Keeping the Peace: Haiti

Editor’s Note: Keeping the Peace will be a month long series of the Posts on Peace campaign. We will provide a snapshot of the history and current challenges facing nearly every peacekeeping mission around the globe. Next up: UNMIS, the 10,000 strong peacekeeping mission in southern Sudan. Enjoy.

In 1991 Haitian military officers deposed the popular and democratically elected president, Jean Bertrand Aristide. Aristide fled to the United States, but his remaining supporters quickly suffered at the hands of the new regime. Massive political violence and general lawlessness soon wracked Haiti. Thousands of Aristide’s supporters were slain. And many of those who survived opted to test their luck on rickety fishing boats destined for the United States.

By 1993, the United States Coast Guard had intercepting tens of thousands of these so-called “boat people.” Clearly, something had to be done.With a looming refugee crisis and growing instability in a country only a few hundred miles from Florida, the United States government sought to intervene. In July 1994, the Security Council authorized the deployment of a US-led multinational force to Haiti. 20,000 US marines were soon heading there to facilitate the return of the Aristide government and help restore law and order. This initial US-led deployment was followed by successive UN missions in Haiti. Today, the heir of the initial American-led intervention is MINUSTAH, which was authorized by the Security Council in February 2004.

The Council approved this newest mission when Aristide fled the country amidst an insurrection that threatened to unleash a new round of violence. But this time around, American marines were not at the UN’s disposal. Rather, there are some 8,000 uniformed personnel in MINUSTAH, including over 7,000 (mostly Brazilian) troops and over 1,800 police. Their job is tough. While Haiti has demonstrated steady political progress, ruthless gangs still exert de facto control over much of Port-au-Prince’s sprawling slums.

On February 7 2006, Haiti held presidential elections that were supported by UN agencies. Rene Preval, a former aid to Aristide, won and asked peacekeepers to help oversee efforts to disarm and reintegrate Haiti’s fractious militias and criminal gangs. To that end, MINUSTAH recently undertook its most ambitious mission to date. In February, peacekeepers entered Cite-Soleil, Port au Prince’s largest slum, to arrest a shadowy crime boss known only as “Evans.” During the crackdown peacekeepers went block-by-block to rescue neighborhoods from the grip of this ruthless mobster and extortionist. The crackdown continues to this day.

Since the deployment, fifteen blue helmets and three police officers have been killed, making Haiti one of the more dangerous peacekeeping missions on the planet. This year, the MINUSTAH will cost member states $489.21 million. According to the United States General Accountability Office, this is a bargain. In 2006, a detailed GAO study compared Haiti’s UN mission to a hypothetical American deployment and found the UN mission in Haiti achieves the same objectives while being eight-times less expensive.

The reason for comparison is obvious. Being so close to American shores, instability in Haiti poses a direct threat to the United States. As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told then-Secretary General Kofi Annan in late 2004, “There are six thousand Brazilian troops in Haiti. If they weren’t, there would be six thousand marines.”