Four solutions could enable Haiti to emerge from its crisis — but they will take time

As Canada began airlifting citizens out of Haiti this week, the country is in a complete state of crisis.

An international mission led by Kenya was due to arrive in early 2024, but suspended because of the disastrous situation in the country.

The last straw was the resignation of acting Prime Minister Ariel Henry on March 11, 2024. While his resignation has brought some measure of calm, this could be short-lived unless it is followed up with co-ordinated political solutions.

Many countries are currently supporting the creation of a Transitional Presidential Council in Haiti. The United States has released $133 million in aid, and the United Nations has announced it will create “an air bridge” between Haiti and the Dominican Republic to help deliver humanitarian aid.

Can these actions by the international community put an end to the political and institutional instability in Haiti?

Chaos in the streets of Port-au-Prince, March 7, 2024.
(AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

A former civil servant in the Haitian public administration, where I worked for eight years, I am now a researcher and lecturer at the École nationale d’administration publique. My co-author has taught policy design and implementation in Haiti. The analyses and conclusions we present here are drawn from our professional experience and research work.

Haiti in chaos

In July 2018, Haiti was shaken by waves of violence with the population protesting rising fuel prices. These protests served as a precedent for the development of a phenomenon known as “peyi lock”, or lockdown of the country, which has since become recurrent. It brings all priority sectors, such as schools and banks, to a standstill. Prisons have also been taken by storm.

Three armed men guard a semi-open door.
National police stand guard outside the national penitentiary on March 14, 2024, stormed by armed gangs two weeks earlier. Hundreds of inmates escaped.
(AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

The crisis is a multidimensional one: political, economic, security and humanitarian. According to UNICEF, 80 per cent of the capital, Port-au-Prince, is controlled by criminal gangs, headed by the infamous Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier.

On March 8 and 9, 2024, the crisis came to a head when rival gangs sought to take control of key infrastructure, including the main international airport and port.

A man in military fatigues is surrounded by people holding microphones and mobile phones.
Gang leader Jimmy ‘Barbecue’ Chérizier speaks to journalists in the Delmas district of Port-au-Prince on March 5, 2024.
(AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

A long-term political crisis

Former president Jovenel Moïse, elected in 2017, did not call elections during his entire five-year term. This weakened both Haiti’s public institutions, which were already shaky, and the stability of the country’s security.

The assassination of Moïse on July 7, 2021 – part of the country’s turbulent political history – only accelerated the growing fiasco in Haiti. The presidency has been vacant ever since.

The current crisis is not new. Its roots go back to Haiti’s independence in 1804. The country has been through numerous political crises since then.

MINUSTAH, the United Nations mission, arrived in Haiti in June 2004, following the overthrow of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Feb. 29 of that year. One of its objectives was to help strengthen the Haitian National Police (PNH) to ensure public order in the prevailing climate of crisis and instability.

Women carrying filled bags on their heads walk down a street
Street vendors are caught in a clash between police forces and gangs in Port-au-Prince, March 6, 2024.
(AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

Five years after the definitive departure of MINUSTAH in 2019, the security climate in Haiti is toxic, even apocalyptic.

The composition of the workforce of MINUSTAH is one reason for the mission’s failure. It included 8,756 military personnel and 3,555 police officers from more than 63 countries, each with their own way of doing things and operating. Under such conditions, it was difficult, if not impossible, to ensure consistency in the actions of the international mission. Moreover, the majority of MINUSTAH’s military and civilian personnel came from countries where respect for human rights is often flouted.

It should not come as a surprise that NGOs denounced cases of failure to respect human rights during MINUSTAH’s presence. MINUSTAH is one of the most controversial missions in the history of the UN. It has been the subject of several allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse.

Rethinking the mobilization of the international community in Haiti

A meeting initiated by CARICOM (Caribbean Community) was held on March 11 in Jamaica. The meeting brought together a number of international players to discuss the current crisis in Haiti and to promote the creation of a Transitional Presidential Council whose mandate would include organizing the forthcoming elections.

Haitian civil society has already appointed its observers to this Transitional Presidential Council. But the resigning Prime Minister, Henry, says he is still waiting for the names of the members of this council from CARICOM before making it official. So it seems that resolution of the crisis is, once again, getting bogged down.

Three men seated, with flags in background
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends an emergency meeting on Haiti with Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali and Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness at the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Heads of Government Conference in Kingston, Jamaica, March 11, 2024.
(AP Photo/Collin Reid)

We believe that the political, security and humanitarian disaster in Haiti calls for the mobilization of the international community. However, this effort needs to be rethought.

Since the country is institutionally weak, support must be planned for the long term and aim to gradually make institutions autonomous. Over the last few decades, support for Haiti has focused on the NGO channel. Unfortunately, this choice does not help to strengthen the institutional capacities of public bodies. Once the NGOs leave, it becomes difficult for local players to take over.

Our field knowledge leads us to recommend a non-imposed approach that respects Haiti’s interests and strategic needs. We believe that the country will be able to overcome the crisis if it can benefit from both a strong public administration and a co-ordinated international aid effort led by countries whose institutions respect human rights.

This aid must think outside the box and prioritize a participatory approach that incorporates Haitians’ objectives for their country. In the aftermath of the earthquake on Jan. 12, 2010, the international community carried out unplanned interventions without taking into account the specific local context. So it was hardly surprising that the response failed.

The international community’s support for Haiti must be long-term. The MINUSTAH experience demonstrates that one-off humanitarian or emergency interventions cannot be effective. We believe that the aid to be provided to Haiti must be thought through not in years, but in decades.

A man sitting in front of a table eats while a child sitting on the table covers his eyes
Many families have been displaced by gang violence. Shelters, like this one in Port-au-Prince on March 14, 2024, welcome them and give them food.
(AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

A multidimensional approach is needed to solidify, stabilize and perpetuate the state’s public institutions. Simply supporting the national police force is not enough to restore order. All the institutions need to be rebuilt.

Haitians’ responsibilities

In Haiti, political and civil society players have a responsibility to be proactive in proposing viable solutions. We believe that the wait-and-see attitude often displayed by Haiti’s intellectual elite must be abandoned. We are therefore arguing that a concerted effort by all the nation’s driving forces, including the diaspora, is essential for the country’s renewal. It is with these vital forces that international aid must operate, in a spirit of support and self-determination, rather than imposition, as the American economist and specialist in development economics, William Easterly, shows in this essay.

It seems to us, therefore, that to get Haiti out of its current crisis we need to adopt a four-step approach:

  1. Form an international force whose member countries respect human rights.

  2. Deploy this force to support the national police and restore order, peace and security in the country, including bringing to justice the criminals who are currently creating mayhem in the country.

  3. Organize an Estates General to bring together the driving forces of civil society and draw up a plan to rebuild the country’s public institutions and make them sustainable.

  4. Contribute to the training of public servants and to the development of the structures and processes that will be needed to make public institutions sustainable.

In our opinion, this plan is achievable, provided that the countries that agree to intervene are willing to stay for a few decades.

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