Haiti’s acting Foreign Minister, Jean Geneus, and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, met with the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, last week to discuss the crisis in Haiti. Almagro later Tweeted, “I called on Haiti to request urgent support from the international community to help solve security crisis and determine characteristics of the international security force.” Thus, Geneus did not initiate the conversation about external military force. However, shortly after this meeting the acting Haitian Prime Minister, Ariel Henry, issued an appeal for “specialized army forces in sufficient numbers,” to help the Haitian National Police stabilize the security situation in Haiti.
Discussions about a military intervention in Haiti have taken place since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July of 2021. In the immediate aftermath of Moïse’s murder, the United States repeatedly said it would not employ military force. It has, nevertheless, continued to intervene through other means. Along with other diplomats that compose the Core Group*, the United States ensured that Ariel Henry would become the acting prime minister following Moïse’s assassination, and has continued to stand by Henry even as he has been implicated in Moïse’s death. With US funding for security forces intact, and the external legitimacy that US support provides him, Henry has balked at efforts to engage civil society organizations and negotiate a transition process leading back to constitutional rule and elections.
In the meantime, the security situation has devolved greatly. Over the last five weeks things have reached a high level of tension. The armed group, G-9 Federation and Family, took control of the fuel terminal at Varreux, near Cite Soleil. They have refused to allow fuel to enter the country, demanding that Henry step down. Without fuel, hospitals are not able to function, schools are again delayed in opening, and potable water is in scarce supply. Food insecurity was already at crisis levels and is getting worse. And, cholera has reappeared for the first time in over three years. As long as the gangs control the fuel, they control the infrastructure that would permit a robust response to cholera.
As the situation grows more grave, the calls for intervention have escalated. Last week, the United Nations called for the creation of a humanitarian corridor to ensure the delivery of assistance. Shortly thereafter, Almagro had the meeting with Geneus that encouraged Haiti’s acting government to request help. So now what?
Following Henry’s request, the Secretary General of the United Nations Guterres spoke out in support of the deployment of a “rapid action force” to be drawn from one or several countries to assist the Haitian police. Guterres was clear to say that the force would not be deployed by the United Nations. Rather, Guterres said, “the 15-member Security Council should simply welcome such a force.” The force could be phased out as the security situation improved, according to Guterres, after which, “the deployment of a multi-national police task force or multi-national special force could be considered to help Haiti in the medium term.”
The most likely candidate to lead such a force is the United States. However, there is general agreement that the Biden administration has no interest in sending US troops to Haiti four weeks before the midterm elections. Whether or not the United States sends its own troops or special police forces to Haiti, the United States will surely be in the mix of actors managing any such intervention.
On Wednesday, October 12, the Biden administration sent Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Brian Nichols, to Haiti, alongside Lieutenant General Andrew Croft, Military Deputy Commander of SOUTHCOM, “as well as senior advisors and personnel from the White House, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Joint Staff, and the Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.” The delegation was to meet with “Prime Minister Ariel Henry, the Montana Group, private sector leaders, and broader civil society groups.”
Wednesday afternoon, during the discussions between Nichols’ delegation and acting government officials, Secretary Blinken announced support from the US to help contain the cholera outbreak. He also announced visa restrictions “against Haitian officials and other individuals involved in the operation of street gangs and other Haitian criminal organizations.” Blinken also said, “We are also working to increase and deploy in the coming days security assistance to the Haitian National Police to strengthen their capacity to counter gangs and re-establish a stable security environment under the rule of law.”
Separately on Wednesday, two unnamed administration officials briefed the press on the details of the visa restrictions and other points raised by Blinken. The briefing left open the question of military intervention, with the briefers saying it was “premature to talk about just a U.S. security presence,” and, “right now we are exploring a number of options with the international community.”
The United Nations is scheduled to reconvene on October 21 to discuss Haiti again. The United States has asked to move the meeting to Monday, October 17. Based on what has been discussed thus far, any initial deployment of forces is likely to be targeted specifically at challenging the armed groups that have blockaded the Varreux fuel terminal, and providing security for the delivery of humanitarian assistance, food and support for the containment of cholera.
The Quixote Center is concerned, based on past history of US and UN interventions, that an outside intervention will not maintain this limited scope, and that instead it will ultimately seek to shape political outcomes in Haiti in a way that meets the interests of external actors. We are also concerned that military intervention will lead to violent and deadly confrontations, likely harming those it is meant to protect.
*The Core Group is composed of ambassadors from Germany, Brazil, Canada, Spain, the United States, France, the European Union and representatives from the United Nations and the Organization of American States
Image: Brazilian soldiers as part of UN mission to Haiti in 2004, Agência Brasil, Creative Commons Attribution License