What does the U.S. owe Haiti in its time of crisis?

·Senior Editor
·6 min read

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

A power struggle over who could rightfully claim to be Haiti’s leader following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse earlier this month came to a tenuous resolution on Saturday. The country’s interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, agreed to step down and allow Moïse’s choice for the position, Ariel Henry, command a provisional government until elections can be held.

The agreement — brokered by a group of international diplomats — provides some clarity for Haiti’s immediate future, but there are major questions remain about how the country can move forward from its latest crisis. In the days after Moïse’s killing, Joseph called on the U.S. to send troops to help secure infrastructure and maintain order. After reportedly weighing the decision for several days, the White House declined. Officials from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, however, did travel to Haiti shortly after Moïse’s murder to aid the investigation into his killing.

American intervention in Haiti would have been nothing new. Over the past century, the U.S. has repeatedly stepped in during times of crisis on the island. Many historians say those incursions only fueled the instability and poverty that continue to plague the Haitian people. American troops invaded in 1915 under the guise of maintaining order after the sitting president was killed by an angry mob. For the next two decades, Haiti endured a brutal U.S. military occupation that directed the nation’s economy and government while committing a long list of human rights abuses.

The U.S. intervened again in 1994 to unseat a general who had taken command of Haiti in a military coup. After another coup in 2004, United Nations troops entered the country. They remained for the next 13 years, a period that included a devastating earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of Haitians. U.N. troops have been credibly accused of numerous sexual assaults and of causing a deadly cholera outbreak during this period.

Why there’s debate

Given this history, experts in both the U.S. and Haiti reject the idea of further military intervention on the island. They argue that any form of occupation, even by an ostensible peacekeeping force, would repeat the same exploitative and destabilizing effects that have haunted Haiti. Many make the case that the U.S. has an obligation to provide financial and material support to help guide Haiti through this chaotic time so it can establish a legitimate government capable of representing the Haitian people.

Others argue that military intervention may be needed to prevent the country from descending into choas. Any hope that Haiti will be able to establish a functioning government, they say, rely on first establishing order and preventing further violence.

A third group says what Haiti needs from the U.S. is nothing. They argue that decades of American meddling — whether it’s military invasions, economic interference or even ineffective humanitarian missions — have not only served to undermine Haiti’s ability to govern itself, but harmed U.S. interests as well. They say the only path to a stable and prosperous Haiti is for the country’s citizens to finally be given the space to determine their own future.

What’s next

Henry’s ascension to power raises as many questions as it answers in the eyes of many Haiti experts. The most significant is when the country might hold elections to select a new president and, crucially, whether they will be conducted fairly enough to lead to a result the Haitian people will see as legitimate.

Perspectives

Military intervention is needed to ensure peaceful elections can be held

“Barring international intervention, there is every probability that Haiti’s current suffering — from acute and worsening food insecurity as well as covid-19 — will intensify. No one savors the prospect of intervention in a country where past such efforts have been problem-plagued, to put it mildly. Yet in the absence of a robust international presence, Haiti’s agony, and that of many of its 11 million people, will only accelerate.” — Editorial, Washington Post

America only causes harm when it meddles in Haiti

“When it comes to Haiti, Joe Biden’s instincts are right: The best the United States can do is to do as little as possible — and, if possible, a bit less.” — Bret Stephens, New York Times

Haiti’s future must be determined by its people

“Whatever the answer is to Haiti’s acute crisis, it will have to come from within Haiti. … It must come from the Haitian majority: The popular classes who are the first and last victims of the ongoing struggle and who will inevitably have to pick up the pieces afterward.” — Jonathan M. Katz, Foreign Policy

Any plan that ignores the island’s severe poverty is doomed to fail

“It is not enough to bring the divided Haitian political elite and civil society groups to the table; the least well off in Haiti must also be part of the reboot. … To neglect the social crisis afflicting Haiti’s least well off is to invite the cycles of instability in Haiti to persist and the pendulum of international policy to continue swinging.” — Malick Ghachem, Americas Quarterly

Helping Haiti starts with treating the country as an equal partner in its own fate

“Going forward, whatever help the U.S. gives Haiti — and it must take the leading role internationally — it must be sure to do so in full partnership with the Haitian people and with the near-term goal of helping the country stand on its own.” — Editorial, Miami Herald

Rushing to fill Haiti’s power vacuum will only lead to more suffering for its people

“​​The Biden administration, like so many American governments before it, doesn’t seem to care what kind of election takes place in Haiti, as long as the carefully crafted result is a person whom the United States can understand, who speaks the same language (both figuratively and literally), a person, that is, who protects the interests of the usual suspects.” — Amy Wilentz, The Nation

The U.S. should be a safe haven for Haitians facing violence in their home country

“There are ways the Biden administration could open orderly, legal pathways for Haitians to come to the US and ensure they get the opportunity to make claims for protection” — Nicole Narea, Vox

Troops are not needed now, but the U.S. must be prepared if violence escalates

“Should the situation in Haiti continue to unravel, deploying American forces temporarily may become necessary to arrest the slide to anarchy.” — Former U.S. Ambassador to Haiti James B. Foley, The Atlantic

Solutions offered by the U.S. would be rejected by the Haitian people

“Intervention that offends Haitian sovereignty has never worked and it will not work now. Haiti is a graveyard of foreigners’ good but ill-fated intentions.” — Thomas Wenski, South Florida Sun Sentinel

The U.S. should focus exclusively on humanitarian aid in Haiti

“The US, together with key international partners, including Canada and the European Union, can and should also help alleviate the humanitarian situation in Haiti, especially as it relates to the vastly undercounted spread of Covid-19. … Helping foster political consensus and relieving some humanitarian burden should help Haitians forge a path forward and help avoid the humanitarian catastrophe.” — Dan Restrepo, CNN

America can help Haiti build a stable economy

“Tourism, agricultural productivity, and tax haven status are modest initiatives. ... But they’re doable initiatives, because they don’t require fixing the whole country at once. ... The U.S. could provide a further boost by establishing an expanded trade agreement with Haiti similar to the one it has with the Dominican Republic.” — Noah Smith, Bloomberg

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