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Intervening in Haiti: Prospects and Possibilities - Part Two

Education 19 Oct, 2023 Follow News

Dr Livingston Smith

With the outbreak of war between Hamas and Israel, much global attention has shifted to the Middle East. However, the situation in Haiti is as grave and worsening. There is an abundance of views on what needs to be done and not done. To intervene or not to intervene, that is the question, or even more, if there must be some form of intervention, what must it be and what must be the objectives.  

As this column has been explaining, rampant gang violence has been threatening the very existence of the Haitian state. The cumulative effects of historical obscenities inflicted on the Haitian people, corrupt and ineffective governance, powerlessness of the Haitian police, government systems made ineffective or barely functioning, the impacts of earthquakes, etcetera, has predictably, resulted in an untenable situation.  The humanitarian situation is Hobbesian in scale, including the widespread violation of women and girls, killings, and kidnappings, and, one could argue, that if this were happening in a society of a different kind, it would be taken far more seriously and required actions deemed more urgent.

As I have written recently, with the situation spiraling out of control even with self-defense groups trying their best to impose protection from the gangs, there is no anticipation that anything will change for the better except for some organized outside intervention. Even though home-grown solutions are to be favored, and past interventions have not worked, it is difficult not to agree with the UN resolution that has just been passed clearing the way for yet another intervention.

The October 2 UN Security vote has authorized the deployment of a multinational security support mission, mainly composed of police but also military personnel to be led by Kenya which is reported to be sending one thousand of its police officers with participation from several Caribbean countries such as Antigua and Barbuda, Brazil, The Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, and Suriname. Other CARICOM countries are likely to support in other ways, if not ‘boots on the ground.’  Some critics point to Kenyan inexperience in these matters, while others have mentioned language and religious differences as possible challenges. But whichever country leads, there will be likely issues. For others, the objection to another intervention is that it is likely to merely prop up a corrupt government along with its elites. This might be so, but this will depend on the nature, scale, and objectives of the intervention.

Writing on the subject in Foreign Policy, Malick Ghachem, a specialist on Haiti, says that even with a role for ‘punitive’ measures such as those focused on criminal justice or military-style security, the intervention required is to fix Haiti’s ‘broken monetary system.’ Instead of force, which is likely to fail or produce lackluster results, as past ones have demonstrated, Grachem calls for the historical colonizers of Haiti to ‘turn to monetary policy and financial tools to address the roots of Haiti’s crisis and restore the country’s monetary sovereignty.’

Grounding this proposal in the historical context of French and American imperialism, Ghachem explains that it was French corporate trading monopolies that began Haiti’s centuries of monetary imperialism which subjected this country to France’s financial and political interests. One must recall the colossal 150 million dollars francs that France imposed on Haiti to guarantee that it would not invade. Taking the Haitian government over a century to repay, he explains that ‘this hobbled Haiti’s chances of developing viable financial and democratic institutions for much of the 19th and 20th centuries.’  As Professor Hilary Beckles had pointed out in an earlier article, ‘The hate and the quake’, the payment to France amounted to seventy percent of Haiti’s foreign exchange earnings to keep current its domestic and international debts. This financial reality ‘crushed’ this country and made it descend into ‘financial and social chaos’ argues Beckles.

Ghachem’ s detailed paper explains the historical ‘ugly web of foreign financial aggrandizement at the expense of Haiti’s people’ involving in particular France and the USA, would make any reader sympathetic, if not angry, that a country which, upon its birth as a free society, had such great a prospect, has been reduced to a constant requirement of some form of foreign help and intervention.

I quote below two paragraphs from Ghachem’s paper which should be required reading for anyone interested in the Haitian situation.  Regarding the US intervention he writes,

‘That intervention, which lasted until 1934, gave the United States outright control of the Bank of Haiti and ensured that payments on the double debt would flow securely to Wall Street. The military occupation and Wall Street’s control of Haiti’s public finances worked hand in hand, each justifying and supporting the other. By 1920, National City Bank had bought out the remaining European investors in the Haitian national bank. The money that had once gone to French banks—nearly half of Haiti’s public revenues—now entered Wall Street’s coffers and would continue to do so for another 13 years after the occupation ended.’

‘The US occupation hindered Haiti’s political as well as financial development. The US military’s reign fostered domestic institutions of repressive terror that would culminate in the dreaded Tontons Macoutes, the personal police force of the dictator François Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude, from the late 1950s to the 1980s. Haiti’s current state-implicated gangster economy is a direct descendant of that arrangement. The Haitian politicians and business magnates now suspected of ties with organized gangs understand, as their predecessors did, that power and money flow from harnessing the ability to terrorize the population and control access to key infrastructure sites.’

In bolstering his case for a financial intervention in Haiti as the way to deal with core issues of development, Ghachem also notes how the Bretton Woods replacement of the US dollars as the supreme global currency also further undermined the Haitian economy. He says that dollarization of the economy of Haiti undermined the gourde, the Haitian currency, to the sidelines of the economy.

This is clearly a serious and important proposal, that is most unlikely to happen but, done properly would likely make the difference.

Intervening into the Haitian economy to deal effectively with its currency and its banking system caused from the cruelling effects of centuries of unjustified financial behaviors, should be seriously considered. It’s an opportune moment for France to repay the moneys it extracted illegally from Haiti, which according to Sir Hilary Beckles, is estimated by financial actuaries as some twenty-one billion US dollars. Most would agree with Beckles that that could rebuild Haiti placing it in a position to better face the future, earthquakes, and all.  Ghachen has made a solid case for both the US and France to do the right thing having played a major role in causing the current Haitian predicament.

 Home grown solutions are usually the best and most effective- but the scale of the problem requires outside help that is multiple, varied and coordinated and that reaches to the root and core of Haiti’s dilemma. The Haitian economy must be fixed along the lines proposed by Ghachem. A large-scale financial intervention that fixes critical aspects of the Haitian economy will also help in the building of important institutions of power that will enforce the basic rights of the Haitian people. CARICOM might not have much material resources to bring to the situation, but it can help in the building Haitian institutions in the long run.  Helping to fix the economy means jobs, and opportunities for the creativity of Haitian youth, too many of whom find gangs as viable alternatives.

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