By Garry Pierre-Pierre
Well, we all know that it couldn’t last forever. Lately there are serious signs that a pare down of United Nations (UN) forces in Haiti is underway for MINUSTAH, as the contingent is known. Social media mavens have been buzzing with excitement at the imminent departure, writing posts demanding for the withdrawal, a fait accompli. When the inevitable happens, they can claim that their activism forced the UN’s hands.
The UN troops landed in Haiti in mid 2004 after President Jean Bertrand Aristide was whisked out of the country by a fake rebellion. The deposed leader settled eventually in South Africa, where he remained in exile until 2011 when he returned to his troubled Caribbean homeland to the surprise of many.
The irony here is that in 2004, Haiti was celebrating its 200 years of independence and that celebration quickly gave way to instability as the country once again plunged into chaos. The independence turned into an international occupation that is still ongoing to the chagrin of many Haitians.
MINUSTAH’s tenure has been a mixed blessing. The force is widely credited of stabilizing the country’s politics and bought time for the country’s police force to be properly trained and have the ability to police the country.
But, the UN presence has brought a debilitating cholera epidemic that killed thousands of Haitians. The UN soldiers have been accused of sexual abuse and other misdeeds during their nearly 13 years in Haiti.
I never really understood why Haiti needed a UN or any other force to settle their problems. The UN forces were deployed to Haiti even though there was no civil war. The coup to oust Aristide was pure theater. It was led by Guy Philippe, a disgrace former soldier and police official, who now sits in a Miami jail awaiting trial on charges of drug trafficking and money laundering.
Philippe and his troops – a band of rag tag former soldiers from the disbanded Armed Forces of Haiti, or FADH – crossed into Haiti from the Dominican Republic and traversed the country all the way into the capital, eventually forcing Aristide out after the former president’s mercenary security forces bailed out on him. It speaks volume when leaders don’t trust their own people to secure them.
While MINUSTAH has provided some semblance of stability in Haiti, the conditions that led to their presence in Haiti have not been truly resolved. Instead, they are hiding under a thin veil that will come off when these foreign soldiers are out of Haiti’s supposedly sovereign soil.
Since 2011, Haiti has struggled to organize elections and the current president, Jovenel Moise was elected with the participation of about 10 percent of the roughly 6 million eligible voters. Political dysfunction notwithstanding, the police and the judiciary are feeble institutions that are vulnerable to corruption and incompetence.
The media has been muzzled or discredited because too many journalists are partisans, who are working tacitly or openly with politicos, giving them unfettered time to advance their narrow personal agenda at the peril of the nation.
Since MINUSTAH’s presence, there have been three relatively orderly transfer of powers from one elected president to another. Rene Preval passed the mantle to Michel Martelly, who left office last year after failing to hold elections for his replacement on time. Former Senate president Jocelerne Privet, became interim president and organized the elections that ushered in Moise. The latest president was sworn into office on Feb. 7.
With the country focusing on the upcoming carnival there has not been any political agitations and it remains to be seen how long Moise can go before his first nationwide challenge of his nascent presidency. I am alarmed that the zero sum gave favored by every Haitian politician remains their guiding ideology. That mindset is one of the factors that has made Haiti one of the most unstable countries in the Western Hemisphere in the last 25 years.
There is no question in my mind had MINUSTAH not been there, Preval and Martelly would have had aborted terms. The anger was diffused every time with a show of force with tanks and soldiers rolling out on the streets to quash massive protests.
I do believe that MINUSTAH should go, and should do so soon. But having said that I remain skeptical that once these blue-helmeted soldiers are out whether or not our institutions are ready to play their role in a democratic society. Can the police handle a protest of 10,000 or more? Can the judiciary uphold the constitution? Can the political parties behave responsibly? Can Haiti feed itself and care of the desperate needs of its people.
UN bureaucrats in New York have extended MINUSTAH’s mandate every time it was about to expire. That date almost always coincided with a spate of protests or kidnappings that underscores its importance in Haiti is crucial and vital to dealing with the country’s myriad of problems.
These cynical ploys have run their course and now serious discussions are taking place about an exit strategy. Brazil, the country will the largest soldiers in Haiti, has been reducing its presence and plans to leave Haiti by the end of this year. The UN at large is expected to follow suit.
I yearn to visit a Haiti without a MINUSTAH presence, I’m crossing my fingers that the Haitian authorities are ready to take the wheels of this precarious nation. I truly hope we’re up to the task.
There is an isolationistic fervor sweeping Europe and Washington. These nations are being influenced by racist nationalists who are turning inward. So at these uncertain times, the Haitian people need to clean their house. If we dirty it once again, there may not be anyone at the ready to help us clean it up again.