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BDF and Coast Guard on mission to Haiti go with the prayers of Belize

EditorialBDF and Coast Guard on mission to Haiti go with the prayers of Belize

51 officers from our Belize Defence Force and Coast Guard are in Jamaica, where they, along with security personnel from Jamaica and Bahamas, are undergoing a month of training by Canadian forces, after which they could be deployed to Haiti on a peacekeeping mission. The Caribbean troops number over 300, and they are expected to join a thousand-strong force from Kenya in the UN-approved mission.

Notably not on the front line are France and the US, two countries that have huge responsibility for Haiti’s political and economic troubles. If France was to make reparations for all the money it has sucked out of Haiti it would go bankrupt. Reuters said the troops from Canada, 70 in total, are “from the predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec”, and Canada has promised to “give C$80.5 million to support the deployment of the Kenyan-led mission.”

The US has considerable business interests in Haiti, and it is the number one buyer of Haiti’s exports.

According to Office of the Historian, the US invaded and occupied the strategically located Haiti between 1915 and 1934, “to restore order and maintain political and economic stability in the Caribbean”, and because it feared that instability in the country could lead to it being taken over by a foreign power. Office of the Historian said in 1910 US president, William Howard Taft had “granted Haiti a large loan in hopes that Haiti could pay off its international debt, thus lessening foreign influence”, but “the attempt failed due to the enormity of the debt and the internal instability of the country.”

This debt, the bulk of it is rooted in an 1824 agreement in which Haiti, under “the barrel of a gun” agreed to pay France 150 million francs to recognize its independence.

Is it because the people of Haiti are predominantly black, why they can’t get a break? The Council on Hemispheric Affairs said in 1937 “upward of 35,000 Haitians living in the Dominican [Republic] are massacred by the Dominican armed forces on the orders of President Trujillo; U.S. Secretary of State Hull later declared ‘President Trujillo is one of the greatest men in Central America and in most of South America.’”

But Haiti’s troubles are not all political. The country is rich in natural resources, but prone to natural disasters. In the 1900s Haiti was hit more than ten times by large hurricanes. Haiti sits on a major fault line. Since 2000 there have been 4 major earthquakes, 2 of them catastrophic, and tremors are a part of daily life. Landslides and floods are common because of its topography and land use.

Trouble in Haiti escalated after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021, and today there is chaos in the streets. A UN Human Rights report on March 28 said gang violence claimed 4,451 lives and injured 1,668 individuals in 2023, and there were “at least 528 cases of lynching.” The report called for “an urgent deployment of a Multinational Security Support mission to help the National Police”, and for “tighter national and international controls to stem trafficking of weapons and ammunition to Haiti” which had been “coming through porous borders, resulting in the gangs often having superior firepower to the Haitian National Police.”

The UN has been tentative in its approach to the meltdown in Haiti because the organization got seriously blemished when some UN soldiers who were sent to help restore order after the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004, and to assist after the 2010 earthquake, committed serious human rights abuses and caused a deadly outbreak of cholera. The UN accepted moral responsibility for the wrongs, only after considerable pressure was brought on the organization, but has not yet provided near adequate redress for its failures. A 2020 UN press release said Philip Alston, the UN General Assembly’s Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, wrote in 2016 that the UN must accept legal responsibility for what happened. In the absence of that, experts had advised that Haiti request “an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice.”

Since the assassination of Moïse, and the subsequent chaos in the streets, Haiti’s provisional government and the UN had been calling for international assistance to restore order. Back in August 2023, almost a year after the calls were made for help from abroad, the government of Kenya offered to send a thousand police officers, but that stalled when the constitutionality of the move was questioned in their courts. The Kenyans were set to go earlier this month, but the mission stalled after interim Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry was forced out. Sources say the Kenyan government said that it would not deploy its officers until a transitional government is in place. On March 27, Loop News, citing a report from AP, said “Members of a transitional presidential council who will be responsible for selecting a new prime minister, issued their first official statement on Wednesday, pledging to restore ‘public and democratic order’ in Haiti.”

Al Jazeera’s Hamed Mohamed, in the story “Why Kenya volunteered to lead UN-approved forces to Haiti”, said that Kenya has “a history of sending peacekeepers to volatile countries.” Mohamed said Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Minister Alfred Mutua declared that the “mandate is not only about peace and security, but also about the rebuilding of Haiti – its politics, its economic development and social stability”; and Nairobi-based analyst, Dismas Mokua, told Al Jazeera: “On the global stage, sending its forces to Haiti gives Kenya a very serious political capital. In the eyes of the world, Kenya becomes a dependable ally who is willing to help other countries.”

Experts on Haiti say the peacekeeping mission is dangerous because the uprisings are wide spread and the issues that divide the nation are deep. Haiti has been under military or fragile leadership for too many years, and having been let down so many times, Haitians are justifiably distrustful.

There are conspiracy theories aplenty. There are many who would lead, some with good hearts but little competence, some with bad intentions, and some with the right talents to set the island on a course to peace and prosperity. If our officers are called to duty in Haiti, it won’t be to figure out a path forward for our brothers and sisters there. Our security personnel will go there to help create the environment where the people can navigate through their options, and hopefully make the right choices. To create that environment, they will have to help cut off the supply of arms and ammunition which are being used to fuel the unrest. With the right equipment, Haiti can contain supplies coming by sea and air, but the main concern is its over 240-mile land border with the Dominican Republic.

Caricom was hesitant to intervene, but the disorder has been going on too long. There are other interests, but for Caricom primarily it’s a matter of brotherly/sisterly love, for peace. Hopefully, the situation will have simmered down within the next month and our security personnel will find a much calmer Haiti, if they are deployed there. It is a dangerous mission. We pray for the safety of our officers, and for the good of our island neighbor, Haiti.

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