Haitians apprehensive of foreign troops as government seeks US help

14 July 2021 - 12:22 By Reuters
Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph gives a press conference almost a week after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti July 13, 2021.
Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph gives a press conference almost a week after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti July 13, 2021.
Image: REUTERS/Ricardo Arduengo

A troubled past of foreign military intervention has made many Haitians anxious or hostile to calls requesting US or other foreign troops be sent to the Caribbean nation in the aftermath of last week's assassination of the President Jovenel Moise.

Acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph has asked for troops from both the US and the United Nations, which were reviewing the requests as the Caribbean nation spiralled deeper into turmoil following Moise's killing.

Joseph pitched the idea as a way to safeguard key infrastructure such as the capital's airport and main seaport. However, the idea has met resistance from civil society groups, as well as retired soldiers in the country and ordinary citizens.

“We don't want other countries to impose a government on us,” said Jose Maslin, 55, who repairs televisions and radios for a living, standing beneath a highway overpass in the capital's western Delmas neighbourhood.

On Tuesday, the Haitian Military Association, which represents retired officers, called on Haitian society to spare Haiti the “humiliation” of foreign intervention.

The association sharply criticised what it described as the lack of “patriotic” planning by the acting government, which it accused of opting “to rush into the ease of a request for intervention on national territory,” according to a statement.

Another group, representing civil society, called for a “Haitian-led” solution to the country's crisis.

Pierre Esperance, the executive director of the National Human Rights Defense Network, called on the US to listen to and support diverse civil society groups during the transition in an article for Just Security.

“We fear the US will do what it has always done: impose its own solution on Haiti, including by throwing its support behind the people and policies it thinks will be best for key US interests,” he said.

Such views can be traced to a long history of foreign military footprints in Haiti, including a 1915 US occupation that lasted 20 years, and more recent UN and US troop deployments following political turmoil and natural disasters, some of which led to allegations of abuse.

The White House on Monday said it had not ruled out the possibility of troops, although US officials have said the Pentagon sees no need to deploy. Washington sent a small group of fewer than a dozen personnel to shore up security at the US embassy in Port-au-Prince after the attack.

On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Luis Almagro, secretary-general of the Organization of American States (OAS).

“The Secretary underscored the US' commitment to working with the OAS and our international partners to help Haitian institutions restore security and to pave the way for free and fair legislative and presidential elections in 2021,” a spokesperson for the department said.

“Secretary Blinken also expressed concern with the political and security situation the Haitian people are enduring and reiterated the US' support for democratic governance and stability in Haiti.”

REJECTING 'FOREIGN INTERVENTION'

The international community's involvement threatens to worsen Haiti's fragile situation, said Jake Johnston of the US-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR).

“For far too long, foreign actors have sought to impose solutions from abroad,” Johnston said. “Those interventions bear significant responsibility for the current situation in Haiti and for the long-term undermining of Haiti's democracy.”

Alex Dupuy, a Haitian sociologist at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, said, “Foreign intervention is not the solution, the solution is a more accountable system of government but also greater economic opportunities and the creation of a better economy.”

The streets of the capital remained calm on Tuesday, despite calls for protests from a gang leader. Gangs remain in control of parts of the city, including key fuel supply routes.

Tires were set ablaze at makeshift blockades, including in front of the Justice Ministry where prosecutors interviewed witnesses to the assassination or others who may have information about the plot, including senior opposition figures.

Hoping to sell colourful clothes spread out on a plastic tarp on a busy street corner, 39-year-old Judithe Volcy said foreign troops would be unable to solve Haiti's deeper problems.

“Look, Haiti's economy is in horrible shape. Everything is so expensive. So many people just leave for the countryside, or those with money, leave for other countries,” she said.  


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