In the Caribbean Sea, sharing the island of Hispaniola with Dominican Republic is its lesser known neighbor in the west—Haiti. While Dominican Republic is a popular tourist destination and economically favorable owing to its free trade zones, Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas and is acknowledged when, owing to its political instability and vulnerability to natural calamities, it makes headlines.
Source- Getty Images
On February 17th, 2019, a Sunday, a group of eight people were arrested in Port au-Prince, the capital. The group consisted of Americans, a Russian and a Siberian in possession of semi-automatic weapons all of whom were deported to US. This incident brought Haiti on the international news columns across the world where its presence has been fluctuating in the past year owing to the withdrawal of UN Peacekeeping troops amidst escalating protests against the government.
Haiti was the first Caribbean state to attain independence after it overthrew the French Colonial rule in the early 19th century. However, as part of the bargain for freedom the world’s first Black led republic owed ‘independence debt’ to France which was not paid off until 1947.
In 1822, Haiti also annexed Dominican Republic after the latter gained freedom from the Spanish colonial rule. It wasn’t until the Dominican war of independence in 1844 that the Dominican Republic breathed freedom again, this time for long.
Considering the fact that Haiti had a head start with freedom and development, its current economic and political scenario screams of inefficient governance.
At a time when mass arrests are made every day and people are killed during protests throughout the country, it is the involvement of armed Americans claiming to be associated with the government, when the UN has withdrawn its Peacekeepers from the state, which has gained attention. So, what exactly is happening in Haiti? What are the protests and what are foreigners doing in the instable Caribbean country?
The mass demonstrations throughout the country are the result of a report by the Haitian court revealing the embezzlement of $2 billion to $4 billion from the developmental funds from the PetroCaribe deal by former ministers and officials. The Petro Caribe deal was an agreement between Caribbean countries and Venezuela which allowed them to purchase fuel from Venezuela at low prices. According to the deal, Venezuela sold Haiti fuel at a down payment of 60% with the remaining 40% spread over a period of 25 years at low rates of interest. The protesters demand the resignation of President Jovenel Moise along with an independent investigation into the matter. President Moise responded by explicitly stating that he would not leave the country “in the hands of armed gangs and drug traffickers”.
This is not the first time the country is in an economic and political crisis.
When President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown for the second time in the early 2000’s, the state was torn apart by revolts, spiralling crime and lack of order. His successor, the acting President Justice Boniface Alexandre entreated UN for help and therefore the MINUSTAH (United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti) was launched on June 1st 2004. The original objective was to ensure peaceful transition of power and support the government for 6 months while it established itself. The mission was slowly extended and mandates adjusted allowing for flexibility to the Peacekeepers to stabilize the situation.
Source- 2010 World Vision
The situation had improved significantly by 2010, making headway economically, and on the law and order front. The commission appeared to have achieved its objective. But the devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake which struck the island on January 12th, 2010 prolonged their assistance to the government to support immediate recovery of the collapsed country. The earthquake claimed 220,000 lives, crippled the economy and infrastructure. The ‘overall force level’ was then increased and it was only in October 2017 that the Peacekeeping force’s commission was concluded (after a US led review of the cost and effectiveness of the Peacekeeping operations).
Haiti is in a crisis, no doubt. With the Peacekeeping forces gone, the intense volatility is left to the local police forces. Has MINUSTAH acted irresponsibly? They did aid in maintaining stability but their reputation is stained by 13 rape charges and the allegation of spreading the cholera epidemic (which the UN later took responsibility for). The UN also collected funds for the rape victims and survivors of sexual abuse by the Peacekeepers which amounted to approximately 1.5 million. The existence of these funds is, however, questioned. MINUSTAH stands for stabilizing Haiti. It left when the country is on the brink of a civil war. But these protests have been sparked by the officials themselves. The famous singer and ex-President Michel Martelly who won the election because the most popular party was banned from contesting in election, was supported by US. While US cannot be held answerable for his incompetence, a consideration despite the results of the US led review concerning the presence of Peacekeepers in Haiti would have earned it respect, if nothing else. MINUSTAH came to Haiti to establish peace. It is leaving without.