The assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse by mercenaries on June 7 has worsened the country’s ongoing political crisis, and some Haitian officials are now reportedly requesting US military assistance to secure key installations. If an intervention happened, that would likely be the prelude to a larger mission to police the entire country.
Given Washington’s recent role in supporting the increasingly authoritarian and unpopular Moïse and the record of previous US military interventions, including an occupation of the country between 1915 and 1934, the United States should turn down this request. Instead, the United States can provide the interim government with humanitarian assistance and help in investigating the assassination. Deploying troops to the country in yet another Haitian intervention is a bridge too far.
The United States should not be embarking on another open-ended military mission, and we should not assume that US forces would be welcome in the country despite the official request. The United States backed Moïse and ignored his critics, and it would be foolish to think that the US role in supporting him will be forgotten overnight. Pierre Esperance, the executive director of the National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH), urged the Biden administration to change course away from its previous policy:
In the current state of insecurity in Haiti, the Biden administration must work to create the conditions in which we, the Haitian people — not the United States and the international community — can decide the future of our country, strengthen our democracy, and guarantee our basic human rights.
President Joe Biden should remember the example of Somalia and how easily a mission of mercy can turn into one of pacification that brings US forces into direct conflict with armed gangs. Having just extracted the United States from one fruitless conflict in Afghanistan, Biden should not get involved in what would likely become a long-term and potentially dangerous commitment to stabilize the country. The United States has been in the business of policing other countries’ internal conflicts and problems for far too long. If we are ever going to have a more restrained and normal foreign policy, the United States must learn to decline requests for our government to “do something” in another country.
THE CASE AGAINST INTERVENTION
If an intervention is not in the American interest, it is also unlikely to be good for Haiti. Haiti has been poorly served by the presence of foreign forces on its soil. It was only four years ago that UN peacekeepers departed Haiti after more than a decade, and during their time there was a cholera outbreak spread by foreign troops and widespread sexual abuse of young Haitian women and girls resulting in hundreds of pregnancies. Haiti’s current political crisis is at least partly the result of repeated outside interventions in the country’s affairs, and another intervention would risk repeating the same errors that have created the situation we see today. If there is to be long-term stability and political progress in Haiti, US and other governments need to resist the urge to engage in the superficial quick fix of military intervention.
Foreign interventions have functioned at best as band aids for Haiti’s political dysfunction, and at worst they have caused tremendous harm and exacerbated the country’s internal problems.
The US occupation of Haiti in 1915 began in response to the assassination of another Haitian president, Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam, which the United States viewed as a threat to American business interests in the country. For almost twenty years after that, US forces ruled the country, brutally put down local rebellions, and committed atrocities against the civilian population. During the occupation, 15,000 Haitians were killed. The occupation of Haiti was just one of several American military interventions in the Western Hemisphere between the start of the war with Spain and the 1930s, but it stands out as one of the more extended and brutal US interventions in the affairs of our neighbors in the last century. Among other things, the US military enforced martial law on the country and imposed a system of forced labor on the population. Dressed up in the rhetoric of restoring order, the US occupation was a period of exploitative domination. Both Haiti and the Dominican Republic live with the legacy of US occupation in the last century. US intervention in 1994 was justified in the name of restoring an elected leader, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who had been ousted in a military coup three years earlier and would then be overthrown again a decade later. Foreign interventions, therefore, have functioned at best as band aids for Haiti’s political dysfunction, and at worst they have caused tremendous harm and exacerbated the country’s internal problems.
Some Haitian political activists are understandably opposed to outside military intervention. Guerline Jozef, the co-founder and executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, was quoted as saying, “I don’t think that we need outside forces to come in and provide ‘security’ to Haiti, we know and we have the history of the UN forces and the aftermath of all of those.” The RNDDH director Esperance appeals for a major change in US policy towards Haiti: “US-led efforts to install governments in Haiti have never worked, and Biden’s ill-conceived policy supporting Moïse has clearly failed. It is time for the US government to listen to the Haitian people.”
There have already been calls for intervention within the United States The Washington Post wasted no time in calling for “swift and muscular international intervention” by the UN, which would almost certainly involve US forces on account of our proximity and resources. If we should have learned anything from the last 20 years, it is that military interventions are rarely stabilizing and frequently produce undesirable consequences that we fail to anticipate at the beginning. Even when they “work” in the near term, they end up costing us and the affected country far more than most people imagined possible.
THE NEIGHBORLY THING TO DO
Haiti is our neighbor, and the United States should be willing to render non-military assistance to help them stabilize their own country, but we should also respect our neighbor enough to let them sort out their political problems themselves. Americans should ask whose political interests in Haiti an outside intervention is meant to secure. Is the purpose of an outside intervention really to protect the country from disorder, or is it to prop up the political leaders that have thoroughly failed their people?
The Biden administration should recognize that elections later this year make no sense, and it should listen to the voices of Haitian civil society when they say that there is no way that elections held so soon could possibly be free or fair. Moïse made lots of enemies by trying to impose his will on the country, and he faced widespread opposition because he refused to listen to what the people of Haiti wanted. The United States should not make the same mistakes by interfering in Haitian affairs.