Oct 11, 2022
Amid a multi-pronged humanitarian crisis, thousands of people in Haiti have taken to the streets of the capital Port-au-Prince and other cities to protest the government's recent request for foreign military assistance to curb gang-related violence.
"It is unconstitutional and an act against the demands of the Haitian people."
Demonstrators in the capital on Monday expressed opposition to a potential "foreign occupation" and demanded the resignation of de facto Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who on Friday asked "Haiti's international partners" to help with "the immediate deployment of a specialized armed force, in sufficient quantity" to stop the "criminal actions" of armed gangs throughout the country.
Police responded to the demonstrations by firing tear gas. Several people were shot and at least one person was killed during the rallies and ensuing crackdown.
"It is a crime perpetrated by the police," an unnamed protester toldAgence France Press. "This young girl posed no threat. She was killed expressing her desire to live in dignity."
Another protester said that "we certainly need help to develop our country, but we don't need boots [on the ground]." If other nations were to send troops, they would be "interfering in the internal affairs of Haiti," the person said, adding that the government had "no legitimacy to ask for military assistance."
Gang violence in Haiti has escalated since the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise--which was quickly followed by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that killed more than 2,200 people and destroyed or damaged thousands of buildings--created a vacuum of political leadership and increased socio-economic instability on the island.
Henry's request for foreign military intervention comes as battles between more than 150 armed gangs for control of key roads and neighborhoods have effectively paralyzed the nation's economy.
Nearly a month ago, "one of the country's most powerful gangs surrounded a key fuel terminal in the capital of Port-au-Prince, preventing the distribution of some 10 million gallons of diesel and gasoline and more than 800,000 gallons of kerosene stored on site," Al Jazeera reported. The blockade has also triggered shortages of potable water and forced hospitals to shut down amid a deadly resurgence of cholera, which is hitting prisoners especially hard.
Martin Griffiths, the head of humanitarian relief at the United Nations, called for emergency lifesaving funding on Saturday, warning that if the disease is not contained, it could lead to "cataclysmic levels of despair for the people of Haiti."
Against this backdrop, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Sunday called for the body's Security Council to urgently consider "options for enhanced security support to Haiti."
"Any sustainable solution to Haiti's problems needs to come from within."
However, Al Jazeera reported, "many Haitians have rejected the idea of another international intervention, noting that U.N. peacekeepers were accused of sexual assault and sparked a cholera epidemic more than a decade ago that killed nearly 10,000 people."
In the words of Port-au-Prince resident Josue Merilein, "It is unconstitutional and an act against the demands of the Haitian people."
In his proposal to the Security Council, Guterres cited the need to secure "the free movement of water, fuel, food, and medical supplies from main ports and airports to communities and healthcare facilities."
But humanitarian groups in Haiti warn that bringing in foreign troops risks intensifying the violence plaguing the country and provides no long-term solutions to the root causes of myriad ongoing crises.
"Our immediate reaction, as a medical organization, is that this means more bullets, more injuries, and more patients," Benoit Vasseur, the leader of Doctors Without Borders' mission in Haiti, toldThe Guardian on Sunday. "We are afraid there will be a lot of bloodshed."
One of the world's poorest countries, Haiti has been oppressed for more than two hundred years by imperial forces--including exploitative economic arrangements, overt military interventions, and covert political interference led by the United States--since its inhabitants ousted French colonizers and enslavers and established the Western Hemisphere's second democratic republic in 1804.
"We have had foreign intervention in 1915, 1994, 2004 and yet here we are again today in the same situation," said Louis-Henri Mars, the director of Haitian peacebuilding non-profit Lakou Lape. "Every time there's intervention the same system stays in place."
In a Saturday statement, the U.S. State Department said that Washington and its allies are reviewing the Haitian government's request to "determine how we can increase our support to help address Haiti's fuel shortage and security constraints."
One day earlier, Canada's foreign ministry released a joint statement declaring that 19 of the members of the Organization of American States (OAS)--which has conducted several anti-democratic interventions in Haiti--are committed to helping the country "overcome" its "complex security challenges."
As Jake Johnston, senior research associate at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, pointed out on social media, OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro said last Thursday that he urged Haiti during an OAS meeting to request support from an "international security force"--one day before Henry officially did so.
\u201cYesterday, the head of the @OAS_official asked Haiti\u2019s de facto leader to request foreign military assistance. Hours later, @Jacquiecharles reported it had done just that. The blockade of the fuel terminal is providing a pretext for yet another foreign intervention in Haiti.\u201d— Jake Johnston (@Jake Johnston) 1665145939
Bocchit Edmond, Haiti's ambassador to the U.S., toldReuters on Monday that "we wish to see our neighbors like the United States, like Canada, take the lead and move fast" to confront the gangs.
"There is a really big threat over the head of the prime minister," Edmond said. "If nothing is done quickly, there is a risk of another head of state [being] killed in Haiti."
Moise, who was backed by the U.S. and ruled by decree after dissolving the Haitian parliament in early 2020, named Henry as Haiti's next prime minister just two days before he was murdered. Following a brief power struggle with then-Prime Minister Claude Joseph, Henry assumed office once the U.S. and the so-called "Core Group" threw their support behind him.
Protests against Henry--who is serving in an interim capacity after he indefinitely delayed the November 2021 election, citing growing disorder--erupted last month when his unpopular government announced an end to fuel subsidies.
"Any sustainable solution to Haiti's problems needs to come from within," an unnamed aid official in Port-au-Prince told The Guardian.
In a letter sent to U.S. President Joe Biden last Thursday, one day before Haiti's government requested foreign military intervention, 13 members of Congress, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), made the same argument.
"We are writing to express our concern about the lack of progress in establishing a Haitian government that is consistent with the Haitian constitution and has the backing of the Haitian people," the lawmakers wrote.
There are "several steps that the U.S. government can take to clear the way for the Haitian people to end the current impasse and realize their democratic aspirations," they added. "There is no time for delay."
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