by Ambra Visentin
About 1,000 military personnel from Kenya, Jamaica, the Bahamas and Antigua and Barbuda – led by Kenyans – will provide operational support to the Haitian police for an initial 12-month period to fight gangs and improve security. This was decided in a UN resolution on Monday. The Country needs to be stabilised to the point where new elections (which have not been held since 2016) can be held in the future. This is a huge challenge, especially as some of the Haitian police are said to be collaborating with the gangs.
The situation in the Country
Haiti has been going through an unprecedented economic, political and security crisis for years. The assassination of President Jovenel Moise in 2021 dramatically worsened the situation. This year alone, gang warfare has killed more than 2,400 people, kidnapped more than 950 and injured 902 in Haiti, according to the United Nations. More than 190,000 citizens have been forced to flee their homes. In August, gangs took over some areas and now control about 80 per cent of Port-au-Prince.
An unenviable task at the head of a mission that almost no one wanted to be in charge of. The United States has long been pushing to send military forces to the Caribbean island, first approaching Canada and then Brazil, both of which declined. Now Kenya has stepped in, perhaps seeing this intervention as an opportunity to position itself on the international stage and benefit from agreements with the United States. But the question of legitimacy is twofold. On the one hand, the request for UN assistance comes from an unelected Government, led by Prime Minister Ariel Henry, in a Country whose social, economic and security situation is catastrophic. On the other hand, the Kenyan Government’s decision was taken without consulting Parliament, let alone the people. Moreover, the Kenyan police force has been criticised by human rights organisations for corruption and excessive use of force. In any case, the direction behind the scenes remains ‘made in the US’, with most of the troops, coordination and logistical support remotely controlled from Washington.
The failures of the first UN mission (2004-2017)
The events of the first United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) are still too fresh in the collective memory for people to debate the appropriateness of a second mission. It was a series of events that left a deep wound in the hearts of Haitian citizens, inflicted by the very people who were supposed to protect them. In 2010, a cholera epidemic broke out, brought to the island by the blue helmets 100 years after the disease had been eradicated from the Caribbean Country. More than 10,000 people died. There were also many documented cases of human rights abuses by the peacekeepers themselves. Because of these precedents, the Multinational Mission in Support of Haitian Security will not be nominally a United Nations operation.
Ties between power and armed gangs
In November 2018, as part of a popular uprising, people in the La Saline neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince were massacred by the gang of Jimmy Cherizier, alias Barbecue, who was a policeman at the time. High officials, including government officials, were involved. The police did nothing. The massacre lasted about fifteen hours and claimed 71 lives. According to Frédéric Thomas, a researcher at the Centre tricontinetal in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium, this is a recurring pattern: “There are several reports of police cars accompanying armed gangs into working-class neighbourhoods. No investigation has ever been carried out. This impotence has less to do with a lack of police resources than with a strategy that makes terror a form of Government.”
More information on the Haiti conflict in our factsheet
Cover image by Daniel-Alvarez on Shutterstock