Haiti’s Nightmare Is Made in America

No stranger to nightmares, Haiti is descending into another one.

Armed gangs, many of whom grew in power and wealth during the current administration of Prime Minister Ariel Henry with whom they had collaborated, have engaged in turf wars that have internally displaced over 362,000 people, according to United Nations estimates. They engineered prison breaks, and on March 8, armed gangs surrounded the National Palace.

Haitian gang leaders have “demanded that the country’s next leader be chosen by the people and live in Haiti.” Henry was not elected. He was placed in power by the “Core Group,” made up of UN representatives, the United States, France, Canada, Spain, Germany, the Organization of American States, and the European Union after the assassination of President Jovenal Moïse. Gang leaders have demanded his resignation.

On March 11, Henry, who is stranded in Puerto Rico, finally announced that he would resign after repeatedly postponing elections. The announcement came after a meeting on March 11 of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM). Celebrations reportedly erupted on the streets of Haiti.

The United States, which has consistently backed Henry, had hoped he could survive to oversee the transition, but the chaos and brutality on the streets forced their hand. Without American support, the unpopular ruler had no way to survive.

Democracy in Haiti has meant never getting to choose your own leader. The United States and its partners have a long and terrible history of coups and interference in Haiti that have hijacked and undermined Haitian democracy. Haiti’s democratic wishes have long been snuffed out by the United States, and the people of Haiti have never had much say in whom they want to lead their country. In 1959, when a small group of Haitians tried to overthrow the savage U.S.-backed dictator “Papa Doc” Duvalier, the U.S. military, which was in Haiti to train Duvalier’s brutal forces, not only helped locate the rebels but took part in the fighting that squashed them.

A quarter of a century later, when the people of Haiti longed to elect Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power, the CIA, with the authorization of President Ronald Reagan, funded candidates to oppose him. In 1989, the United States undermined the Aristide government, and, immediately following the coup, supported the junta and increased trade to Haiti in violation of international sanctions. CIA expert John Prados says that the “chief thug” amongst the groups of militia behind the coup was a CIA asset. Tim Weiner, author of Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, agrees. Weiner says that several of the leaders of the junta that took out Aristide “had been on the CIA’s payroll for years.”

When the people of Haiti got the chance again and elected Aristide in 2004, the United States, with the help of Canada and France, crushed their choice, kidnapped Aristide, and sent him to exile in Africa. Aristide has said, “The coup of September 1991 was undertaken with the support of the U.S. administration, and in February 2004 it happened again, thanks to many of the same people.”

A secret cable recently obtained by The Grayzone appears to place a CIA officer in contact with “questionable individuals” identified in the cable as Haitians “with ties to coup plotters.” And France’s ambassador to Haiti at the time of the coup, Thierry Burkard, has revealed that “France and the United States had effectively orchestrated ‘a coup’ against Mr. Aristide…”

Henry, himself, had replaced the enormously unpopular Moïse, who had been illegally holding onto power and growing increasingly authoritarian under the protection of U.S. backing. Many in Haiti complained of Henry’s long rule without being elected. Supposedly installed as an interim leader, “with U.S. support,” Brian Concannon says, “Henry’s unconstitutional term as prime minister exceeded any other prime minister’s term under Haiti’s 1987 Constitution.”

Henry’s forced resignation offers Haitians a way out of the nightmare. He will step down after the establishment of a transitional presidential council and the appointment of an interim prime minister. The transitional council will reportedly include “representatives from several coalitions, the private sector and civil society, and one religious leader.”

But this way out of the nightmare only has a chance of succeeding if the United States reverses its historical course and does not block the road. The U.S. had sided with Henry in demanding international troops in Haiti to restore order. Others, with an eye on history, saw international troops as a way to prop up the Henry regime. Concannon raises the concern that American insistence on an international force “raises fears that the United States will… continue its policy of installing and propping up undemocratic regimes in Haiti.” That concern, he says, is intensified by American insistence that any new Haitian government must immediately welcome “a multinational security support mission.”

After the CARICOM meeting, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the U.S. will provide $300 million for a Kenyan-led multinational security mission to Haiti.

As Concannon has pointed out, the sovereignty, legitimacy, and popular acceptance of a government “allowed to form only if it accepts a U.S.-imposed occupation force originally designed to prop up a hated, repressive government” is in doubt.

Hopefully, the United States will allow Haitians to choose their own leader and honor that choice, and allow the new Haitian government to choose its own policy on restoring order and choose whether Haitians want an international force.

Ted Snider is a regular columnist on U.S. foreign policy and history at Antiwar.com and The Libertarian Institute. He is also a frequent contributor to Responsible Statecraft and The American Conservative as well as other outlets. To support his work or for media or virtual presentation requests, contact him at tedsnider@bell.net.