Letters & Opinion

Haitians Living in Limbo While ‘Friends’ Dance to War Drums!

Earl Bousquet
Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

HAITI continued exploding this week, with clashes between paramilitary groups and police in what some describe as ‘a tense calm’ in the capital, Port-au-Prince – and keeping the turbulent Caribbean nation in the World News headlines, for all the wrong reasons.

The USA and Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, are still interlocked in interminable debates about what’s best for the Haitian people, ‘how best’ to ‘help’ and ‘save them’, over ‘who should be’ Haiti’s ‘next prime minister’ and ‘when’ the next presidential elections ‘should be held’.

Unfortunately, there’s not-as-much talk of ‘peace’ as there is about which Caribbean nations will contribute to the foreign boots and helmets planned for the Haitian ground, in the absence of militarized Kenyan police officers leading the planned ‘rescue’, ‘humanitarian’ or ‘safeguarding’ mission.

CARICOM leaders met in Jamaica on March 11 and prompted the promised resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry, stranded in Puerto Rico.

They also agreed to largely support the external intervention plan by the nations running things in Haiti – Canada, France UK and USA (The Quad), along with the UN, together also called ‘Friends of Haiti’.

But the international plans have hit several unintentional roadblocks.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told the CARICOM leaders in Jamaica that Washington expected appointment of the proposed interim presidential council “within 24 to 48 hours”, but Kenya put the proposed rapid deployment of its boots on hold, throwing a big spoke in the biggest wheel.

Further, the paramilitary groups, while welcoming Prime Minister Henry’s public promise to resign, still insist he must not return to Haiti – and they also firmly reject ANY foreign intervention force.

The mainstream international press continues portraying Jimmy Cherizier – the main spokesman for the united force of armed groups – by stressing his nickname ‘Barbecue’, acquired from a childhood selling roasted chicken.

But he’s also an elite former top cop now leading over-200 gangs, with dozens operating in the capital.
Local political party and gang leaders previously supported by the US, but who now oppose any US-backed external intervention, are also branded as ‘former criminals’ who ‘served time’ and/or are ‘under sanctions…’

But Cherizier, who has previously demonstrated his ability to control key sections of the capital, has also now been able to unite the most powerful of the paramilitary groups across communities in Port au Prince and beyond – and they insist that any future prime minister must be elected by Haitians living in Haiti.

The hope is still to mask any eventual CARICOM-led US-funded external involvement in peaceful UN clothing, but Haitians have absolutely no trust in the UN – and here’s (partly) why:
Between October 2010 and February 2019, thanks to a deadly cholera epidemic introduced by UN Peacekeeping Forces (PKFs), over 820,000 cases of cholera – including nearly 10,000 deaths – were reported.

But instead of compensating living victims and families of the dead, the UN opted to exercise ‘diplomatic immunity’ to escape paying compensatory reparations.UN (and other international) aid agencies also left bad human rights reputations involving sexual abuse of women and minors – and hundreds of fatherless babies left-behind.Fact is: Any boots landing in Haiti today or tomorrow will be seen and treated by many there as just another new set of foreign soldiers and non-military aid and administrative personnel coming to implement foreign agendas that they had no role in setting.

In the absence of the Kenyan forces, CARICOM nations, even though not all, will be expected to contribute both military/police and civilian contingents in the overseas mission.

Civilians among them will have to provide translation, administrative and operational support, but many also feel their safety will also have to be secured – and with adequate Life Insurance.

As a regional entity crippled by the need for unanimity in decision-making while respecting the sovereign right of each member-state to do go against the grain of the unanimous position, CARICOM has provided as-much support for the search for a solution as it can.

Haiti is an expanding war zone and like in Gaza and Sudan, there’s no functioning parliament, while government ministers operate from hotel rooms – and 11 million people are left to fend for themselves.

Besides, 5,000 Haitian police officers (of an original 9,000-strong national force) are expected to keep the over-100 paramilitary groups (including ex-police and army officers) at bay – until foreign boots land.

The QUAD nations have evacuated embassy staff while the US has moved-in an initial contingent of marines.

The UN also says that since the unrest returned to Haiti on February 29, over-four million are already facing food insecurity three weeks later, with over-one million nearing starvation, the UN World Food Program (WFP) reporting its food stocks have started dwindling.

The UN-backed international assistance plan, to be financed with US $300 million by Washington and hopefully led by CARICOM, also locks-out the paramilitary groups from any discussions on Haiti’s future for the next two or three years, or participation in the proposed transitional presidential council.

But there’s a growing feeling that isolation and rejection of the paramilitary groups can very-well be a major tactical error and a big strategic mistake by the UN, CARICOM and ‘Friends of Haiti’.

Cherizier’s also declared ‘any foreign intervention’ as virtually Dead-on-Arrival – and the combined paramilitary forces also promise their version of an asymmetric, scorched-earth ground war against any external force, including Haiti’s CARICOM neighbours.

They view any agreed plan they weren’t part of as part of a global plot to contain them by forcefully overcoming the demonstrably well-armed paramilitary groups that now control over-80% of the capital.

Proponents of engagement with the combined paramilitary forces argue that in any negotiation for peace, warring factions must all be brought to the table.
Besides, they ask, if the ‘gangs’ are as strong and dangerous as claimed, why give them every excuse to continue ruling the roost?
The days ahead will answer.

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