Letters & Opinion

France and the US broke Haiti; they should be the first to mend it

Sir Ronald Sanders
By Sir Ronald Sanders

WHEN the Foreign Ministers of the world’s wealthiest nations gathered in Brazil from February 21, 2024, Haiti’s dire situation found a brief moment of attention-not in the main agenda but on the sidelines of the G20 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Rio de Janeiro. This sidelining is emblematic of the low priority assigned to Haiti by these global powerhouses.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken took the initiative to put Haiti on the agenda, highlighting U.S. concerns over the country’s instability and the continuous arrival of Haitian refugees to U.S. shores, which has been a contentious issue.  Yet, as of February 23, 2024, major G20 nations have not shown an enthusiastic response.

This lack of enthusiasm reflects the acute rivalry of other major G20 countries, particularly Russia and China, with the U.S., as they have differing interests concerning Haiti.  In the case of China, it has argued for a multifaceted approach that includes political stability and security support to create a sustainable path forward for Haiti. For its part, Russia has expressed skepticism towards international military interventions without a clear national consensus and detailed operational plans. Russia abstained from voting on the UN Security Council Resolution, which authorized the deployment of a Multinational Security Support (MSS) mission to Haiti by like-minded countries, led by Kenya.

Nonetheless, Secretary Blinken has continued to encourage G20 and other nations, from both developed and developing regions, to join the MSS mission.  To date, the U.S has not managed to secure troop commitments except from Kenya and a few countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).  The particularly notable absence of troop commitments from European nations, especially France – a former imperial power in Haiti and a major beneficiary of its slave-produced wealth – underscores this point.

The U.S. itself has committed no troops.  Instead, it has concentrated on trying to get African and Caribbean nations to send their military personnel.  The Biden administration’s reluctance to commit troops to Haiti may be influenced by the stance of Donald Trump, Biden’s presidential rival, known for his reluctance to deploy U.S. troops abroad.  Nonetheless, it irks some nations that the U.S. is calling on them to provide troops who would be endangered in Haiti, while choosing to keep its soldiers at home.

Further, while the U.S. government is touting its willingness to pay $200 million to finance an intervention in Haiti, it says half will come from the Department of Defence, but the other half must come from the U.S. Congress.  To date, the Congress has not voted to allocate any money.  Therefore, the full amount of the U.S. government pledge is not available and is $100 million short of the Kenyan demand.

Jake Johnson, in his insightful book “Aid State: Elite Panic, Disaster Capitalism, and the battle to control Haiti,” suggests that Western perceptions of Haiti are marred by a history of colonialism and racism. While I share Johnson’s view and commend his work for its depth, I argue that the issue is primarily one of passive racism-a disregard for Haiti that likely wouldn’t exist if its population were white.

That passive, almost unthinking, reflexive racial attitude is also mixed with the view that Haiti is a corrupt country where billions of dollars of aid has either been mismanaged or stolen.  The two elements have been a toxic brew for western policy makers to swallow.

A further unofficial consideration in the minds of many governments, and one that is whispered in the margins of international gatherings, is that tens of billions of dollars have been spent on peacekeeping efforts in Haiti in the past by the United Nations and participating governments. Yet, as soon as peacekeeping forces leave, Haiti returns to instability resulting from conflicts between rival political forces in the country.

It is noteworthy that while Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has generally agreed to support a humanitarian intervention in Haiti, less than five of its 15 members have actually offered troops. In the event, CARICOM lacks the capacity to make any significant military contribution to any intervention in Haiti.  The grouping has done so because Haiti is a member state, and, more importantly, because the Haitians were the first nation to rise up against slavery and create a black independent nation in 1804.

But, in any analysis of the Haitian situation, France and the U.S. have a particular responsibility, having significantly profited from and subsequently destabilized the country. Neither country, whatever internal political issues they face, can be excused from their responsibility for impoverishing Haiti. The heavy debt imposed by France following Haiti’s independence and the U.S.’s prolonged financial and political interference have left deep scars on Haiti’s ability to self-govern and prosper.

In light of this, the primary onus for aiding Haiti lies with France and the U.S. They should be at the forefront of efforts to restore order and rebuild the nation, contributing not just through police presence now but also by investing in Haiti’s infrastructure and social systems, rectifying the historical injustices that continue to impede its progress.

Haiti’s relegation to the sidelines of international discourse is a stark reminder of the need for a renewed, committed global effort to address its crises. It is time for those nations most implicated in its historical exploitation, to fulfil their moral and ethical obligations to Haiti.

There is need for an intervention in Haiti to end the current lawlessness, but the support for such an intervention should come from the broadest representation of the Haitian people.  It should also include a timetable and a comprehensive plan, with resources, to build Haiti’s much needed physical, social, political and governance infrastructure at the intervention’s conclusion.

Only then can we hope to see Haiti as a stable, sovereign, and thriving nation, rather than perpetually labelled as a “failed” state or an “aid” state.”

(The writer is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the US and the OAS.  The views expressed are entirely his own.  For comments and previous commentaries, see: www.sirronaldsanders.com)

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