Michel Martelly’s Push to Revive Haitian Army Raises Questions
By Dialogo December 12, 2011
PORT-AU-PRINCE — Nearly two years after a magnitude-7.0 earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince, Haitian President Michel Martelly wants to reinstate his country’s armed forces at a cost of $95 million.
“Haiti must ensure the integrity of its territory and its national security,” Martelly said in late November in a public plaza fronting the quake-ravaged presidential palace, as he announced the formation of a commission to consider the matter. “My decision to establish the Armed Forces of Haiti is the result of a long and deep reflection that long preceded the statement of an emotional election promise.”
Martelly announced on Dec. 6 the commission’s members: Defense Minister Richard Morasse; Public Security Minister Reginald Delva; Vice President Bergerac Jean Barette; prominent lawyer and former presidential candidate Gerard Gourgue; former Col. Jean Thomas Cyprien, and historian George Michel, who served on a similar commission regarding the question of reconstituting the Haitian Army under Martelly’s predecessor, President René Préval. The panel’s findings are to be released Jan. 1.
The same week Martelly appointed his commission, the United States announced it would lift its 18-year-old arms embargo against Haiti, which was enacted following the 1991 coup d’etat against former President Jean Bertrand Aristide.
“The United States is now open to the idea of providing weapons to the Haitian National Police … under the conditions established by the two governments,” said Assistant U.S. Secretary of State William Brownfield, speaking alongside Mario Andresol, director-general of the Haitian National Police.
MINUSTAH hopes to boost police force
Under the Duvalier regime which ended in 1986 and until 1994, Haiti’s police comprised a unit of the Haitian Army. That year, Aristide established Haiti’s first civilian police force, which now numbers 10,000. The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) hopes to boost that to 14,000 by 2014.
Denis O’Brien, CEO of Digicel Group and a member of Haiti’s influential Presidential Advisory Council for Economic Growth and Investment, said government’s intentions have been misunderstood by some non-Haitians.
“If you look at the way the United States has mobilized its National Guard, that’s what President Martelly is really looking to do,” he said. “Also, with the development of a national guard in Haiti, sooner or later the UN mission will end. That mission already has shrunk, and the UN has done a lot of good work here. But the government has to take over and run its own affairs.”
Laurent Lamothe, Haiti’s newly appointed foreign minister, told Diálogo that a national army is crucial in order to attract the foreign investment Haiti so desperately needs.
“MINUSTAH has an annual mandate that expires every year. In order to create long-term stability, you need to have a force that can replace MINUSTAH when their term ends,” said Lamothe, interviewed on the sidelines of a Nov. 29-30 investment conference in Port-au-Prince that was organized by the Inter-American Development Bank.
“Businessmen want to feel secure, and their physical buildings need to be secure. In order for them to feel safe, you must have the manpower to safeguard them,” Lamothe said. “Nobody will invest in this country if they cannot drive down the street. We want to keep the Haitian people safe against all types of destabilizing factors. We are working to find the right formula to have a force in place when MINUSTAH leaves.”
Lamothe added that Haiti’s crime rate has fallen dramatically. “So have the number of violent attacks. Gang members have been disarmed, so the general security situation has greatly improved,” he said. “We want it to improve even more. That’s why we want to strengthen the police force, increase the number of police officers on the streets and boost the amount of information coming to the police.”
Amidst chaos, Haiti is relatively safe
Haiti has one of the lowest homicide rates in the Caribbean. In 2010, the country recorded 689 murders, which translates into a homicide rate of 6.9 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to a report issued in early October by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime. By contrast, in 2004 and 2005, about 1,800 homicides occurred in Haiti, according to human rights groups.
Throughout the Caribbean, only Anguilla, Antigua, Cuba and Martinique recorded lower homicide rates — and Haiti was safer than the Bahamas (28.0 murders per 100,000 inhabitants), Dominican Republic (24.9); Puerto Rico (26.2); St. Kitts-Nevis (38.2), St. Lucia (25.2); St. Vincent and the Grenadines (22.0), Trinidad & Tobago (35.2); U.S. Virgin Islands (39.2) and Jamaica (52.1), according to the UNODC study.
Both U.S. and Canadian officials have issued statements opposing the revival of Haiti’s army, and in early December, former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias warned Martelly that doing so would be a mistake of historic proportions.
Johanna Mendelson Forman, senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, agrees that the Martelly government should build up its police force before thinking about reviving the army.
“Martelly is trying to fulfill a campaign promise he made, but it still has a legislature to go through, and that legislature is divided. He might be able to force it through, but the point is, who’s going to pay for it?” she said.
An enormous price tag
MINUSTAH’s annual budget is close to $800 million — up from $570 million before the January 2010 earthquake — and the mission currently has more than 12,000 uniformed personnel, nearly double the 6,940 it had back in October 2009. That includes some 8,700 troops and 3,500 police officers. Peacekeeping operations alone cost $120 million to $130 million a year, according to MINUSTAH officials.
In mid-October, the UN Security Council ordered MINUSTAH to be slashed in size by 2,750 to about 10,500 soldiers over the next 12 months. Asked how long he expects UN peacekeepers to remain in Haiti, Lamothe responded: “As long as they’re needed to keep the country safe.”