After several months of widespread international press and governmental attention being devoted to Haiti’s presidential and legislative elections, little concern remains as to Haiti’s progression to democratic governance. As is almost always the case in such instances, the international community overwhelmingly displayed its commitment to Haiti’s general wellbeing in the run-up to the elections but soon thereafter drifted back to non-interventionism, leaving the infant government of Rene Preval to quell general lawlessness and suppress epidemic poverty alone. Electing a president represents but the first step toward building a nation and achieving a level of normalcy, a fact recognized by the UN body but often forgotten by UN states.
Although the Haitian national police have attempted rather valiantly to suppress roving bands of Haitian gangs, police officers have routinely found themselves outmatched by the better-equipped street thugs. A substantial presence of UN peacekeeping forces remains in Haiti, although their exact mission remains undefined and, therefore, precarious. UN forces rarely venture into Port-au-Prince’s notoriously treacherous slum of Cite Soleil, where the only presence of organized governance continues to be gunmen . Joint collaborative patrols of Haitian police and UN peacekeepers have proven relatively successful, although cultural barriers continue to separate the contingents of UN foreign nationals and Creole Haitians. However, barriers can only be broken by dialogue and a willingness to collaborate.
General disarmament of the local population would prove highly beneficial if Haitian national police acted as the primary authority with UN troops acting in a secondary role. UN troops must be cognizant that they are to act only as a peacekeeping force, avoiding the appearance of discrimination against any one particular criminal gang. Confrontation with local elements should be handled by the Haitian national police, with UN troops prepared to respond with overwhelming force if necessary. The UN and other concerned states should provide the underequipped Haitian police forces with adequate training and materiel so they can perform their primary responsibility of establishing law and order in an anarchic state .
Leaders of criminal gangs should be identified and approached by the Haitian police. The individuals comprising the core leadership of the country’s gangs should be given the opportunity to express their grievances with the Haitian government. If they appear willing to engage in high-level peace negotiations, concessions should be made?including a general amnesty?contingent on the complete disarmament of the gang. If however, individuals are unwilling to curtail criminal enterprises and/or resort to their nefarious practices, they should be apprehended and imprisoned by the Haitian police.
Since Preval’s election in February, his government has made slow but steady steps to form an all encompassing cabinet, incorporating six political parties. Although the cohesion of disparate political parties may complicate Preval’s ability to govern effectively, he seeks political unity among his cabinet and seeks to demonstrate his willing inclusion of all political faiths. However, Preval remains confronted with the Herculean task of rebuilding an impoverished nation that lacks basic infrastructure and the financial means to construct one. Foreign aid has been forthcoming from several governments, although commitments have been slow and relatively minor compared to nation-building exercises elsewhere. The aforementioned obstacles confronting Preval and the Haitian people are a tiny percentage of those to overcome. Unfortunately for Preval, the Haitian populace, and the UN, a comprehensive nation-building blueprint is lacking. However, specific case studies regarding the reconstruction of failed states throughout the world can provide substantial guidance in overcoming criminal elements, disarming the local populace, and constructing basic infrastructure, all of which build the foundation for long lasting peace and stability.
A renewed commitment by UN states is imperative if Preval is to hold his crumbling nation together. The UN, in conjunction with the OAS, must act to reverse the apathetic nature of the US and other foreign governments, whose involvement in the future of Haiti is absolutely necessary .
For additional TRC analyses on the Haitian presidential elections, please refer to the February 16, 2006 Intel Report and the February 7, 2006 Intel Report as well as February 22, 2006 WAR Report.