Source: Ralph Tedy Erol/Reuters.
In the wake of the announcement of a Kenyan police-security deployment to Haiti, public attention to the crisis the country is facing shifted from general appeals for multilateral action to concerns that the Kenyan deployment would not resolve the crisis—simultaneously debating the logic of a fourth international intervention in a span of three decades. A common variable throughout is that the crisis in Haiti is deepening, and that even with some conditionalities, most Haitians desperately want outside help.
What appears less internalized is the realization that the Kenyan commitment is in fact just one component—an encouraging one, nonetheless—of a necessarily broader package of layered efforts by the international community. For that sentiment to hold, however, the debate must shift to a determination of how best to widen the bases of support and how best to synchronize the Kenyan mission with other simultaneous initiatives. This will improve the odds of success of the Kenyan deployment when joined by contingents from other countries. The most promising proposals—matching security needs with community, humanitarian, and governance initiatives—need to be short-listed as part of a comprehensive initial phase of engagement operationalized in tandem with the Kenyan deployment. This needs to be finalized now. A sampling of proposals might include:
Building on a resilient, if increasingly precarious, Haitian civil society, taking advantage of neighborhood citizen security groups (not vigilantes), and local community NGOs filling in the gaps left from an absent Haitian National Police (Police Nationale d’Haiti – PNH) and lacking government services more generally. Their institutional infrastructure and neighborhood outreach provide baselines of local trust that will be essential to any multinational initiative. This also provides targeted funding opportunities for support from international donors.
Similarly, another opportunity is to incorporate the large number of private security groups. Though admittedly of uneven quality, they far outnumber the PNH’s deployed manpower and provide an additional layer of community level experience and international professional links. Pushing ahead with such efforts may also dampen the odds of competing private armed groups emerging in the wake of a multilateral security intervention.
A third arena focuses on the Haitian government institution at the center of much of the international community’s attention and material support—the PNH. A lesson learned from three decades of disappointing outcomes to multilateral training and financial support is the need for Haitian leaders to rethink the scope of engagement and core missions of the PNH. Over time it has become an unwieldy national security force weighed down by leadership, manpower, equipment, and budgetary deficiencies—let alone politicization. This is likely to bring up among Haitians notions of a revamped, modernized army—a subject prone to rightfully trigger anxieties considering the Haitian armed forces’ 20th century record. Nonetheless, if carefully mediated, a determination of whether Haiti’s genuine security needs can be more effectively achieved by a small military institution should be part of a timely review of the PNH’s bloated mission statement.
A fourth and final domain may ultimately be the most critical of all in the success of an international security operation: the need for a working Haitian governance consensus, one able to overcome the legitimacy crisis that interim prime minister Ariel Henry faces in the eyes of most Haitians and a widening range of international actors. Mediation efforts underway for close to a year now need to transition to a politically viable formula—likely involving a transitional national governance structure anchored by an expansion of the existing High Transition Council—where Henry fades from the scene before an electoral calendar commences.
All of these proposals face strong headwinds. In what can be characterized as a 90-day window of opportunity, firming up any of the supporting actions noted above and others across a wide spectrum of government agencies and multilateral institutions is a challenge. Worse, the Kenyan deployment itself is already caught up in Kenyan political and legal complications. If the deployment delays drag out beyond January 2024, this places an even greater pressure on key actors—notably the U.S., Canada, and the UN—in part because the situation in the streets of Haiti will have become even more dreadful. The violence has expanded well beyond the Port-au-Prince region, further strangling national activity.
Nonetheless, the Kenyan commitment has set in motion considerable behind-the-scenes planning activity. Some of this is operational—manpower, equipment, intelligence, logistics, tactical planning, etc. This also needs to incorporate the implications of mission success, such as having in place a functioning legal process that can credibly adjudicate the capture of gang members and their leaders—a tall order in an environment where the judiciary is barely functional, and the national penitentiary is little more than an inhumane holding pen. The implications of an international security deployment also become relevant to a key element of UN, U.S., and Canadian diplomacy toward Haiti—a broad net of individual sanctions, targeting most notably high-profile members of the Haitian private sector. While appealing in its psychological effects, how this plays out in the likely messy and uncertain scenarios Haiti faces in 2024 and beyond needs to be anticipated.
The 90-day window of opportunity also needs to see results with the Caribbean Community’s (CARICOM) efforts at mediating a Haitian governing political consensus. Since last summer’s meeting in Jamaica of key Haitian political and civil society actors, negotiation efforts have stumbled forward uneasily but remain active nonetheless in the search for a transitional governance agreement. Part of what has held back international responses to the crisis in Haiti is the increasingly open discomfort many governments have regarding the legitimacy of Henry’s interim regime. Henry has heard those concerns directly from CARICOM leadership. As a Kenyan deployment appears on the horizon, the ongoing phase of CARICOM mediation therefore needs to generate measurable progress. Pressure on Henry from Washington would be timely.
Yet, the more perplexing aspect of multilateral policy toward Haiti relates to the diplomatic profile of the United States. The reluctance of the Biden administration to take a more active leadership role runs counter to the expectation of most Haitians and much of the international community. Admittedly, Washington is more engaged than it may appear, notably in its long-standing efforts supporting the PNH. U.S. diplomacy was obviously the key factor in the surprising announcement of a Kenyan deployment to Haiti.
U.S. policymakers also have a regional web of Haiti-related concerns, including refugee and migration flows. When applied to Haiti, the Biden administration’s migration parole program is in practice draining out segments of Haiti’s professional cadres (including some from the PNH), and paradoxically, probably some gang members as well. Another delicate issue involves a uniquely American political if not cultural problem, with Haiti and the Caribbean Basin awash with gun trafficking overwhelmingly linked to the United States. Another worrisome development is the emergence of a Haiti-Dominican Republic border dispute, nominally over water rights, but primarily driven by Dominican frustration with the international response of the crisis in Haiti.
Washington’s uneven leadership is now most critical with the anticipated deployment of the Kenyan force. Yet, there are actions Washington can take to facilitate what is likely to become increasingly time-consuming Haiti policy coordination—competing with wider demands of the war in Ukraine and the Israel-Hamas conflict. Congress could do its part by confirming a U.S. Ambassador to Haiti. And while the implosion of the last Haiti Special Envoy mission in September 2021 has left a bad taste within the Department of State, it is time to revisit the notion, even if it is a less formal “Special Advisor for Haiti” role. This would replace the currently diffuse Haiti-policy pronouncements originating from a variety of senior officials.
Georges A. Fauriol is a Fellow with Global Americans; he is also a co-chair of the Caribbean Policy Consortium (CPC), as well as a Think Tank Haiti (TTH) Steering Group member, a partnership of Université Quisqueya (Haiti) and the Inter-American Dialogue, and a Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS).
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