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Haitians protest acting Prime Minister Ariel Henry in Port-au-Prince on October 21, 2022. (Photo: Richard Pierrin/AFP via Getty Images)

90+ Groups Tell Biden to 'Listen to Haitian Civil Society,' Reject Military Intervention

"Rather than supporting a military-led response to the multifaceted crisis in Haiti, your administration ought to use robust diplomacy to help resolve the situation, including through impartial support to Haitian-led political dialogue," says a new letter.

Jessica Corbett

More than 90 organizations this week urged U.S. President Joe Biden to "reject the imposition of an international military intervention in Haiti which will merely perpetuate and strengthen the anti-democratic system that is responsible for today's conditions."

The Caribbean nation has been in a state of crisis since the July 2021 presidential assassination that was followed by a devastating earthquake and hurricane. Last month, acting Prime Minister and President Ariel Henry called for a foreign military intervention, provoking protests.

The October 31 letter to Biden is backed by civil society, diaspora, faith-based, humanitarian, and peacebuilding organizations "with strong ties to the Haitian grassroots" that are concerned about the proposed deployment, which the U.S. has been seeking another country to lead.

"We are acutely aware of the dire situation on the ground in Haiti," the letter states. "Nearly half the country is facing severe food insecurity and limited access to clean water; cholera, introduced by U.N. peacekeepers more than a decade ago, has rapidly reemerged; and fuel—critical to basic life, including water purification and electronic communication—is unavailable or prohibitively expensive. Compounding these issues, violence and insecurity have reached exceptional levels, and have particularly affected women, children, and the most marginalized."

The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child on Tuesday highlighted the "triple threat of cholera, malnutrition, and violence" in Haiti, also pointing out that many children have been unable to attend school and live in fear of being forced into a gang.

In response to recent gang violence across Haiti, the U.N. Security Council last month adopted a resolution featuring sanctions against Jimmy "Barbecue" Chérizier, a former police officer who leads the gang alliance G9 Family and Allies, which has been blocking a fuel terminal in the capital of Port-au-Prince.

The new letter says that "the imposition of a United Nations sanctions regime targeting not just leaders of armed groups but also those who support such groups with financing, arms, and ammunition, is a welcome but insufficient step."

"The U.S can and should go further through the enforcement of U.S. laws on illicit arms trafficking, money laundering, and tax evasion, with a particular focus on those actors that are contributing to the violence," the letter continues. "We also urge your administration to halt all deportations and expulsions to Haiti and redesignate Haiti for Temporary Protected Status (TPS)."

Discouraging military intervention, the letter pressures Biden to "listen to Haitian civil society; respect the fundamental rights of the Haitian people to shape Haitian solutions; and reevaluate U.S. support to the de facto Prime Minister Henry, as that unconditional support has removed any incentive for him to negotiate with opponents in good faith."

"We are deeply worried that the deployment of a military force now will only perpetuate and strengthen Henry's grasp on power, while doing little to ameliorate the root causes of today's crisis," the groups wrote.

"Rather than supporting a military-led response to the multifaceted crisis in Haiti," the coalition argued, "your administration ought to use robust diplomacy to help resolve the situation, including through impartial support to Haitian-led political dialogue."

The groups also encouraged Biden to "reflect on the long history of international interventions in Haiti, and how those actions have served to undermine state institutions, democratic norms, and the rule of law," along with taking "a costly human toll, including through rape, sexual exploitation, and extrajudicial killings."

The United States occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934. As Jonathan Katz wrote Monday for Foreign Policy:

In the nearly 90 years since that first U.S. occupation ended, U.S. and U.S.-backed forces have remained the most constant factor in Haiti: training and arming Haitian militaries, meddling in elections, and alternately reinstalling and overthrowing Haiti's leaders. In the last 30 years, U.S. troops have invaded or otherwise intervened in Haiti three times: in post-coup invasions in 1994 and 2004 and to quell feared unrest (which never materialized) after the 2010 earthquake.

In the intervening time, the United States explicitly outsourced its occupations to other countries' troops: first, a U.N. mission from 1993 to 1997, and then under a mostly Brazilian-led multinational force that controlled Haiti's streets and rural areas from 2004 to 2019. The latter force, known by its French initials as Minustah, left as its main gifts to Haiti an abandoned generation of children fathered by the U.N. troops and a catastrophic cholera epidemic started by a battalion from Nepal.

According to the coalition's letter to Biden, "At the heart of the insecurity plaguing Haiti is the continuation of a political and economic system that excludes the vast majority of its citizenry."

"A long-term solution can only be achieved by addressing these underlying dynamics of inequality and exclusion and by providing for the population as a whole," the letter asserts.

"The United States should support the Haitian people's desire for democracy, peace, and economic stability," the letter adds, "by listening to Haitian civil society and championing Haitian-led solutions, through support to peacebuilding and equitable development."

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