Human rights coalition to Biden: No military intervention in Haiti

File – Protesters calling for the resignation of Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry run after police fired tear gas to disperse them in the Delmas area of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Monday, Oct. 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

A broad coalition of civil society groups called on President Biden to permanently discard the possibility of a military intervention in Haiti as the country descends further into chaos.

In a letter to Biden Tuesday, the groups also called on the president to “reevaluate” his administration’s support for acting Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who has clung to power since July of 2021, even as conditions in Haiti have deteriorated.

“We were heartened to see in your 2022 National Security Strategy a commitment to ‘not use our military to change regimes or remake societies,’ and we encourage you to follow through on that commitment in Haiti,” wrote the groups.

The coalition expands beyond Haitian advocates, including more than 90 civil society, faith-based, humanitarian, peacebuilding and diaspora groups ranging from the Washington Office for Latin America to the Chicago-based civil rights group Mi Villita Neighbors and the Quaker pro-peace lobby Friends Committee on National Legislation.

In their letter, the groups recognize the challenging conditions in Haiti, which have quickly deteriorated since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse shortly before Henry took power.

“We are acutely aware of the dire situation on the ground in Haiti. Nearly half the country is facing severe food insecurity and limited access to clean water; cholera, introduced by UN peacekeepers more than a decade ago, has rapidly reemerged; and fuel — critical to basic life, including water purification and electronic communication — is unavailable or prohibitively expensive,” wrote the groups. 

“Compounding these issues, violence and insecurity have reached exceptional levels, and have particularly affected women, children, and the most marginalized,” they added.

Haiti’s gang violence has intensified under the Henry government, leading to widespread accusations of collusion between government and economic elites and gang leaders.

Beyond rising crime, the intensified gang activity has blocked traditional avenues of international humanitarian aid, aggravating shortages of basic supplies.

While many civil society groups were pleading with the Biden administration to reverse course on its support for Henry, the United States and Canada in October instead sent a shipment of armored vehicles to reinforce the Haitian National Police.

Earlier in October, Henry and 18 of his top officials signed a document allowing Henry to request from abroad “the immediate deployment of a specialized armed force, in sufficient quantity.”

In their letter to Biden, the groups said Haitian civil society has flatly rejected foreign military intervention as a solution, despite Henry’s appeal.

“We write to once again encourage your administration to listen to Haitian civil society; respect the fundamental rights of the Haitian people to shape Haitian solutions; and reevaluate U.S. support to the de facto Prime Minister Henry, as that unconditional support has removed any incentive for him to negotiate with opponents in good faith,” they wrote. 

“We are deeply worried that the deployment of a military force now will only perpetuate and strengthen Henry’s grasp on power, while doing little to ameliorate the root causes of today’s crisis.”

The letter in part stems from frustration that the Biden administration has all but ignored Haitian civil society’s repeated pleas to disavow Henry and allow Haitians to rebuild their constitutional order.

Moïse’s assassination came amid an existing constitutional crisis prompted in large part by a decade of rule under the Pati Ayisyen Tèt Kale (PHTK), a party once seen as a modernizing force in the country.

Civil society groups say the PHTK dismantled the country’s democratic and economic institutions, all the while fostering the gang violence that is now ravaging Haiti.

Henry, who has been accused of involvement in Moïse’s assassination, essentially took over the PHTK government.

Still, U.S. officials are wary of withdrawing support for Henry, in part because they fear a power vacuum could further worsen conditions in the country.

“Obviously we all want a next chapter in Haitian life as a democracy, but you can’t get to that until you deal with security issues,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere.

“We are supporting those who want to bring order into the situation where much of the country is controlled by criminal gangs,” added Kaine, who proposed legislation to explore the ties between the country’s elites and criminal gangs.

And Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), a Dominican-born lawmaker who accompanied Kaine on a visit to Haiti’s neighboring Dominican Republic, said conditions in Haiti are not there for a democratic process.

“If the elections were held today, they would get elected — some of the members of those criminal organizations,” Espaillat said.

Espaillat added that the Dominican Republic — the only country that shares a land border with Haiti — is pushing for the United Nations and the Organization of American States to support the Haitian National Police.

But the letter’s writers pointed to a diplomatic and economic toolkit still available to improve daily life in Haiti.

“At the heart of the insecurity plaguing Haiti is the continuation of a political and economic system that excludes the vast majority of its citizenry. A long-term solution can only be achieved by addressing these underlying dynamics of inequality and exclusion and by providing for the population as a whole,” they wrote.

The letter’s recommendations included extending U.N. sanctions against violent actors, but warned that is a “welcome but insufficient step.”

“The U.S can and should go further through the enforcement of U.S. laws on illicit arms trafficking, money laundering, and tax evasion, with a particular focus on those actors that are contributing to the violence. We also urge your administration to halt all deportations and expulsions to Haiti and redesignate Haiti for Temporary Protected Status (TPS).”

TPS is a program that allows the Department of Homeland Security to offer deferral from deportation and work permits to nationals of a country undergoing crisis; Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in May of 2021 extended TPS for Haiti.

That extension did grant protection from deportation to all Haitians in the country before May 21, 2021, through the TPS designation, but the Biden administration continued to repatriate thousands.

Perhaps the most criticized Biden administration policy toward Haiti has been the unrestrained use of Title 42 — a Trump-era border control policy that allows U.S. officials to quickly expel foreign nationals without screening for asylum claims.

Starting in September of 2021, the Biden administration expelled more than 25,000 Haitians, despite worsening conditions in Haiti.

But above sanctions or an end to repatriations, Haitian advocates have consistently called for the United States to take its thumb off the country’s political scale and to oppose foreign military intervention.

“The United States should support the Haitian people’s desire for democracy, peace, and economic stability by listening to Haitian civil society and championing Haitian-led solutions, through support to peacebuilding and equitable development,” reads the letter. 

“Peaceful ends must be achieved through peaceful means. We strongly urge you to reject the imposition of an international military intervention in Haiti which will merely perpetuate and strengthen the anti-democratic system that is responsible for today’s conditions.”

Updated at 9:38 a.m.

Tags Ariel Henry Biden Jovenel Moise Tim Kaine

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