Haiti’s slow decline has led the country to the brink of collapse. And while the international community has offered to help, “there’s just a lot of pieces … that haven’t come together yet,” says USIP’s Keith Mines, adding: “It probably will take a stronger lead by the United States” to restore security and governance.

U.S. Institute of Peace experts discuss the latest foreign policy issues from around the world in On Peace, a brief weekly collaboration with SiriusXM's POTUS Channel 124.

Transcript

Laura Coates: Joining us now is Keith Mines, director of the Latin America program at the United States Institute of Peace. He joins us now. Keith, welcome and good morning. How are you?

Keith Mines: Good morning to you, Laura. I'm good. Thanks.

Laura Coates: I'm glad that you're good. Thank you for joining us today. Listen, I want to go to Haiti right now with you and discuss what's going on because it's a very precarious situation that we're seeing. Even more so, perhaps, than the fall 2023. Take us back a little bit and orient the conversation because Haiti, we've been following for quite some time.

Keith Mines: Yeah, Haiti always reminds me that country Western song, "if it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all." It has just been a slow slide over the last two and a half years since the assassination of its president by foreign mercenaries and some internal actors, and just continued to slide downward. It's to the point now, where according to U.N. reporting, 80 percent of Port-au-Prince is controlled by gangs. In the last quarter, violence went up by eight percent, and 8,400 people killed, injured or kidnapped in 2023. All driven by gang attacks, people attacking each other, attacking society, as they compete for territory amid a shrinking economic pie. And sexual assault has been one of their preferred tactics. It's just a horrific, horrific situation with masses of sexual assault. So [it's had a] really heavy impact on commerce, medical care, education, all the functions of society. They're staring famine in the face in many parts of the country and really starting to look like warlords in control territory, kind of almost a Somali-style situation. One step really away from marching on the palace, and then you really would have a collapse of the governance like you had in Somalia in 1991.

Laura Coates: You know, just hearing that, and hearing the tactics, and hearing what is happening is just so disheartening, and it's infuriating for so many reasons, as you mentioned. What Haiti has been through for a number of years, including since the earthquake, and then there's also the assassination two and a half years ago, of its president. Has there been an election or an effective interim government established?

Keith Mines: Now, so there's kind of two things in play. And I always look at it as kind of a chicken and egg thing. Which comes first: security or governance? They need to go hand in hand. And generally, in these cases, security would come first, you would try to restore security. And then from that you could hold an election and restore governance. The trick now is that without an effective government, it's hard to enlist the outside security that you need to kind of restabilize the country. So, there's a need for security and governance. The question is: which comes first? There's been a couple of efforts to try to reset the government and the governance picture. There were a number of different options that were presented by civil society and other political actors. The Montana Group had a proposal they put forward and that didn't really work out. There was a December 21 Accord that has a high council transition, it's got a couple of elements that would help to broaden governance away from just the prime minister – Ariel Henry – who kind of fell into the position but doesn't really have transparency, effectiveness and the full support of the people.

So, it's been a really rough governing structure over these past two and a half years that just hasn't really panned out. The last effort was probably the most promising and that was by some notable statesmen from CARICOM that came in with support from international experts. And they ran through about a six- or eight-month process to try to reset the government. But in the end, it just didn't work. There's probably a question about whether any of this could be done absent of a very central role for the United States. So, the governance picture, if it was to improve, I think, would probably need the United States to take a lead role, But many are also kind of skeptical if there's enough time for this now anyway. They’re content to just ride out the current government until there's an election which would be at least the end of this year, maybe into 2025.

Laura Coates: I've been reading up and the Miami Herald had a piece on this, Kenya is helping in some respects, in what way?

Keith Mines: Well, Kenya is ... the U.N. did authorize [Kenya's mission to Haiti] in the absence of it being able to mount a peacekeeping mission. And keep in mind that really for something this complex that has a humanitarian angle, an economic angle, a political angle and a lot of security, it's really the kind of thing that the U.N. peacekeeping apparatus was made for. And it would come with all the different components that are needed. But absent that, the U.N. did authorize – this is the best it could get – a coalition of the willing to come forward and help to support the Haitian national police and other Haitian actors in restoring security. So, Kenya, courageously took that on and they have very generously offered to lead that force. They've had a few of their own internal struggles to get through. They had court challenges within Kenya. And they have, they've also struggled – or everybody's struggled – with just trying to find the other forces that would round out the core force that they would offer. So, they have offered to lead the force and then to have 1,000 of their own, kind of, heavy police officers that would be the core of the force. But they need another 1,500. Those have been a little bit slow to come forward. And then funding for the whole thing is a little bit up in question right now, a little up in the air. Most of the funding would have to come from the United States and it's not entirely clear that the United States is up to funding this force. So, that's a little bit tentative still, but hopefully coming together. The Haitians are very hopeful and very positive about having this outside force that would push back the gangs just enough to get their own police up and running. And then with any luck, could move forward and reestablish security that would then lead to this political option of a free and fair election that would reset the governance.

Laura Coates: It sounds like the international community ... I mean you hear in media reporting and beyond and in commentary, that there seems to be a want to help Haiti, but no one wants to get their hands too dirty in doing so.

Keith Mines: Yeah, there's a little bit of kind of "you first" by the international community right now. Everyone wants it to work, but very few are jumping in with both feet to help. So, there's just a lot of pieces of this that haven't come together yet. Effectively, if you're replicating a U.N. mission, you would need all the different components of a U.N. mission. You'd need a demobilization thing for the gangs, you'd need economic development, you'd need a police force mentoring and all the rest that goes along with building a new police force. And that's the part of it that, unfortunately, things have not really gelled over all these different things that are needed. So, the U.S. is still the key player, the U.N., again, is also always going to be one of the central players. And so, probably waiting on that country and that organization to find the right formula to give the support that will be needed.

Laura Coates: How involved is the United States?

Keith Mines: Well, the U.S. has been very involved in both trying to help fund this this force from Kenya, [and] has been a little bit involved in the political part of it, although a little bit from the from the background. The U.S. has got a very clear mantra right now about Haitian-led solutions and trying to allow Haitian actors to pull together the political part and then trying to push Haitian actors also on the security side to take the lead. But there's kind of limits to how far that can go. I mean, it's at a point now where two and a half years into Haitian-led solutions with the collapse of the country imminent, it probably will take a stronger lead by the United States. And again, also getting some kind of a mandate where the U.N. can take a more leading role as well.

Laura Coates: This has been really helpful to understand. I mean, just hearing what has been taking place in Haiti and what the people of the country have been facing. It's truly just unimaginable. Thank you for joining us today and helping us to better understand what is being done or could be done in the long run. Keith Mines, thank you so much.

Keith Mines: Thank you. Can I make one more quick comment?

Laura Coates: Yes.

Keith Mines: Yeah, just real quick. I also wanted to point out there are a lot of positives in plan in Haiti. And one of them is Dr. Marie-Marcelle Deschamps, who's the runner up in our Women Building Peace Award, and she'll be in Washington, February 27 for an event. And there's a lot of really powerful Haitians that are coming forward to try to help their country's civil society much stronger than it's ever been. So, in the midst of all this, there's a lot also to work with and a lot that's hopeful that we can capture. 

Laura Coates: I'm so glad to hear that. Thank you so much, Keith.


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