Posted on November 29, 2022

As Haiti Unravels, U.S. Officials Push to Send in an Armed Foreign Force

Natalie Kitroeff, New York Times, November 29, 2022

After days of gunfights in early November, Haitian police officers emerged triumphant: They had finally liberated the nation’s biggest port from the gangs that had taken it over for two months.

But when members of Haiti’s SWAT team returned to the shantytown that surrounds the port just days later, they still did not feel safe enough to even leave their armored truck.

The officers anxiously scanned rows of rusty shacks for hidden gunmen, too wary of the danger outside to open the doors.

The upshot was clear: The police keep trying to fight back, but gangs still run much of Haiti.

The assassination of Haiti’s president last year set off a new wave of terror across the Caribbean nation. But conditions in the country have plunged to horrifying new lows in recent months, as gangs carried out such extreme violence that the carnage has been compared to civil war.

Now, fearing that the humanitarian crisis engulfing Haiti could spur mass migration to the United States and elsewhere, some top Biden administration officials are pushing to send a multinational armed force to the country, several current and former officials say, after the Haitian government made an appeal for such an intervention last month.

But the United States doesn’t want its own troops included in that force, even though officials fear that the tumult in Haiti will send an even bigger wave of migrants to American shores.

Already, the number of Haitian migrants intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard has increased more than fourfold since last year, with many setting sail in overcrowded boats known to capsize in rough waters.

“That has always been the U.S. government’s biggest Haitian nightmare, a mass migration event,” said Daniel Foote, who served as the U.S. special envoy to Haiti for part of last year. “It’s already upon us; the next step becomes biblical, with people falling off anything that can float. We aren’t that far away from that.”

Haiti’s government took the extreme step of requesting foreign armed intervention last month to curb the unrest subsuming the nation. It was an explicit acknowledgment of how desperate the instability has become, in a country that remains deeply resentful of past foreign interventions.


Now, the Biden administration is encountering resistance to rallying a multinational force, including from American military leaders who do not want to be drawn into a mission that would require a significant amount of time and resources, the U.S. officials said.

A U.S.-backed resolution urging the deployment of a “rapid action force” to Haiti has stalled in the U.N. Security Council, but the administration has continued to lobby allies to make boots on the ground a reality. {snip}


Political turmoil has produced several waves of migration from Haiti in years past. Haitians left en masse during the dictatorship of‌ Jean Claude Duvalier, known as Baby Doc, who ruled Haiti from 1971 to 1986. A military coup that overthrew a democratically elected president in 1991 launched a cascade of boats carrying tens of thousands to the coast of Florida.

There are signs that a new exodus may be coming. Across the border in the Dominican Republic, which shares an island with Haiti, the government has cracked down on Haitian migrants so harshly that the U.S. authorities recently said “darker-skinned” Americans were at risk of being targeted.

At sea, more than 7,000 Haitians were intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard from October 2021 through September of this year, compared with 1,527 during the previous 12 months.

Their perilous journeys are driven by a constellation of horrors.

For the first time ever, the United Nations documented “catastrophic” levels of hunger in Haiti last month, leaving thousands facing famine-like conditions.

Cholera recently reappeared in the country for the first time in years, an outbreak that spread partly because gangs prevented aid workers from delivering basic care in the poorest areas.

Rival armed groups have set fire to entire neighborhoods in turf battles, killing husbands in front of their wives and raping mothers within view of their children. Kidnappings reached an average of four abductions per day in October, according to the U.N.


U.S. officials say that a force of around 2,500 military and police officers could be enough to secure the country’s main arteries, so that goods can flow freely, according to two administration officials.

But the Biden administration has not yet persuaded any other country to lead such a mission.

Canada has resisted, in part because it is wary of sending security assistance if it is not supported by the political opposition in Haiti, officials say. Brazil has also demurred, with officials telling Reuters this month that it is unlikely to get involved.

The risks of sending armed forces to Haiti are high, with uncertain rewards. Winning battlefield victories would not wipe out the gangs, past experience shows, because it would not touch their true source of strength: longstanding ties with Haiti’s economic and political elite.