in distress,” Haiti’s Foreign Minister Jean Victor Geneus told the council. “It’s a glimmer of hope for the people that have for too long been suffering.”

China and Russia, however, abstained from the vote, expressing reluctance about granting a blanket authorization for the use of force under Chapter 7 of the founding U.N. Charter. The remaining 13 members voted in favor.

Senior U.S. diplomat Jeffrey DeLaurentis justified the blank check for intervention, saying, “We have stepped up to create a new way of preserving global peace and security, answering the repeated calls of a member state facing a multi-dimensional crisis amid alarming spiraling gang violence.”

In mid-September, at the U.N. General Assembly, U.S. President Joe Biden and Ariel Henry, Haiti’s acting president, issued a call for a multinational militarized occupation of Haiti. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres had already done so earlier. Secretary of State Antony Blinken promised “robust financial and logistical assistance” from the United States for a military intervention.

U.S. spokespersons say that $100 million is being sought from both Congress and the Pentagon to back the mission.

Meeting in Nairobi on Sept. 25, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his Kenyan counterpart agreed that Kenya will provide 1000 “security officers” and will “lead a multi-national peacekeeping mission to Haiti.” According to the U.N., 12 countries have committed to being part of the mission.

The newly approved international intervention into Haiti will be officially ‘led’ by Kenya, providing some cover for the U.S. military, which will likely be calling the shots behind the scenes. Here, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin, left and Kenya Cabinet Secretary for Defense Aden Duale, sign a bilateral defense cooperation agreement in Nairobi on Sept. 25, 2023. The defense agreement will see Kenya get resources and support for security deployments in exchange for ‘leading’ the intervention in Haiti to combat gang violence. | Khalil Senosi / AP

The Communist Party of Kenya issued a statement condemning its government’s participation. It pointed out that U.S. power derives from “the enslavement of millions of African people, whose labor laid the foundation for [U.S.] economic prosperity.”

The United Nations itself is neither leading nor organizing the intervention, as the organization doesn’t exactly have a good reputation among the people of Haiti. For good reason: The U.N. force occupying Haiti in 2004-17 violated Haitians’ human rights, abused women and children, and introduced a cholera epidemic that killed 40,000 Haitians.

We offer four explanations for why the planned armed intervention will harm Haiti’s already beleaguered majority population.

One, previous foreign interventions have brought trouble. Nothing suggests this one will be different. Here’s the record:

  • The aforementioned U.N. occupation.
  • NGOs invaded after the 2010 earthquake. They wasted donated funds.
  • U.S.-assisted military coups in 1991 and 2004 removed the progressive Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
  • The U.S. “Operation Uphold Democracy” reinserted Aristide in 1994 on the condition that he enforce neoliberal economic “reform.”
  • The U.S. government provided vital support to the father-and-son Duvalier dictatorship from 1957 to 1986.
  • The U.S. military occupation of Haiti from 1915 to 1934 was brutal.
  • France, upon being kicked out of its Haitian colony, required payback with interest for slaves having gone free, in all, $560 million (in 2022 dollars) and up to $115 billion in lost development.
  • The U.S. responded to Haitian independence, proclaimed in 1804, with a trade embargo and diplomatic isolation, each lasting for decades.
In this March 7, 2004, file photo, people demand that occupying U.S. Marines take action to protect them after shooting erupted during a march in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. In 2004, a coup d’état occurred after conflicts lasting for several weeks in Haiti. It resulted in the second removal from office of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, preventing him from finishing his second term. Aristide claimed that his departure was a kidnapping, accusing the U.S. of orchestrating a coup d’état against him. Now, almost 20 years later, the country is still engulfed by violence. | Pablo Aneli / AP

Two, Haiti’s oppressed majority population needs a government, not a façade of one. A government in Haiti that served the people might provide a buffer between an imported, militarized foreign police and the Haitian people. Haiti has no functioning government today, much less one friendly to the people’s cause.

Michel Martelly became president in 2011, courtesy of U.S. manipulation. The last general election in Haiti, in 2016, allowed Jovenel Moïse to be president. The two wealthy politicians belonged to the rightwing PHTK political party. The elections they won were thoroughly corrupt and saw abysmally low turnouts.

Moïse and others embezzled billions of dollars taken from the low-interest loans that President Hugo Chávez’s Venezuelan government made available to the Haitian state. The funds were supposed to have supported Haiti’s development and allowed the government to purchase low-cost oil under Chávez’s Petrocaribe program and to provide subsidized fuel and food for Haiti’s impoverished people. The U.S. government sanctioned Venezuela in 2015, and the loans and cheap oil stopped.

In response, massive protests erupted against government corruption and waste of the Petrocaribe funds. With increasing shortages and rising prices, they’ve continued since 2018. In a context of multifaceted conflict among Haiti’s oligarchs, Moïse was assassinated in July 2021.

There has been no president since, other than acting president Ariel Henry, whom the U.S., Canada, several European countries, and the EU—the so-called “Core Group” that oversees Haiti’s affairs—made prime minister shortly after the assassination. And as for the country’s parliament, it hasn’t functioned for over three years.

The distressed Haitian masses have no political party that reliably or effectively speaks for them. They have no say in foreign governments’ plans for them. They have no institutional resources or constitutional protections against potential abuse at the hands of foreign occupation forces.

Three, the gangs have ties with Haiti’s wealthy powerbrokers. It’s a relationship inconsistent with a simple story of interventionists taking on gangs. The association grew out of the recurring outbursts of social protest.

Haiti’s establishment sought protection from disorder and destruction triggered by the ongoing protests, primarily in Port-au-Prince. In the absence of an army, and with the police unable to cope, gangs came into existence.

They were supposedly going to bring order to city neighborhoods, even leading some protesters to join. Behind them, with funds the whole time, however, have been a number of wealthy Haitians. So of course, the gangs took on the additional role of blocking agitation for political change. Funds flowed from local oligarchs and from abroad for that specific purpose.

There’s a sea of contradictions. In suppressing the gangs, the interventionist forces would be defying the wealthy classes that pay them. But those same wealthy classes, as represented by their political boss Ariel Henry, are calling for a foreign security force to defeat them. The struggling people of Haiti may not readily follow such convoluted scheming, but they are familiar with the likely outcome.

Four, the timing of the intervention coincides with movement within the gangs toward a new kind of politics. One suspects that the proposed intervention represents a heavy-handed response to stirrings for political change.

Some leaders of some gangs appear to be disenchanted with inter-gang fighting and with dependence on the rich and powerful. They are making alliances and mouthing revolutionary sentiments.

Press reports center on veteran gang leader Jimmy Cherizier. They’ve latched onto his nickname “Barbecue,” assigned to him as a small boy; it evokes the specter of fiery violence. This former highly regarded policeman brought other gangs into his “G9” alliance and now is reaching out to other gangs.

Cherizier, quoted by journalist Kim Ives, speaks his mind:

“We are a great people. Our national motto is ‘Union makes strength.’ Our objective is to once and for all overthrow the system that exists in Haiti and achieve the dream of [Haitian founding father Jean-Jacques] Dessalines, which is for the nation’s wealth to be shared by all its citizens…. Our battle isn’t just going to be to demonstrate with people in the streets. We have guns, and we will fight with them…. We took our independence with arms.”

Cherizier told Ives earlier, “This is a corrupt system; these people are using us to fight their political battles, and we do not want to be their cannon fodder anymore.”

Sabine Manigat, a sociologist at Haiti’s Quisqueya University, has the last word: The “image of Haiti portrayed in the foreign press, which highlights misery and insecurity, does not paint the full picture of a country where a social movement survives, people who are standing up and fighting and who require international solidarity, not intervention.”


W. T. Whitney Jr.
W. T. Whitney Jr.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.