Trudeau seeks Caribbean allies to save Haiti
As the Caribbean nations gather in the Bahamas for their annual summit, they are all too aware that one of their members is slipping into anarchy.
Bahamas Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis knows this perfectly well. Three weeks ago he had to order an emergency evacuation of all his country’s diplomats in Haiti after rampaging Haitian police officers seized their vehicle and stole their weapons from their security department.
The diplomats were only able to get out because Haiti’s neighbor, the Dominican Republic, came to their rescue with a helicopter.
Davis’ country, like other Caribbean islands, has seen a surge in illegal Haitian migrants arriving by boat.
Since early 2022, the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) government has expelled a number of Haitians equal to 5 percent of its own population at a cost of nearly $12 million. Almost 900 Haitians have landed on the island since Christmas.
“We are a small country and this increased activity will no doubt put further pressure on our system and resources if left unchecked,” TCI Immigration Secretary Arlington Musgrove said at a press conference last Friday, citing “an increase in violent crime.” .
Although United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk has appealed to countries in the region to halt deportations to Haiti “given the country’s extremely dire situation,” Musgrove said the Turks and Caicos have no intention of doing so only to persecute migrants but also the locals who are illegally employing them.
“And that’s not going to stop until the Turks and Caicos really get rid of that,” he said.
fear of an exodus
Washington and Ottawa share fears that the social and economic collapse in Haiti will drive new waves of refugees to other countries. It’s one of the reasons Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is attending the Caribbean Summit this week.
Canadians first became aware of a backdoor to their land on Roxham Road in Hemmingford, Quebec, when about 5,000 Haitians arrived in August 2017. Last year 39,000 people of different nationalities crossed there. So Canada has its own reasons for trying to stabilize Haiti.
But Haiti is also a hot potato, blamed on Trudeau by the Biden administration, which has suggested to Canada and other countries that Canada should take the lead there.
Whether it wants the job or not, the Trudeau administration appears to have been burdened with it.
As Bahamas Foreign Minister Frederick Mitchell told local media, “Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is coming down” because “Canada has been asked to lead.”
Jamaica, Bahamas as a first step
Both Jamaica and the Bahamas have said they are willing to contribute by sending members of their own security forces. Both have sent troops to the island on previous missions. Jamaica has done this three times.
Other Caribbean countries that have armed forces that could assist in such a mission are Barbados, Belize, Guyana, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.
But the Caribbean countries have no illusions about restoring security to Haiti — a country with a population larger than the other fourteen members of CARICOM combined.
“None of our Caribbean countries could achieve that, individually or collectively,” Bahamian Prime Minister Davis said Tuesday.
However, the presence of troops or police from other Caribbean islands could help make the mission more palatable to those Haitians who have bad memories of past interventions and fear that by letting outsiders in, Haiti’s sovereignty will be further undermined.
“If you use the word ‘intervention’,” said Canada’s Ambassador to Haiti, Sebastien Carriere, “everyone is against it because it carries a lot of negative history, and rightly so.
“But (if you speak) in terms of escorting the Haitian National Police and restoring security through the support of the HNP [Haitian National Police]I think you have pretty broad support among the political class as well as among the people.”
Carriere points to an opinion poll published last week in the Nouvelliste, Haiti’s main daily newspaper. It turned out that about 70 percent of the Haitians surveyed support Haiti seeking help from other nations.
Carriere acknowledges that surveys are certainly suspect in the current Haitian conditions, but said he believes that “if you go into the lawless areas controlled by the gangs and interview these people, I’m pretty sure you’re 100 percent could achieve.”
Canada has so far deployed only one police officer, one member of the Canadian Armed Forces and one civilian to Haiti from Global Affairs’ peace and security program. They assessed the needs of the Haitian National Police and explored ways Canada could help.
Time is not on their side. The number of police casualties is increasing and ordinary officers are losing patience.
Police angry at casualties
The massacre and mutilation of six police officers by the Gran Grif gang sparked a new round of police protests in the last week of January.
Angry and frustrated by videos of gang members desecrating the unrecovered bodies of their comrades, a group of officers broke down the gate of incumbent Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s residence. Shots were fired.
After learning that Henry was not at home but en route from a summit in Buenos Aires, another group of officers surrounded the airport and prevented the prime minister from leaving for several hours.
Roadblocks were set up around the capital by a group of current and former police officers who called themselves Fantome 509 – a name uncomfortably reminiscent of Haitian criminal gangs like 400 Mawozo or G-9.
“There is still a very strong core of the Haitian National Police,” Carriere said. “I’m impressed by their courage and admire them a lot for still going to work every day trying to make their country safe.
“But it’s been a tough couple of months. They’ve had some losses, more than usual I’d say in the last month. Brutal murders.”
Too few police and no soldiers
Local media have reported a number of defectors from an already too small force.
The Dominican Republic next door, with the same population as Haiti, has about four times as many police officers. It also has an army, navy, and air force. Jean-Bertrand Aristide abolished Haiti’s armed forces in 1994.
Canada has made efforts in the past to build and professionalize the police force by funding a Haitian National Police Academy.
But Carriere said the force’s leadership has suffered along with the base.
“The director of the police academy was killed in a kidnapping attempt late last year, which was a tragedy,” he said. “This man was the guy who trains everyone else. This man was widely respected and admired. He was a very good man. He was a friend of mine. And those things have really, really hurt HNP morale.”
The protesting officers demanded, among other things, two helicopters to help them fight the gangs.
Haitian police leaders “have requested helicopters more than once, even publicly,” Carriere said.
Canada is also considering sending drones. “You have made this request repeatedly, not only to us,” said the ambassador.
Canada has already dispatched an RCAF CP-140 Aurora patrol aircraft to overfly the city for several days this month, and more Canadian military personnel may find themselves in the Haiti skies.
“It is a well-known fact that the HNP has no air capacity and that having air capacity available would greatly increase their efficiency,” Carriere said.
And the situation in the country is still getting worse, he added.
“I would look at the overall trend since the assassination of President Moise (in July 2021) and I think one would have to be blind not to see that it has gotten worse,” he said.
“The south, Martisssant, is completely sealed off from the rest of the country. The west is too, and since shortly before Christmas the north has also been cordoned off. So the capital is basically completely surrounded.
“There are regular reports of the daily horrors that Haitians endure in gang-controlled areas — repeated gang rapes, murders of all kinds, police officers killed and burned, and their limbs severed.
“I think it’s easy to say it’s getting worse. I don’t see how you can say it’s getting better.”