For my friends who started checking BBC.com because of HNGR 101 and just never stopped, you might have seen this article. The headline: Haiti’s president launches plans to restore army. 6 months ago I would have read this and groaned. In fact, I’m pretty sure I complained to my mom after reading Martelly’s campaign promise on the same subject saying, “the last thing Haiti needs is an army.” After being here for five months, my perspective has changed.
I was very disappointed with the BBC in this article. It plays off developing nation tyrant stereotypes, leading the reader to believe that President Martelly is a megalomaniac trying to match the power of Haiti’s Duvalier dictators. “The Haitian army was long associated with rights abuses and coups,” the article says. While this may be true, for most Haitians that I’ve talked to, a Haitian military is more closely associated with relative stability and security. I am not defending the atrocities of Duvalier’s makoutes, but the message I’m getting from most Haitians who were alive during that era is that the rights abuses were less oppressive than Haiti’s current state of insecurity.
“Canada fears that creating a second security force will significantly reduce the resources available for Haiti's other important priorities," a Canadian official is quoted as saying in the article. I don’t doubt this official’s good intentions, but from what I have heard from my friends is that security is the most pressing priority because without it, all other priorities (food, clean water, adequate housing, consistent work) are constantly in jeopardy of being wrenched away.
This official’s comment about a second security force might be confusing for those not familiar with Haiti’s situation. This other military he is referring to is MINUSTAH, the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti. In 2004, nine years after Aristide disbanded Haiti’s army in vengeance for it deposing him, the international community decided that Haiti did in fact need an army. And so they gave them one. Only, not a Haitian army, but a foreign one. MINUSTAH has been occupying Haiti for the past seven years and both Haitians and foreign soldiers are getting tired of each other. Most Haitians I’ve talked to about this said that everyone was initially very happy that the UN was providing security for a country that in 2004 was undergoing some major upheaval. Time passes and cultures collide, however, and it appears that MINUSTAH has overstayed its welcome. MINUSTAH has been at the center of several scandals ranging from stealing livestock to sexual abuse to causing an epidemic that has proved fatal to thousands. These issues in combination with the fact that MINUSTAH is not accountable in any way to the Haitian government add up to the fact that the UN forces are simply not capable of effectively responding to Haiti’s security needs.
It is clear to me that in opposing Haiti’s attempts to reestablish its own military, the US and other international powers are attempting to maintain control in Haiti. While MINUSTAH is the security force in Haiti, the UN decides what counts as a security threat and what warrants the military’s time and attention. Nearly everyone is in agreement that Haiti needs an army (for domestic security, not to attack the Dominican Republic as one commenter ignorantly postulated), only the international community is reluctant to allow Haitians one of their own. Instead, they prefer to hold onto this source of power rather than relinquish it to its rightful protectors, perpetuating the cycle of Haitian dependence. The creation of an army that is truly Haitian – lead by Haitians and answerable to the Haitian people – is a vital step in the country’s movement away from perpetual externally driven relief efforts and towards true sovereignty and independence.