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We need a response to Haiti

A man holds up a machete during a protest to demand that Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry step down and a call for a better quality of life, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

The failure of Haiti’s state is likely imminent. This week, in a step that is unusual for Haiti Prime Minister Ariel Henry, he requested international assistance to “help [Haiti] fight this humanitarian crisis.” Though he did not specify, the gangs are the root cause and have increasingly grown in power since the assassination of President Jovenel Moise a year ago. They have now virtually seized Port-Au-Prince, most recently blockading the entrance to the Varreux fuel terminal.  

It is this security problem causing the humanitarian crisis. The apparel industry, the largest job provider in Haiti’s formal private-sector, has shuttered factories and faced great operating difficulties due to insecurity. Hanes Brands Inc. has told my office that the increase in violence, gang activity and the lack of a reliable and consistent governing system is eroding their ability to operate at their previous high levels. USA Rice, which ships more than 500,000 tons of rice per year to Haiti—including rice from Louisiana—for a market value of $127 million, is close to having to cease operations due to security challenges. Most recently, a cargo ship arriving in port was hit by small arms fire. 

The answer is not more humanitarian assistance, but a more effective security response. As usual, the Biden administration is a day late and a dollar short. They have no policy, other than providing more non-lethal assistance to an outgunned Haitian National Police. 

This will affect the United States. Poor Haitians will flee the island in search of food. This will happen more quickly if Louisiana rice stops arriving. We will see them arrive, not in the tens of thousands but in the hundreds of thousands, at our overwhelmed borders.  

The solution, though not simple, is manageable. The United States Mission to the Organization of American States (OAS) needs to respond to the prime minister’s request, fielding a multilateral force to maintain order in Haiti. This could be modeled after the mission that the Johnson administration sent to the Dominican Republic in April of 1965, establishing the Inter-American Peace Force (IAPF) in the Dominican Republic. By June 1965, the IAPF was composed of 14,000 troops from six western hemispheric countries.  

An IAPF in Haiti would be comprised of willing countries – such as Chile and Brazil that already have extensive experience in Haiti and others. The United States, while not sending troops, would support with training, logistics, and funding repurposed from USAID and State Department aid programs in Haiti rendered ineffective in large part due to the environment on the ground. This security force, like the African Union force in Somalia, would begin by securing critical infrastructure such as the ports, the industrial sector, the electric grid, and the government offices. 

When a semblance of peace has been restored, political discussions would resume seeking a solution to the political impasse which is exacerbating the security and humanitarian crisis.  

I call upon the U.S. Mission to the OAS to introduce for discussion the immediate authorization of an Inter-American Peace Force in Haiti to begin to resolve a growing challenge to our region. 

Bill Cassidy, M.D., is the senior senator from Louisiana. 

Tags Ariel Henry Bill Cassidy haitian humanitarian crisis Jovenel Moise

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