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Going Gangbusters for Haiti
The "International Community" Is Set to Invade, Again
“This is supposing the present race of kings in the world to have had an honorable origin; whereas it is more than probable, that could we take off the dark covering of antiquity, and trace their first rise, that we should find the first of them nothing better than the principal ruffian of some restless gang, whose savage manners or pre-eminence in subtilty obtained him the title of chief among plunderers; and who by increasing in power, and extending his depredations, overawed the quiet and defenceless to purchase their safety by frequent contributions.”
- Thomas Paine [Common Sense]
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After more than a year of hemming and hawing, the United Nations is set to yet again send an “international coalition” to invade the troubled island nation of Haiti. This time, it is at the request of the “Prime Minister,” Ariel Henry, who illegally seized power with United States’ backing following the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise. Haiti has suffered from spiraling violence, with gangs controlling an estimated 80% of the capital, Port-Au-Prince. Most notably, the gang leader Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier has called for the overthrow of the Henry regime after his demands for gang leaders to be brought into government were denied. At the same time, groups of vigilantes seeking to fight back have been lynching suspected gang members, leading to many violent confrontations. The “International Community,” determined to act to prop up a government that is by every definition illegitimate, is worried about the racial optics of the whites again invading this country where the vast majority are of African descent. Thus, they have landed on the transparent ploy of having Kenya lead the “police action.” Kenyan President William Ruto appears to want to raise his country’s international profile, and they are already being lavished with defense assistance from the United States. Of course, putting a black face on this forthcoming misadventure is fooling no one, least of all the Haitians. It is madness to again invade Haiti after so many failures, but it appears that with the strong financial and diplomatic backing of the United States it is going to happen. For his part, Cherizier has said his gangs will fight against foreign troops, which are not planned in nearly the quantity necessary to seriously combat the power of the gangs. If, or when, the “International Community” invades Haiti to prop up Henry’s faction [for it hardly constitutes a government] they will simply be partisans worsening Haiti’s problems while giving Haiti no chance of solving them and developing into a functional state.
Haiti has been routinely victimized by outside powers from the time it was founded in the early 19th century, following history’s largest slave revolt since the time of Spartacus. Most of all, this has been at the hands of France and the United States, with France forcing the nation of former slaves to pay reparations for their own freedom. I gave a deep background on the history of the foreign depredation of Haiti and the current situation last Fall:
Since last year, the situation in Haiti has only gotten worse. The country was already in a political crisis at the time of Moise’s 2021 assassination and by now the state has lost its last vestiges of legitimacy. It is rarely useful to call a country a failed state, but with various armed factions controlling the great majority of the capital, constant conflict, no elected officials, and a nearly complete lack of services, it is hard to come to a different conclusion than that Haiti is no longer a real state. In fact, it is not a stretch to say that many of those of those who remain in Haiti [the majority of those able to have fled the country] are living in a condition similar to Hobbes’ famous “state of nature,”
“In this condition, there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor the use of commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force…no society, and which is wont for all, continual fear, and danger of violent death, and the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” [Leviathan, I.XIII.9]
Really, the two differences are that the men are in bands, not solitary [which is a flaw in Hobbes’ reasoning, not unique to Haiti,] and that to a small extent they still have some benefits of civilization from prior times. For one example, Haiti is currently in a dispute with the neighboring Dominican Republic after private parties built a canal diverting water from the small portion of a river which meanders into Haiti. They were able to move this soil with excavators- having instruments of moving things as require much force from the time before state collapse- but the fact that this became a symbol of the ability of Haitians to come together and accomplish things demonstrates how far it is from the norm. Further, it doesn’t appear this was done with professional engineering and that they largely just came together to dig. Without government support or approval for the project, the men who embarked upon this further isolated their country. The Dominican Republic closed all borders and ordered the state purchase of all perishable goods which would normally be shipped to Haiti, making the country’s commerce and access to vital supplies even more limited. The whole episode, most of all the hostility from an outside power, is a stark example of the challenges which Haiti faces in improving its situation.
Since I published my article last fall there have been two primary developments within Haiti. The first is that at the beginning of this year the last 10 remaining Senators left office. The reason is that the country has not held national elections since 2016, and those with an abysmal 20% turnout rate. In 2020 all local offices expired, the last time the Supreme Court met in 2022 only 5 of 12 seats were filled, and now the last Senators are out of office, meaning the country has no elected officials remaining at any level. I’ve never heard of this happening before, that all politicians leave office with the seats unfilled due to the lack of elections. One would expect them to remain in office until such a time that elections could be held. Even all 7 of the world’s remaining absolute monarchies, as well as countries like North Korea and Myanmar, have some form of legislature simply to deal with the business of governing and provide a degree of legitimacy. It is not clear why the country’s politicians chose to leave office, perhaps they were under pressure or quit in protest, but on a surface level it speaks to a remarkable degree of integrity that in such a troubled place they wouldn’t try to hold on without a democratic mandate. Perhaps the most absurd part is that Ariel Henry, who was selected as Prime Minister, but never confirmed, two days before Moise’s assassination, has remained in that position. This means the country has not had a head of state for 2 years. Further, by its very nature a Prime Minister is the head of the legislature, which Haiti doesn’t have. I know of no other example in the world where a man styling himself as the Prime Minister was the sole autocrat of a country without a legislature. In this time of gang conflict and lack of national government, Haiti’s national police force has fallen to under 10,000 members in a nation of over 11 million people that does not have a military. In short, Ariel Henry is not actually running a government of Haiti, but instead is simply another gang leader with under 10,000 foot soldiers, and one who only controls 20% of Port-Au-Prince at that.
Besides the exit of the last elected officials, the other big development in Haiti since last year has been the rise of the Bwa Kale vigilante movement in response to gang violence such as kidnapping, murder, robbery and rape, which is flourishing in the absence of functional state security. The movement catches suspected gang members in the process of committing crimes and applies brutal mob justice, doing things like stoning them to death, hacking them apart with machetes, or throwing burning tires around their necks. They commonly mutilate and burn corpses, something of special significance in Haiti where voodoo is the indigenous and widely practiced religion. “Bwa Kale” means “peeled wood” in Haitian Creole, though as a slang term it means “erection,” a play on men “standing up” to the gangs. ABC News gives a colorful description of one Bwa Kale supporter who works to arm the public:
“When handing out machetes on the streets of Haiti to people who've never really used them, it's important to wrap up the blades.
They're really sharp, and it's easy to hurt yourself, says Mertil Marcelin, a 35-year-old with a thick black beard who calls himself 'The Machete Man.' Though hurting people is kind of the point.
The Machete Man vibes around this Port-au-Prince neighborhood…doling out melee weapons to the neighbors free of charge, so long as they promise to use them for one thing: protection from gang members.
"One machete for every Haitian," he told ABC News. "It's the only thing the gangs are afraid of."
The same article says of the gangs, “They are well-armed, violent and determined to increase their own power. In many areas, gang is no longer a sufficient term as they run their own fiefdoms with iron fists, and often with total impunity.” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres recently described the situation as follows:
“Gang-related violence has continued to increase in intensity and brutality, with gangs expanding their control within and beyond Port-au-Prince. Sexual violence, including collective rape, continue to be used by gangs to terrorize populations under the control of rival gangs.”
Agence France-Press, which is of course the state media of Haiti’s worst historic oppressor [though it has been partially privatized,] made the following claims: “Brutal gangs are tightening their grip on Haiti, with snipers shooting indiscriminately from rooftops and people burned alive.” With coverage like this one needs to question if it is atrocity propaganda, designed for no purpose but to make the global public support intervention. In Guterre’s case he goes on to say quite directly that there is a great need for international involvement to solve the situation. It seems more likely that, at the very least, the snipers are shooting at men carrying machetes or anti-gang signs, and not at grandmas buying yams. Still, there is no doubt that there has been an enormous amount of brutal violence from both the gangs and the vigilantes attacking them, and the following video from Al Jazeera does seem to show shots being fired at peaceful protestors:
The situation for the Haitian public is dire. Though many countries struggle with gang violence and have some areas that the government does not regularly go, the only modern comparison to this level of control from a patchwork of non-government armed groups is the era of warlords in Somalia. And indeed, “gangs” is simply what they long-since landed on calling these groups in Haiti, they could just as well be called “clans,” “militias,” “insurgents,” “cartels” or anything else of that nature. For his part, the most powerful “gang” leader, Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, a former national police officer, does consider himself a revolutionary leader. He frequently gives interviews to the international press where he presents himself as a reasonable person who wants to protect the Haitian public from internal and external threats and end the corruption. It is, to me at least, easier to believe that Cherizier wants what’s best for Haiti than the external powers who have spent over 200 years victimizing the country.
There is no doubt that the situation in Haiti is a humanitarian disaster, but no reasonable person actually believes that an international occupation can fix anything, which is perhaps the most remarkable part about the fact that it appears this will happen. On July the UN Security Council gave the Secretary General Gutteres 30 days to come up with strategies for dealing with the Haiti situation, including a plan for a UN Peacekeeping force as well as a non-UN multi-national force. Specifically at issue is how to support the national police force and end arms trafficking to the island, which has been under an arms embargo for decades and lacks a domestic firearms industry but is still filled with guns. At the beginning of August the United States announced it would put forward a resolution for a Kenyan-led mission to Haiti. Later in the month, Kenya sent 10 men on a fact-finding mission to meet with Ariel Henry, who once again, has no legitimacy, is not running what could be considered a national government, and who is in essence just another gang leader.
Prior to the fact-finding mission the plan had been to send police to help secure government buildings and help train the national police. The Kenyans found that in fact Port-Au-Prince is terrifying and that plan wouldn’t do. Further, Kenya has its own problems with police brutality especially under the current President Ruto, so there are a lot of questions about their qualifications to help the Haitian police. It appears that instead it will be military personnel sent to Haiti, which is a relatively better fit for the problems these men are meant to solve. There is also the minor problem of how the Kenyans will communicate with people in Haiti, given that Kenyans know English and Swahili and Haitians speak Haitian Creole, though the Haitian elites whose interests this mission would be serving surely know standard French [which does not make it any easier for Kenyans to speak to them.] However, such practical concerns never get in the way of a good misadventure.
For all of the above problems, there is great incentive to go to Haiti, as the United States has pledged $100 million to the mission despite their unwillingness to participate in it and that funding for war-torn foreign nations is relatively unpopular here right now; it goes without saying that most of the money will evaporate as corruption. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken gave a speech on September 23rd about the importance of the forthcoming mission. He said,
“With our support, this mission can deploy within months – and we really have no time to lose. We can and we must do what’s necessary to make that happen. The safety, the security, the future of the Haitian people – and people across the region – depend on the urgency of our action.”
No mention of all the prior times it didn’t work, though some lip service to ending the political crisis, because of course “restoring democracy” is the ultimate goal of propping up the unelected man who claims to be the sole ruler of Haiti. There is also little concern about the fact that a major association of Haitian-Americans asked them to not do this.
The decision is already paying off for Kenya, which just signed a new security agreement with the United States, meaning the American taxpayer is taking another hit on top of the $100 million of mission funding. Many other nations are on board, according to a Miami Herald article by Haitian-American Jacqueline Charles, a leading journalist on Caribbean issues,
“Besides The Bahamas, Jamaica and Antigua and Barbuda, which had previously announced their intent to take part in the mission, the others are Italy, Spain, Mongolia, Senegal, Belize, Suriname, Guatemala and Peru.”
Ecuador is planning on co-authoring the UN resolution, though it is unclear if they will send troops. It is also expected that Rwanda will get involved. Quite the “coalition of the willing” they are putting together. Of all of these nations, only the Senegalese and the Rwandans even speak French. I will give them that Senegal is quite experienced at UN peacekeeping missions, though primarily dealing with terrorists in the desert in their own region, not complex urban gang warfare across an ocean. At least this time there are no Nepalis to spread cholera. Still, it is unclear what any of these countries gain from this besides many opportunities to rape Haitian girls, if the last time is any indication.
The website Kenyan Foreign Policy published an illuminating article about all the reasons such a mission is likely to be unsuccessful. They run the gamut, from it being foreign inspired to hastily planned. Kenya has done a few of these missions in the past so the anonymous veteran they spoke to seemed to have a good idea of what does and doesn’t work. The most succinct quote regarding the folly is as follows:
“The language barrier is not the only obstacle Kenya faces. Leading an international police mission requires a nuanced understanding of the local context, culture, and dynamics. They need to be well-prepared and equipped.
A Kenyan military veteran says the mission is exactly the kind that professional militaries or police try to avoid.
It involves shadowy enemies who don’t wear uniforms and mix freely with a civilian population. He says the fighting almost certainly would take place in densely-populated slums.”
He also mentions that this is not a peacekeeping mention but an offensive intervention. When these UN missions go decently it is generally the case that they are deployed as part of an agreed upon ceasefire and are practically there as hostages with neither side wanting to be responsible for the death of UN “Blue Helmets.” In this instance, this small mission would be attacking an array of much larger forces with one unreliable ally, the Haitian police, and seemingly no proper military strategy. All of this with old Barbecue having called for overthrowing the Prime Minister they are there to support and saying his coalition of gangs will fight back if any human rights abuses are committed. Given that after the last UN mission over 2000 people testified to widespread sex crimes by foreign troops against girls as young as 11, it seems most likely human rights abuses would be committed. On top of this, not that anyone cares about this sort of thing, a former Chief Justice of Kenya, Willy Mutunga, penned a pretty convincing op-ed arguing that Kenya’s involvement is completely unconstitutional due to failure to consult the people and that they already violated the constitution with the fact-finding mission. There could perhaps be no more perfect image of the “rules-based world order” than Kenya’s President violating his own country’s constitution in an impossible and harmful attempt to restore the constitution of a poorer, smaller country.
Since no one sane has any power within the “International Community” it is expected that the UN resolution to re-invade Haiti will easily pass. Blinken has said he expects the cursed project to begin “in months.”
There is no external solution to Haiti’s problems, and no one believes there is, they just feel the need to appear to be doing something and are addicted to preying on the impoverished nation. What, then, of Haiti’s future? How could it move beyond this? There is actually a clue in the ABC News article cited above. The gangs are in fact running fiefdoms. As was written by Paine in the epigraph, kings arose from being the “principal ruffian of some restless gang.” To get into the political theory, at its most basic level, a government is an organization which has a monopoly on the use of violence within a defined territory. At a more advanced level, a government is a commonwealth whereby people are banded together for the purpose of mutual defense and the provision of services. Ariel Henry’s faction is obviously not meeting this definition for Haiti as a whole, but the gangs are doing the first part and to some extent the second part in their territories. Watch this video from Sky News where Cherizier is showing his fiefdom to a reporter:
This video is highly informative, and of course Cherizier is trying to make himself look good, but that is no different from any mayor giving a news station a tour of a project revitalizing downtown. What he shows is that for the danger, his territory has clearly defined borders that he would get shot for crossing. He explains that even if people don’t like him they respect that he stops their sons from being murdered and their daughters from being raped. He shows that he provides resources to the needy within his territory. In short, though certainly rudimentary, the man is running a government in his fiefdom. Henry and the “International Community” say that they can never let these gangs become involved in the government, but they don’t want you to realize that if you go back far enough, this is where all governments come from. Romulus brought together thugs and runaway slaves and founded Rome. What is going on is hard for modern eyes to look at, and it is a challenge to understand that the default state between governments is war not peace, but this is a phase which all nations have either gone through in their development, or otherwise they have had governments imposed on them by external powers who went through this phase.
Regardless of Henry pretending to be the “real” government, the situation amongst Haiti’s gangs is no different from the Greek city-states, early Rome, or the early feudalism in Europe before powerful kings. The tendency will ultimately be towards some sort of balance and centralization, be it through conquest, alliances, or confederation. It is, of course, easy to sympathize with the vigilantes, but if victorious they would be but another armed faction taking control, and thus they are not meaningfully different from the gangs. Haiti started from nothing following a slave revolt, has been constantly victimized since, and has proven impervious to external colonization and state building. There is nothing to be done but, after 220 years, to step back and let Haiti go through the difficult and violent process of becoming a functional state, as happened most other places long ago. Further, isolated on one end of an island, they are harmless to everyone else; it has always been Haiti that is harmed by others.
Haiti will never be left alone to go through the native state-building process I have described. Instead, outside powers will continue to use it as a laboratory for empire while the Haitian people suffer. Once again, no serious person thinks the United States spending under $10 per Haitian to fund a force of 2000 or so men will pacify a nation of 11 million people full of powerful armed factions. Besides that Haiti’s poverty excites their rapacity, the “International Community” must be doing this out of some combination of inertia and the desire to show that government and human affairs function differently than they actually do. Of course, since it won’t work the impression it creates will be the opposite of what they intend. The biggest risks for the Haitian people are foreign troops disrupting what balance the gangs have formed and further increasing violence and deaths among the international forces leading to a much larger invasion and yet another full occupation of the country. There is no way this plays out but adding to the suffering of the Haitian people while at best benefiting a narrow class of corrupt elites. None of the ghouls at the United Nations care.
In viewing Haiti’s situation, it is interesting to consider the words of Montesquieu, who wrote of people who live on islands,
“The inhabitants of islands have a higher relish for liberty than those of the continent…the sea separates them from great empires; tyranny cannot so well support itself within a small compass: conquerors are stopped by the sea; and the islanders, being without the reach of their arms, more easily preserve their own laws.” [The Spirit of the Laws, I.XVIII.5]
Though Haitians are remarkable for their love of liberty and the way they will always ultimately expel occupiers, sadly it has never been the case that it stops empires and tyrants from seeking to conquer and oppress them. It doesn’t appear that will change any time soon. The only difference is this time is that the “International Community” is giving them the mild courtesy of people of their own skin color being sent on the fool’s errand of oppressing them.
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