The armed group, the G-9 Families and Allies, seizing control of the fuel terminal at Varreux has dominated news from Haiti for the past two months. The group’s blockade of fuel entering the country impacted food delivery and medical supply chains just as cholera was presenting again. The blockade, and apparent inability of Haiti’s police to deal with the situation, became the chief talking point for those seeking an armed intervention. Over the last six days the situation has changed. In this update we talk about what happened, and what it means for talk of intervention, at least in the short term.
On Friday, November 4, news came of a major Haitian National Police (HNP) action against the G-9 Families and Allies. The police, supplied with armored vehicles purchased from Canada, and “new operation techniques,” appeared to have driven the G-9 away from the Varreux fuel terminal, though many questions remain about the operation, especially concerning casualties in the Cite Soleil neighborhoods nearest the ports.
Amidst the discussions about the police operations, CNN reported that the government had been in negotiations with the G-9 to settle the situation at the Varreux for two weeks. The government has denied this.
Jimmy Cherizier, leader of the G-9, made a statement on Sunday in which he declared the port open, and he also denied that there had been any negotiation with the government.
So, what happened? It appears that some discussions were ongoing. Whether they constituted “negotiations” or not is a matter of interpretation (and/or some face-saving). The police did launch a major operation against the gangs holding the port. The operation began Tuesday, November 1st and there was still fighting as Cherizier was declaring the port open on Sunday, November 6. He made his statement from a closed room in la Saline, and not from the port itself. So, the news reports, ongoing since Friday, that the police took control of Varreux appear to be true.
We are relieved that the port was liberated in some fashion, and that, for now at least, Cherizier’s gang won’t interfere with fuel deliveries. The G-9 is not the only armed group in the area; so, conflict is sure to arise again. Indeed, fighting was reported in the nearby Brooklyn neighborhood of Cite Soleil on Monday, November 7.
Varreux was locked down by the G-9 for two months, during which time fuel was leaked from Varruex into the black market, where the gang made a lot of money. How much fuel remains is anybody’s guess. There have been no international oil shipments to the terminal since the seizure began. Le Nouvelliste reported on Tuesday that the government will try to get fuel out to service stations at the end of the week, with the Hatian National Police, hospitals and factories given priority for deliveries sooner.
We also remain concerned about the reports of a high number of civilian casualties in the communities near the port. The government downplayed those reports and on Friday, November 4, claimed there were no casualties.
The liberation of the fuel terminal at Varreux puts the question of a foreign military intervention on the back burner, for now. It was the G-9’s control of the port that was most often cited as demonstrating the need for such an intervention. The police action shows that a better equipped Haitian police force has a chance. We still have a lot of questions about HNP capacity, as well as the ongoing problem of impunity for human rights violations. An HNP under the control of the current government is not a long-term solution to insecurity.
Dealing with violence and insecurity will require more than police actions. It will require systemic transformation, including poverty alleviation, expanded access to education, and a return to democracy. The international community, led by the United States and the UN Secretary General, amplified the call for military intervention for over a month, although neither the United States nor the United Nations could muster the political capital to make it happen. Will the international community be equally supportive of Haitian-directed systemic change that would require a shift away from the current regime in power? In other words, will the international community support the systemic transformations necessary to actually address the root causes of insecurity? So far, the answer has been no.
The option for a foreign military intervention is not completely dead. The police actions last week are far from definitive. With the United States’ mid-terms completed, the political calculations of the Biden administration may shift. As of last weekend, Brazil’s elections are now in the rear view mirror as well, and Brazil was in charge of the last military occupation of Haiti that occurred under UN auspices. The president that agreed to it back in 2004 (Lula) was just re-elected. So, stay tuned.
“Six Ways the US and the International Community Can Help Haiti Without Armed Intervention” on Just Security, by Vélina Élysée Charlier, Alexandra Filippova and Tom Ricker
Photo Credit: Screenshot from Konbit Journalis Lib video of police action in Champ de Mar in September. Follow them on Twitter, #KonbitJournalisLib