Doubts of the international community before the Haitian hornet’s nest

Despite the insistence of the UN, the international community has still not sent a force to fight against the violence of the gangs that ravage Haiti, scalded by past experiences and the risks of being trapped in a lethal hornet’s nest, experts say.

Snipers, rape as a weapon of terror, kidnappings, murders: the violence of the gangs that control around 80% of the territory of Port-au-Prince, the capital, continues to worsen, but the call for help has not had an echo until now.

“There are strong reasons to deploy an international force in Haiti, but it would be a very risky mission,” says Richard Gowan, an analyst with the International Crisis Group. “Many UN member states fear being trapped in a hornet’s nest” if they take part in a peacekeeping mission, he told AFP.

In October, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres announced that Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry had requested the dispatch of an international intervention force to help understaffed police outnumbered by criminal groups.

Although countries like Jamaica or Kenya do not rule out contributing to a force, no country seems willing to take the lead: not the United States, with its long history of interventions in the country; nor Canada, which has come to study this possibility; nor Brazil, which the Americans have targeted.

Behind the scenes, diplomats acknowledge that there is frustration.

“We continue to work with partner countries to identify a lead nation for a multinational police force,” says US State Department spokesman Matt Miller. “The need is urgent.”

But despite the urgency, the countries “are afraid of the gangs, of confronting them with armed forces,” summarizes Walter Dorn, a professor at the Royal Military College of Canada. Fear also that there will be casualties in their own ranks and of collateral damage.

“War in urban areas is very difficult,” he explained to AFP. “The danger of killing innocent civilians is high and gangs could use human shields.”

– How many troops? -However, “I think it is possible,” she says. He believes that at least 7,000 soldiers and as many police officers would be needed, as at the height of Minustah, the UN peacekeeping force that was in Haiti from 2004 to 2017. William O’Neil, an independent expert at the The UN in Haiti lowers the number to a maximum of 2,000 troops.

Without speaking of numbers, the discussions now seem to be oriented towards an armed police force and not a military intervention.

It is also unknown what his mandate would be, as well as the risks of failure and the consequences if a process of political transition and the relaunch of a bloodless economy are not carried out in parallel, experts warn.

In a country where there have been no elections since 2016 and where the last president, Jovenel Moise, was assassinated two years ago, the legitimacy of the prime minister is in question.

– Bitter taste – The Haitian opposition maintains that an intervention by the international community would be “support for the illegitimate government, which is a problem,” says Robert Fatton of the University of Virginia.

“Could a new international force do better (than the previous ones)?” he wonders.

Past experiences left a bitter taste among the Haitian population, particularly the 10,000 deaths caused by the cholera epidemic brought to the country by the Nepali blue helmets that were members of the Minustah.

But faced with the impasse, the Security Council asked Guterres to submit a report on possible “options” before mid-August, including a UN mission.

“The return to Haiti of a traditional form of peacekeeping is unlikely,” a source from the organization told AFP. Even if that were the case, an eventual “police force” would be “nothing like” what has been seen so far, she warns.

In any case, this mission will have to obtain the approval of the Security Council and China is skeptical, since it insists on the need to stop the growing arms traffic from Florida (southern United States).

“I think the Chinese are delighted to see the United States wrestling with a problem at its doorstep,” says Gowan, who “doubts” China will veto sending a peacekeeping mission.

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