The latest chapter in Haiti’s proud but tragic history began shortly after the country celebrated its bicentennial anniversary in February 2004 of its inde- pendence from France, which established it as the Western Hemisphere’s second republic after the United States.
Simmering unrest, fuelled by a woeful economy, an ineffectual justice system, and increasing autocracy on the part of three-time president Jean-Bertrand Aristide boiled over in a tide of violence that swept Aristide into exile. The president’s departure had been encouraged by Paris and Washington, a potent duo when working together, as events would demonstrate in Lebanon later the same year; com- bustible antagonists when at cross purposes as over Iraq in 2003. These two countries, having obtained a Security Council mandate to stabilize the volatile country, inter- vened militarily to preclude chaos. But they worked hard to pass the challenge on to the United Nations itself, and soon the Security Council agreed to another in a long line of UN peacekeeping forces in the country, labelled then UN stabi- lization Mission in Haiti, labelled the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).
Despite the laudable achievement of establishing the world’s first black republic in 1804, Haiti’s political development has been downhill since then. Since independence, its track record has been stained by 30 military coups, 20 consti- tutions, an American occupation between 1915 and 1934, institutional corruption, and a propensity for brutal dictator- ships. This political regression is all the more distressing given the singular talents of Haiti’s population, as evidenced in the country’s extraordinary literature and art. Haiti today is a densely over-populated and ecologically ravaged country of 8.1 million inhabitants. One of its principal resources is a diaspora concentrated largely in the United States and Canada. For many years, Haiti’s most notable export has been people, often through desperately risky ventures on the high seas.
The international community " often with Canada at the forefront " has been involved in seeking to improve Haiti’s governance since the end of the brutal Duvalier dic- tatorship in 1986. When Haiti, in February 1990, sought assistance from the Organization of American States (OAS) and the UN for elections, there were immense challenges to genuine democracy " not least a winner-take-all political culture leading to kleptocratic dictatorships, which were tol- erated and sometimes actively supported by the country’s rapacious and socially irresponsible economic elite. The presidential elections of 1990 produced a surprise outcome: Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a promising young, Montreal-educated, Roman Catholic priest and partisan of libera- tion theology, won convincingly. But obstacles to his attempted reforms, not least the hostility of the aforemen- tioned elite, led to an increasingly per- sonalized and authoritarian exercise of power. Raoul Cédras, the commander of Haiti’s armed forces, overthrew the government on September 29, 1991, plunging the country into crisis again.
Since then, the United Nations has engaged in a broad range of activities to support democracy in Haiti, including election moni- toring in 1990; promotion and protection of human rights (jointly with the Organization of American States), notably between 1993 and 2000; coer- cive measures, including mandatory sanctions and a naval blockade to enforce them; authorization of the use of force during the years 1993 to 1996, in a successful bid to restore Aristide to power; and several UN peacekeeping operations (PKOs) with peacebuilding man- dates, which succeeded a multi- national intervention force in 1996. All of these efforts essen- tially came to an end in 2000, when the Security Council, apparently exhausted by the numerous and robust challenges Haiti presented to international peacebuilding efforts, prema- turely abandoned the effort.
Haiti remains in many ways a unique case for the Security Council: it offers the first, and to date only, instance of the Council authorizing in 1994 the use of force to effect the restoration of democracy within a member state. Unlike in a number of other situations (Mozambique, Cambodia, El Salvador), democratic processes were not seen as a means to anchor fragile peace agreements. Rather, democratic rule was asserted as the UN goal in and of itself. Human rights, economic development, reform of rule-of-law institutions and several other themes prevalent in much con- temporary UN peacebuilding also fea- tured prominently in the Haiti file.
Leadership on Haiti within the Security Council and in the UN more broadly reflects geo-strategic as well as more subtle international consid- erations and linkages. The United States has often driven Haiti policy internationally, fearing that turmoil there would result in refugee flows to Florida’s shores, as was the case in 1991 to 1994. France, with strong cultural and former colonial ties to Haiti, has always asserted an interest and has often mobilized its European Union partners to assist in sharing the burden. Canada, the only other francophone country in the Western Hemisphere, with a talented, dynam- ic and committed Haitian diaspora, has wanted to help as well. Finally, the travails of Haiti have been a source of worry for other Caribbean nations, also concerned about poten- tial refugee waves, and Latin American countries for whom Haiti’s poverty and volatility have been a permanent reproach. (Then-rich Haiti helped Bolivar secure the inde- pendence of several Latin American nations in the early nineteenth cen- tury.) China objected to Haiti’s recog- nition of Taiwan throughout the 1990s and sought to pressure Port-au- Prince into abandoning its diplomat- ic and economic relationship with Taipei. In keeping with the more sophisticated Chinese diplomacy of the twenty-first century, China is now participating in MINUSTAH, seeking to induce Haitian gratitude in friendlier ways.
When Canada joined the Organization of Ameri- can States belatedly in 1990, it championed the protection and promotion of democracy enshrined in the organization’s new Santiago Declaration. Haitian governance became a test case for the OAS, and also for Canada. Consistently, Canada has urged active coop- eration between the OAS and the UN in addressing Haiti’s problems. While Washington’s attention, as well as that of Paris, to Haiti has waxed and waned, Ottawa’s commitment has been steadier, but qualified by the harsh reality that Haiti’s problems far outstrip Canada’s capacity to address them alone.
After the extensive efforts oftheOASandtheUNto restore Aristide to power in Port-au-Prince in 1994, his rule was initially conciliatory and reassuring, enough so, in any event, as to permit the US-led multinational force (MNF) in January 1995 to certi- fy a secure and stable environment in the country and hand over security responsibilities to the first of several UN peacekeeping operations there, the UN Mission in Haiti. UNMIH con- sisted of 6,000 troops (including a Canadian battalion) and almost 800 civilian police officers, many of them Canadian. Its mission was to provide security and create a new police force. (Canada, along with France, had earlier declined to participate in the multi-national force [MNF].)
However, Aristide made a number of fateful policy decisions that would eventually contribute to his ouster. He disbanded the army, leaving the fledg- ling and very weak Haitian National Police (HNP) as the sole source of pub- lic security; and he engaged in political manoeuvres that left much of the polit- ical class alienated and constantly plot- ting his downfall. He eliminated the army because he believed he could never trust the military, which had overthrown him. He also may have preferred to create an environment in which militias loyal only to him would monopolize the use of violence. In fact, eliminating the armed forces exacerbated problems of unemployment and created a large pool of aggrieved and heavily armed oppo- nents. Indeed, the militias that plunged Haiti once again into chaos in early 2004 were largely comprised of former members of the Haitian army.
The UN, having successfully helped to mid-wife not only Aristide’s return but also the transition to his democrati- cally elected successor, René Préval, in early 1996, now sought to tackle Haiti’s economic reconstruction and develop- ment in earnest, while consolidating the fragile gains in public security its exten- sive deployment of troops and police since 1995 had achieved. On this score, the UN’s special representative, Enrique Ter Horst, ran into two problems. First, the UN Security Council has a relent- lessly short-term focus, generally granti- ng mandates for six-month periods only, leaving long-term plans hostage to the whims of the council’s members with short attention spans.
The mismatch between a Security Council driven by short-term demands all over the world and Haiti’s need for a serious commitment over a period of 15 to 20 years cannot be overemphasized. No less dauntingly, Haiti’s tradition of public administration was so weak, and corruption so endemic, that of the roughly US$2 bil- lion spent by the international com- munity in Haiti in 1994-98, there is today virtually no legacy.
While, in a very limited sense, some of the UN’s various operations in Haiti could be deemed successful (although the patient failed to recov- er!), notably the human rights mis- sion, run jointly with and led by the OAS, Kofi Annan admitted that the UN ”œfailed to develop necessary and pro- ductive partnerships with the Haitian society at all levels.”
The UN’s efforts to sustain secu- rity and to improve Haiti’s key law and order institutions (police, courts and jails) were also undermined by a gradual but persistent reduction in the numbers of UN staff on the ground, due to ”œHaiti fatigue” and increasing Chinese and Russian hos- tility to the expenditure of UN resources (to which they con- tributed) in support of American interests. In November 1997 the last UN military personnel departed, leaving the newly christened UN Civilian Police Mission in Haiti (MIPONUH) with 300 civilian police (CIVPOL) to maintain order and train the HNP. While the program was initially successful (a 1998 USIS poll showed that 70 percent of Haitians had confidence in the HNP), a growing Haitian political deadlock revolving around a struggle between the executive and a frac- tious parliament and an endemic economic malaise translated into ris- ing violence against human rights activists and high profile political figures by 1999. In 2000, Aristide was re-elected president, while much of the political community remained alienated from those in power and criticism of the police’s bias in favour of Aristide supporters grew.
A worsening economy mirrored political and security ills. In 1995, Haiti’s per capita GDP, at US$242.10, was by far the lowest in the Western Hemisphere. Haiti ranked 148th out of 174 in the 1992 UNDP’s global Human Development Index. Investment failed to materialize, given an unpredictable, sometimes hos- tile, local environment. By mid-1998, at least US$340 million in aid was held up by foreign exasperation at the lack of a trustworthy government. A 1998 World Bank Report pointed to ”œpolitical insta- bility, woefully poor governance, and corruption” endemic to Haiti.
It was at this point that the Security Council, distracted by large new challenges in Kosovo, East Timor, Sierra Leone and other international hot spots, started to give up.
Fast forward to 2004. Under intense internal, US and French pressure, Aristide fled Haiti on February 29, 2004. That same day, the UN Security Council authorized a 3,000-strong multinational interim force (MIF), comprised of American, French, Canadian and Chilean troops, to restore order. Washington and Paris, whose armed forces were already stretched thin by their involvement in Iraq and Côte d’Ivoire, respectively, urged the creation of a UN successor mission, MINUSTAH, in the MIF’s stead. This was agreed upon by the council on April 30, under a chapter VII (enforcement) mandate that authorized at UN expense 1,622 civil- ian police and over 6,700 troops tasked, among other things, to carry out police reform, assist in comprehen- sive disarmament, demobilization and reintegration measures, and to pro- mote the political transition process. While these objectives are routinely to be found in Security Council decisions relevant to other countries, actually achieving these aims in Haiti, especial- ly after earlier failures, was a tall order.
Indeed, the legacy of failure in the 1990s shared by the Haitian political class and international actors, and a fragile interim government cobbled together as was best possible but with- out any real popular legitimacy, led by interim prime minister GérardLatortue, has created an atmosphere of worry " verging on dread " in some international quarters.
Canada has played an important role, once again focused mainly on police reform and training, within the UN effort. Remarkably, MINUSTAH is the first UN peacekeeping operation of any size to be mainly composed of Latin American contingents. It is led by a Brazilian commanding officer, with a distinguished Latin American political figure and diplomat, Chile’s Juan Gabriel Valdés, in overall charge. The very real security challenges in Haiti " fuelled by the active drug transhipment trade and increasingly violent crime including widespread kidnapping " fit ill with a low-key, non-violent Latin American peacekeeping culture.
Nevertheless, after some months of relative inaction, UN forces began raiding gang strongholds, killing two prominent gang leaders and losing five peacekeepers since March 2005. This shift in approach occurred hard on the heels of UN forces in the Congo wiping out up to 60 militia members in response to losing 9 of their own number in late February. ”œThe UN has traditionally kept peace,” the UK ambassador to the UN, Emyr Jones-Parry, recently observed, ”œbut when you’re confronted with people who are fighting you, you have to exercise self-defence and take them out, basically.” But it is not certain that the occasional robust foray will do the trick. Over 620 people have died in Haiti during the seven months to July 2005, and a spokesman for interim President Boniface Alexandre has lamented that UN forces are still ”œreluctant to support Haitian police during operations against bandits, particularly in the capital.”
On the peacebuilding front, the UN has adopted a creative approach, broadening its focus on dis- armament, demobilization and reinte- gration (DDR) to include small-scale credit, vocational training, and com- munal development projects. Instead of merely paying for weapons, the UN hopes to reconfigure attitudes toward violence and provide full-spectrum support for former combatants. Unfortunately, 170,000 firearms remain on the streets, and a large num- ber of unemployed young men are, as everywhere else around the globe, a combustible resource. The daunting effort of retraining the HNP is proceed- ing slowly, with only 1,000 trained to date out of a minimum of 10,000 need- ed. Economically, though US$1.3 bil- lion in aid has been promised, not all has actually been released by donors.
Against this unpromising back- ground, and a recent further deteriora- tion in the security situation, it is clear that there are no quick fixes and there can responsibly be no early exit. Secretary-General Annan rightly asserts the need for a long-term engagement to promote lasting stabil- ity and to help generate economic growth in Haiti. Elections, the inter- national reflex response to internal crises such as Haiti’s today and often viewed hopefully as a panacea, could, if poorly prepared, serve merely to further polarize political life. Recent international experience in Angola, Bosnia, and Liberia serves as a reminder of the problems badly designed or poorly managed elections can create in post-conflict societies in the absence of robust state institutions and with a minimum of public securi- ty. Parliamentary elections have now been postponed until late 2005, with the electoral registration process beginning slowly in May.
Wisdom is also in short supply around the Security Council table. The council conducted its first study mis- sion in the Western Hemisphere when it visited Haiti in mid-April. However, it continues to rely on distressingly short (and thus unrealistic) mandates, with implications for long-term plan- ning and recruitment. Recommenda- tions by Annan for a full-year mandate and a mechanized rapid-reaction force were blocked by Beijing (perhaps still nursing the Taiwan grievance) and Washington (where Congress now carefully vets every UN request for help). The willingness of Latin Ameri- can countries to step up to the plate on Haiti’s need for security is perhaps the most hopeful element in the UN pic- ture, but the Security Council’s per- formance on Haiti does not suggest it has absorbed many of the lessons of the 1990s. Haiti is a textbook case in support of a call by the recent UN High Level Panel for a more serious, better funded UN approach to the challenges of peacebuilding. With luck, it could be approved at this September’s sum- mit meeting in New York for a Peace- building Commission relating both to the Security Council and to the Economic and Social Council on the mul- tiple facets of credible peacebuilding " from security to rule of law to eco- nomic reconstruction.
In the February 2005 issue of Policy Options, W. Don McNamara outlined exhaustively why Haiti should matter to Canadians. We will not rehearse his arguments here extensively, but shall cite just a few. According to the 2001 census, 83,000 Haitians lived in Canada, most in Montreal. This number will have doubled soon. Moreover, over 500,000 Canadians hail from the wider Caribbean, about the same as do from Latin and South America and Africa combined. Thousands of Canadians vacation in the vicinity, while busi- nesses such as the Royal Bank, Bank of Nova Scotia and Alcan have extensive interests in the region. Finally, a failed state on our doorstep could easily serve as a transit point for drugs, laundered money, terrorists, and organized crime.
Canada has long been active in Haiti, both in security and develop- ment matters. As noted above, Canada participated in UNMIH (with both troops and police), and contributed 550 troops to the recent MIF. Current Canadian participation in the security sector is composed of 100 civilian police in MINUSTAH, including the force’s police commissioner, David Beer.
On the development front, Canada disbursed $273 million from 1994 to 2002 for, among other things, rebuilding schools, training doctors, and rebuilding the energy grid. More recently, in July 2004, Canada announced $180 million in new fund- ing, placing it third among donors, after the EU and US.
Most positive, however, has been Canada’s high-level leadership on Haiti. Prime Minister Mulroney took a special interest, championing its needs in his discussions with President Bush and other leaders in the early 1990s. Since the most recent crisis broke out, Prime Minister Martin, Foreign Minis- ter Pettigrew and Premier Charest of Quebec have all visited the country, demonstrating Canada’s commitment to long-term engagement. Canada also convened two conferences in Montreal designed to interact with the Haitian diaspora in order to canvas opinions and generate new ideas on how to help Haiti. In June of this year, Canada host- ed a donors’ meeting to maintain momentum on major issues relevant to Haiti’s interests.
Canada’s credentials on the chal- lenges faced by failing states are good. It lacks a legacy as a colonial power. It is not driven as much as the US or France by a geo-strategic cal- culus tying down resources in such places as Iraq and the Ivory Coast. It is seen by many parties to the conflict as broadly impar- tial (although in Haiti a vocal minority has decried perceptions of Canada’s collusion in Aristide’s deposal " a bad rap, in our view).
Perhaps not coincidentally, because of Canada’s openness to various models of national and international governance, the controversial notion of placing Haiti in some form of international trusteeship has arisen here. Because populations the world over yearn to be free and self- governing, this would be a radical step indeed. It might, however, be worth considering as a counterpart to an inter- national commitment to take Haiti’s needs seriously and tend to them over several decades. Even this might not work, ultimately, as the US occupation of Haiti early in the 20th century reminds us. But Haiti has not yet descended to the level of generalized chaos that has overwhelmed Somalia since 1993, and we continue to hope that Haitians, with international sup- port and assistance, can choose leaders and a parliament that can address their problems in a spirit of national rather than self-interest. Meanwhile, Haiti is a good testing ground for Prime Minister Martin’s commitment to the 3D approach " defence, diplomacy, and development (trade, alas, is today only a small part of the picture in meeting this country’s basic needs). That said, many years of necessary deficit reduc- tion and budget cutting, and several major international commitments, not least in Afghanistan, Sudan and poten- tially the Middle East, leave the govern- ment’s resources for peacebuilding stretched very thin.
In the early 1990s, the Security Council’s involvement in Haiti was strongly driven by the domestic inter- est of the US in containing and revers- ing refugee flows to Florida. US interest in Haiti waned because of political mis- management there, in spite of early hopes for President Aristide. But Haiti’s problems did not go away. In 2001 the UN abandoned the country altogether, leaving it without a strategy for the future. The OAS gamely picked up the challenge at the international level, but it lacked the resources to make enough of a difference, in spite of strong per- sonal leadership by Assistant Secretary- General Luigi Einaudi of the US and an admirable Canadian head of the OAS mission in Port-au-Prince, David Lee.
Compared to many regions, the Americas have, since the mid- 1980s, progressed significantly down the path of improved governance and meaningful democracy. It is precisely this progress that makes Haiti stand out as a reproach to Haitian elites and to international policy-makers.
Contrary to a number of other cases, the international community did commit significant resources " finan- cial, police and military " to Haiti from 1994 to 1998. Its incapacity to sustain the effort in the face of irresponsible local leadership was clearly a mistake " one that has cost Haiti and its neigh- bourhood dearly. This expensive failure reminds us that ultimate responsibility rests with the local actors. It is true that the UN and OAS did not succeed in gen- erating a consensus between the coun- try’s different sectors on fundamental social and economic goals and on the means for achieving them. But the international community did support to the hilt Aristide’s restoration to power in circum- stances unique in international relations. The UN and those countries critical to its ambitious undertakings in Haiti in those years, including Canada, were poorly repaid. Myopic Haitian leadership has plunged the country back into a crisis both familiar and desperately sad.
Much has been learned from the UN’s past mis- takes in Haiti. Neutral mediation between thuggish military lead- ers and an elected president in 1993 pro- duced a dead end when the military reneged on its commitments to the UN’s strategy for a peaceful return to power of Aristide. The UN then took sides " for Aristide, and rightly so. The UN’s attempt to coerce consent from the mil- itary for Aristide’s return by imposing mandatory sanctions in 1993 on the importation of fuel and petroleum-relat- ed products into Haiti back-fired when the rebel government instituted a roar- ing black market in contraband fuel smuggled in from the Dominican Republic, vastly enriching itself and last- ingly impoverishing the Haitian popula- tion. But such lessons registered internationally at the expense on the ground of the Haitian people.
The UN’s own financial constraints in Haiti grew crippling once the major sponsor of international attention to Haiti’s problems, the US, lost interest and ceased to contribute to the UN’s and the OAS’ operations on the ground. The UN’s residual peacekeeping mission in Port-au- Prince was terminated for lack of funding in 2000. The UN secretary-general then commented that ”œleaving [a small] peacekeeping operation as an insufficient single prong in what was intended to be a multipronged strategy” seriously short- changed peacebuilding objectives. This, unfortunately, remains a problem today. How to generate long-term security and financial commitments by the govern- ments that can afford to do so is the Rubik’s cube of international decision- making on failing states.
From the Canadian perspective, it is clear that under any scenario, the scale of Haiti’s problems outweigh Ottawa’s capacity to address them sin- gle-handedly. We can only work effec- tively on Haiti in partnership with others. The government has been cre- ative in engaging the Haitian diaspora in Canada, which has so much to offer its land of origin, and in demonstrating high-level political commitment to Haiti’s future. Today, as was the case in the late 1990s, it finds itself con- strained in attaining its objectives for Haiti by military and international policing capacity deficits, by the claims of Africa on its development budget, and by the inevitably slow build-up of its financial resources for international action after a long period of decline. Haiti provides a strong argument for Canada, in an era of growing prosperi- ty that rewards Canadians with more funding for health care and other domestic priorities, to do more for those in greater need.
The events of September 11, 2001, reminded Americans and us all of the costs of allowing states to fail, not least in incubating potentially trans-nation- al threats. Canadians will not prosper long in a world of failing states and economic misery in which disease, migration, violence and other ills mutate across borders. Haiti is the most pressing reminder, close to home, of this challenge.