Saturday, January 6, 2024

The Haiti Mission Should Not Deploy In Force Until It Has Sufficient Troops, Training and Equipment to Overpower The Haitian Gangs

Foreign forces will encounter major operational hurdles as they seek to weaken the hold of Haitians gangs on Haiti

Crisis in Haiti

Haiti’s Gangs: Can a Foreign Mission Break Their Stranglehold?

Port-au-Prince/New York/Washington/Brussels, 5 January 2024

From Crisis Group

What’s new?  Foreign security personnel are expected to begin arriving in Haiti in early 2024 to assist the national police in fighting the gangs besieging much of the country.  UN-authorised, Kenyan-led and designed with U.S. support, this multinational mission aims to restore security and enable long overdue elections.

Why does it matter?  Haiti’s wave of violence and political breakdown have deepened the country’s humanitarian emergency.  With police outnumbered and outgunned by criminal groups, foreign assistance is needed.  But the mission must overcome daunting operational and political challenges for it to be effective.

What should be done?  The mission should not deploy in force until it has sufficient troops, training and equipment to overpower the gangs.  It should prepare for urban combat, and develop community-level sources of intelligence, to help minimise civilian harm.  A political settlement and major reforms will be required for gains to endure.

I. Overview

Answering a plea for assistance from the Haitian government, the UN Security Council has authorised a multinational force to help it break criminal gangs’ grip on much of the country.  Despite the chequered legacy of past interventions, most Haitians believe only foreign forces can bring respite from the violence that has upended their lives.

The proposed mission may encounter several obstacles, however.  While Kenya has volunteered troops, judicial proceedings could hold up deployment.

The mission will also face big operational challenges, such as shifting gang allegiances that create the possibility of a united front against it; the difficulties of protecting civilians in urban warfare; and corruption among police and politicians linked to criminal groups.

A small team of Kenyans arriving in early 2024 can help commanders understand the terrain and ensure they do not deploy before they are set up to prevail.  In the long term, a political settlement and a robust demobilisation program, as well as plans for staunching weapons flows and severing ties between criminals and Haitian elites, are needed to sustain progress.

Already besieged by gangs, which had been tightening their control of areas throughout the country for years, Haiti suffered a further blow with the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in 2021.  More than 200,000 Haitians are now displaced, as gangs seize neighbourhoods, thoroughfares and fuel depots – choking off supplies of food and other essentials to people in need.

As it endures the humanitarian and security crisis the gangs have engendered, the country is also in political limbo.  There have been no elections since 2016, and the acting prime minister, Ariel Henry, who was appointed to his post and is seen as illegitimate by much of the political opposition, has shown reluctance to share power.  He has committed to step down in February after elections that were supposed to have taken place in 2023, but it remains to be seen whether he will stick to his pledge since there were no polls.

Against this backdrop, the opposition worries that the arrival of an international force to help restore security and address Haiti’s humanitarian crisis – which Henry requested in 2022 and the UN Security Council authorised in October 2023 – could help the current government cling to power.

Ideally, as Crisis Group has previously recommended, the country’s political forces would come together in welcoming the mission.  But today’s dynamics suggest that the bigger risk to the country’s long-suffering citizenry would be to delay the deployment yet further.

So long as legal, operational and other requirements can be met, it is safer for Haitians menaced by gang rule to move forward under sub-optimal political conditions.

The new mission … will seek to protect state institutions … critical infrastructure … transport hubs, and … launch a counter-offensive against gangs.

Still, those requirements are no small hurdle to clear.  Even getting to this point has been challenging.  Approved by the UN Security Council almost a year after Henry’s government first made its request, the international mission began forming only after Kenya volunteered to lead it with a contribution of 1,000 police officers.

The difficulty in identifying a lead country and other troop contributors, despite U.S. entreaties, underscores just how wary governments are of becoming involved in Haiti, where foreign interventions (including the last UN peacekeeping mission to the country, which left in 2017) have left a sometimes tragic legacy.

As envisioned, the new mission, which will be organised as an ad hoc coalition rather than a blue-helmeted UN operation, will seek to protect state institutions as well as critical infrastructure and transport hubs, and together with the Haitian police, launch a counter-offensive against gangs.  It appears that an advance contingent of several hundred officers will deploy ahead of the rest of the force.  It should arrive in Haiti in early 2024.

Major challenges lie in wait for the mission once it is on the ground.  Haiti’s gangs could ally to battle it together.

Fighting in Haiti’s ramshackle urban neighbourhoods will put innocent civilians at risk.

Links between corrupt police and the gangs could make it difficult to maintain operational secrecy.

For all these reasons, preparation will be of critical importance.  Discussions are now under way between Kenyan and Haitian security forces about the mission’s goals and rules of engagement.

The projected advance contingent should continue work already begun by assessment missions that have visited from Nairobi.  It should map the zones of gang control, assess the threat they pose and measure operational risks, with the aim of ensuring that when the full mission deploys it can make a convincing show of force that does not provoke the gangs or spark violent retaliation.

Local experts emphasised to Crisis Group that a strong early showing in this spirit could help persuade the gangs to move to a non-confrontational posture.

Other key tasks for the mission will be to absorb expertise on civilian protection in urban settings, develop intelligence networks in the communities where it will be operating, train vetted police units with whom it can cooperate and begin devising a demobilisation program so that gang members who wish to leave their criminal outfits have a pathway out.

Of utmost importance will be scrupulous attention to the safeguards built into the UN mandate to prevent the misdeeds of MINUSTAH, the last UN peacekeeping mission, which became notorious for spreading cholera throughout the country as well as engaging in sexual exploitation of local women.

Finally, both the mission and its supporters will need to turn their attention to structural issues if there is to be hope of an end to Haiti’s overlapping crises.  A political settlement is at the top of the list.

At present, to the population’s outrage, Haitian politicians are squabbling over formation of a transitional government as gangs continue their campaign of violence.  Multiple rounds of negotiation between Henry and the opposition have failed to produce a stable and authentically cross-party pact.  After Haiti’s international partners upped pressure on Henry to make additional concessions in the quest for a power-sharing agreement, opposition groups fastened on what they saw as a sign of weakness: they are now calling upon him to make good on his promise to resign by February.

Outside actors with influence will need to continue pushing the two sides to agree on the shape of a transitional government that can begin a process of institutional renewal and prepare the country for the first elections in years.

The multinational mission’s deployment in Haiti could bring essential relief to a country mired in strife.  But bumps in the road ahead pose a major threat to the force’s effectiveness.

After decades of international interventions and billions in aid, Haiti fatigue in foreign capitals is real.  But rarely has the country needed help more than now.  For the sake of Haiti’s long-suffering people, every effort must go into helping the mission succeed.

II. A Fraught Security and Political Landscape

Haiti has suffered gang violence for years, but the power of these groups has soared since the assassination of President Moïse and appointment of acting Prime Minister Henry.

There are currently some 300 gangs in Haiti, controlling most of the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area and key parts of the Artibonite valley, the area north of the capital where much of the country’s food is grown.

A. A Surge in Violence amid a Breakdown in Authority

Violence perpetrated by gangs – including murder, rape, kidnapping and extortion – has spread across much of the country in recent years, becoming far more intense.  The UN reported almost 4,000 people killed and 3,000 kidnapped in gang-related violence in 2023 alone.  Sexual violence was also widespread, with over 1,100 reported attacks on women as of October.  As part of ten massacres perpetrated by gangs in greater Port-au-Prince since 2018, at least 179 women and girls were raped.

There are roughly 200,000 internally displaced persons in Haiti – largely comprising people who have left their homes in the face of gang attacks – including 40,000 who had to flee violence between August and October 2023.  Many have sought refuge at makeshift sites in public squares or schools, in the latter case taking a large number of classrooms out of use for education.

The gangs also impose their own taxes on businesses from informal street vendors to industrial parks in areas they control.  The result is shortages of essential goods and rising food prices in a country where almost half the population does not have enough to eat.

Kidnapping for ransom, affecting rich and poor alike, has forced thousands of families to sacrifice their savings or fall into debt to secure the release of their loved ones.

Gangs have run rampant because the state has largely crumbled.

As discussed further below, Henry has little public support, and it is widely held that only backing from Haiti’s foreign partners keeps him in power.  There has been no election of any sort since 2016, and parliament has not held a session since January 2020, when the terms of all the deputies in the lower house and almost all the senators expired.

The country’s remaining elected officials – a rump bloc of ten senators – saw their terms run out in January 2023.  At the same time, the judicial system is beset by long strikes by staff and extreme insecurity, which has forced officials to abandon several courthouses in the capital that have fallen into gangs’ hands.

The state’s provision of basic services is likewise exiguous, with huge shortfalls in potable water, electricity and waste collection.  Rivers of garbage traverse many areas of Port-au-Prince, producing illness and misery.

The Haitian National Police are weak, too, unable to staunch gang violence despite support from the UN political mission in Haiti.

The Haitian National Police are weak, too, unable to staunch gang violence despite support from the UN political mission in Haiti, known as BINUH, and countries such as Canada, the U.S. and France.  The force has fewer than 10,000 active officers to cover the national territory.  (According to the UN-recommended ratio, more than 25,000 officers would be warranted.)

In the past year alone, more than 1,000 officers stepped down.  Problems with discipline and insubordination in the police force could jeopardise the foreign mission’s operations.

The seemingly minor issue of uniforms is one example.  Many officers patrolling the streets sport balaclavas, despite a ban on wearing any accessory altering the official uniform except when conducting special operations.

Because gang members often don balaclavas, people are often confused about who is a real police officer.  To make matters worse, gang members sometimes wear old police uniforms, which were probably handed down by officers with gang connections.

The gangs have profited from not only the breakdown in public authority but also entrenchment in Haitian society.  These groups have historically enjoyed close links with Haitian politicians and wealthy businesspeople, who have long used them as private armies.

Although the gangs have gained a degree of independence in recent years by expanding their own sources of income, insiders say ties between government officials, business leaders and the gangs are still strong.  “Gangs are not only to be found in the lower part of the city”, said a former official, pointing to patrons at a well-known bar in an upscale neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince. 

“People who collaborate with them hang out right here.  They are the ones who live between legality and illegality, who make contacts with the banks, who help bring in weapons”.

With a view to severing these links, in 2022 the U.S. and Canada began imposing sanctions on leading politicians and businesspeople accused of directly or indirectly supporting Haitian gangs, including former President Michel Martelly and two former prime ministers.

It is difficult to ascertain with full confidence that the sanctions have weakened the ties, but observers noted a rise in kidnappings after they were issued, which suggests that gangs resorted to new methods of obtaining money to make up for losing funds from wealthy sponsors.

The UN Security Council also established a sanctions regime for Haiti in 2022.  But more than a year after it was set up, and despite detailed reporting by a panel of experts, the Council has struggled to agree on which businesspeople or politicians to add to the sanctions list, which features only five notorious gang leaders at present.

In the meantime, gangs have extended their territorial sway.  One by one, the gateways to the capital have fallen under the control of different armed gangs, which have been collecting illegal tolls on all the main roads linking Port-au-Prince to the rest of the country.  It is in these circumstances that the Security Council took the further step in October 2023 of authorising a multilateral force to help address the humanitarian and security crisis in Haiti.

B. Two Gang Coalitions and a Vigilante Movement

1. Two coalitions

Since the mid-2020s, most gangs in the capital have grouped themselves into two rival coalitions, known as the G9 and the Gpèp.  The Gpèp – an alliance first led by alias Ti Gabriel but now without a clear chain of command – appears to be drawing most of its resources from activities such as kidnapping and drug trafficking. 

Meanwhile, Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier, a G9 leader, pursues dominance on the streets through extortion and violence, while professing quasi-political motivations; however implausibly, he has said his group refrains from kidnapping or harming civilians.  He and his allies refuse to profit from the poor, he insists, and in fact defend the vulnerable.

The coalitions’ fight for supremacy has resulted in thousands of deaths of both gang members and civilians, with the latter increasingly falling victim to indiscriminate attacks by the criminal bands.  The gangs have a wide range of weaponry, from homemade firearms to high-powered rifles, at their disposal.

The second half of 2023 has seen an increase in violence, with gangs … ramping up attacks on each other.

The second half of 2023 has seen an increase in violence, with gangs belonging to the G9 and the Gpèp coalitions ramping up attacks on each other, seemingly in a bid to gain territory before the multinational mission arrives.  Some of the most brutal fighting followed the accidental death in mid-November of Iscard Andrice (known as Iskar), a founder and influential leader of the G9 coalition.

Iskar had been chief enforcer of a siege on the Brooklyn neighbourhood in Port-au-Prince since 2020, controlled by Gpèp’s boss, alias Ti Gabriel.  The day after Iskar’s death, Ti Gabriel launched attacks in the areas previously under his rival’s control, with support from at least two Gpèp-affiliated gangs.

Over the course of three days, the clashes killed at least 166 people and displaced more than 1,000.  An orphanage and a hospital were caught in the crossfire.

While internal fractures threaten the G9 coalition, the Gpèp has continued to expand its footprint.  Alias Black Alex Mana, who took Iskar’s place as a leader of the G9, was killed just a week after his boss died by a mid-level commander of his own gang.

Gpèp gangs have also launched ruthless offensives in and around the capital and are consolidating alliances with armed groups in the Artibonite valley, where approximately 1,700 people have been killed, injured or kidnapped in under two years.

Even as they vie for power and territory, the gangs have shown that they are aware of the multilateral force’s pending arrival, seemingly exploring postures that might help manage the risk of confrontation.

In August, after Kenya offered to lead the mission, Chérizier hinted at the possibility of a truce.  A month later, in September, G9 and Gpèp leaders declared through voice notes on social media that they were willing to reduce violence under an initiative they called Viv Ansanm, a phrase that means “living together” in Haitian Creole.

But they also suggested another option, with Chérizier indicating that gangs could eventually ally with the goal of confronting international forces from a position of greater strength. He declared that the gangs would welcome a foreign force if it came to help restore security in the country, but that “if they come to the community ghettos and start shooting and massacring, we Haitians will rise up and fight them to the last drop of blood”.

2. The Bwa Kale movement

Beyond the gangs, the security landscape includes vigilante groups that have sprung up across the capital as a form of citizen self-protection.  Building on a long history of self-defence brigades, today’s incarnation, the Bwa Kale movement, emerged in April 2023.

Armed with all manner of weaponry, including high-calibre guns, the vigilantes have built barricades to deter gangs from entering their neighbourhoods.  They have also attacked young men accused of belonging to criminal groups – lynching some 350 in just over three months.

The pushback had some success: many gangs had to withdraw to areas they fully controlled and halt their attacks on civilians for the first time in recent years.

But Bwa Kale’s dark side was also evident.  Although many Haitians celebrated the movement’s rise, some government officials and international partners voiced concern that it could spark more conflict, decrying its brutal methods, including the extrajudicial killings.

Although Bwa Kale’s offensive lasted only a few months and gangs have resumed encroaching upon new territory, certain brigades remain active.  They continue to block numerous roads in Port-au-Prince with their improvised barricades, mostly after sunset.

Experts worry that the multilateral mission’s arrival could revitalise the vigilante groups, with uncertain effect.  It could trigger attacks by them on individuals suspected of being gang members.

But it could also foster alliances between these groups and specific gangs, building on partnerships that emerged earlier when vigilantes helped certain gangs fend off rivals.

C. Political Stalemate

Haiti’s security crisis is made worse by its political situation.  Having assumed power outside the normal electoral process in the wake of President Moïse’s assassination, acting Prime Minister Henry lacks the mandate needed to take on the country’s multidimensional challenges.

Since taking office, Henry has faced staunch opposition from many political parties and civil society groups.  The opposition believes that Henry’s unelected government holds on to power thanks solely to unflinching foreign support, despite what many perceive to be his dismal performance during two-plus years in power and the fact that Canada has sanctioned two of his former cabinet ministers for supporting gang activities.

Some foreign capitals, in fact, hesitated to join the multinational mission precisely because of the deep political fractures in Haiti.

Efforts to foster a political agreement between Henry and opposition forces have made little progress.  The parties have clashed over how to restore a balanced system of executive rule (the constitution provides for a prime minister to work alongside a president), with the opposition demanding more controls upon what they perceive as the unfettered powers afforded Henry.

Unfortunately, the last six months of multi-party negotiations have tended to exacerbate antagonism among political forces instead of bringing them closer to agreement.

As part of the negotiations facilitated by a delegation from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in Kingston, Jamaica, the main political groups opposed to Henry, including the so-called Montana Agreement and the parties PHTK (ie, Parti Haïtien Tèt Kale) and Fanmi Lavalas, signed a declaration in June calling for creation of a presidential council that would work alongside a prime minister during a transitional period until elections can be held.

But Henry baulked, saying he was willing only to add new members to the existing High Transitional Council, a body created under an agreement reached on 21 December 2022 among various parties.  This half-concession did nothing to ease tensions.

By September 2023, faced with Henry’s stubborn refusal to agree to greater power sharing, and following an alarming upsurge in gang violence, some of the most prominent groups that had signed the joint declaration started hardening their positions.

The Montana Agreement called for Henry’s immediate resignation and accused the government of involvement in crimes against humanity because of its alleged gang ties.

Soon afterward, most of the remaining signatories of the Kingston declaration joined forces with other opposition groups to establish a new alliance.

As discussions about deploying a mission gained momentum in New York, the group presented to both domestic and international audiences a plan that points to the creation of a transitional government, which would fill the void left by Henry, presuming he steps down in February as promised in the “21 December agreement”.

In response, the U.S. and other foreign powers with sway over Haiti’s political players pressed Henry to make additional concessions, including granting further powers to the Transitional Council.

CARICOM’s facilitation team returned to Haiti twice between November and December, hoping that Henry’s willingness to consider widening the Council’s membership and vesting it with certain presidential powers would break the deadlock in negotiations.  But the facilitators continued to face steadfast calls for Henry’s resignation from opposition groups.

With little hope that the sparring groups will conclude a comprehensive agreement soon, it looks increasingly likely that the international mission will confront deep divisions among the country’s main political forces when it arrives in Haiti.

Crisis Group has recommended in the past that the government and opposition should reach an accord before troops deploy so that the mission does not get entangled in the political fray.  That risk still exists, and foreign partners should continue to press all sides to reach a deal on establishing a unity government.

But in the meantime, the need for an urgent response to extreme violence on the ground, as well as efforts by foreign partners to bring government and opposition together, suggest that political disunity is now a lesser danger than inaction.

III. Putting the Mission into Practice

It is into this disheartening security and political setting that the Multinational Security Support mission (MSS) – which the UN Security Council authorised in October 2023 under its Chapter VII powers – will arrive to back up the Haitian police in fighting the gangs.

Kenya will lead the MSS and provide 1,000 police officers as part of an ad hoc coalition of military police and civilians expected to be deployed from around a dozen countries; the mission will receive financial support from voluntary donations managed through a UN trust fund.

Nairobi’s commitment to lead the force, announced in July 2023, ended the nearly year-long search for a country to take on this challenge.  For its part, Kenya saw volunteering to lead as an opportunity both to demonstrate solidarity with the African diaspora and to expand security cooperation with the U.S.

Although the Security Council’s stamp of approval on the mission was regarded as critical by Kenya and other supporters of the initiative, the MSS will not be UN-led. Nor will it be funded through assessed contributions, and there remains much to do to prepare the ground for the mission’s deployment.

The clock is ticking: the mission’s one-year mandate started running on 2 October, when the resolution backing its creation was passed.  While renewal is of course possible, that conversation in the Security Council will be easier if the mission has a track record of achievements or reason to believe they are forthcoming.

The clock is ticking: the mission’s one-year mandate started running on 2 October.

The Council provided the mission with a clearly defined but ambitious framework for its first twelve months of operations.  With the overall objective of supporting the police’s efforts to restore security and create conditions conducive to holding elections, the mission is empowered both to help plan and conduct operations jointly with the police against Haiti’s gangs and to assist in protecting critical infrastructure and transport hubs.

The Council also requested that the mission help the Haitian police safeguard deliveries of humanitarian aid and support them and other UN entities in combatting illicit arms trafficking.

Crucially, the Council affords the mission exceptional but temporary authority to arrest and detain individuals (in cooperation with Haitian police) in order to maintain public safety.

This multi-pronged mandate emerged as a compromise among the U.S., Kenya and Haiti.

At first, the U.S. had envisioned a multinational force with a light footprint and low visibility that would essentially protect state institutions and critical infrastructure.  But after Kenya conducted an assessment visit in August 2023, it concluded that it would need offensive capabilities to not only protect critical infrastructure but also to meet the Haitian population’s expectations.

The mandate accommodates these two views and closely aligns with what Haitians expect an international mission to accomplish.

Diplomats are quick to champion the Council’s approval of the mission as a gesture of international solidarity with Haiti, and the MSS stricture as an emerging model for multilateral security cooperation.

Few dispute the Secretary-General’s claim in August that UN peacekeeping would be ill suited to provide the robust intervention that Haiti needs to loosen the grip of armed gangs.

Amid uncertainty about the future of UN peacekeeping globally, the ad hoc model of international cooperation put forward for Haiti will be watched closely.  The attention only raises the stakes as the mission and its supporters work through myriad political and operational dilemmas before the force can be deployed in earnest.

Kenyan representatives have conducted multiple visits to Haiti to prepare the security forces, while contending with domestic legal challenges to their deployment.

Though the Kenyan parliament approved the mission in mid-November, it has been challenged in the courts by an opposition party on the grounds that the constitution does not allow the government to deploy police abroad.  The Supreme Court will rule on this suit in late January.

The most recent assessments by Kenya indicate that the mission should have up to 5,000 personnel and cost approximately $240 million per year.

It remains unclear for now how quickly the mission can secure enough troops and funding to fulfil the entirety of its mandate.  The most recent assessments by Kenya indicate that the mission should have up to 5,000 personnel and cost approximately $240 million per year, though a Security Council diplomat suggested to Crisis Group that these figures may be inflated.

For its part, Nairobi tentatively plans to deploy a few hundred military police in early 2024 (provided the Supreme Court dismisses the pending legal case), but it is unclear when the rest of the Kenyan contingent might follow.

Over the past few months, many countries have informally suggested they would also be willing to deploy personnel or contribute funding.

So far, the bulk of financial support for the force, as well as most of the logistical and operational planning, has been provided by the U.S.

Washington plans to allocate $100 million in funding to the MSS, and $100 million more of what the State Department has described as “in-kind support – intelligence, airlift, communications and medical”.

Nairobi has announced that eleven countries will send officers to the MSS, while other countries have offered to provide officers, equipment or funding.

But not all of those offers are confirmed, and diplomats have suggested to Crisis Group that the search for countries willing to contribute military police is progressing more slowly than hoped.

Furthermore, the UN-managed trust fund has not received all the expected contributions, an issue of some importance given the Kenyan interior minister’s assertion that Nairobi will deploy its forces only when all required funding for the mission has been committed and made available.

There are other hurdles as well.  Preparing an international force for a setting as perilous as Haiti would be daunting in any circumstance but doing so with an ad hoc coalition of countries presents additional problems.

Some of these are structural and administrative.  The Council expects the mission to establish an administration akin to that of a UN-led operation: it needs to acquire the right law enforcement expertise and to fulfil detailed requirements in reporting to New York.

Because the troops will not be wearing blue helmets, the MSS and its contributing countries cannot rely upon the UN Secretariat’s automatic support to get these processes under way.

But that will not diminish the considerable political and operational scrutiny that the Security Council is likely to apply to the mission even before the first officers reach Port-au-Prince.  This scrutiny will be strongest regarding matters that tainted UN peacekeepers’ previous operations in Haiti.

MINUSTAH’s standing was deeply and tragically sullied by its role in spreading cholera and the implication of dozens of peacekeepers in cases of sexual exploitation and abuse.

The Security Council resolution creates safeguards to prevent such calamities from happening again.  It calls for adopting appropriate wastewater management measures to prevent the introduction and spread of waterborne diseases, and establishment of robust, safe and accessible mechanisms to present complaints and carry out investigations to address any allegations of misconduct, including sexual exploitation and abuse.

Knowing that repetition of any of these misdeeds would likely trigger a massive outcry in Haiti, a country already wary of foreign intervention, diplomats are likely to closely watch how the MSS performs in these areas.

How the mission coordinates with other UN bodies will be another important ingredient in its effectiveness.  BINUH, the above-referenced UN political mission now operating in Haiti, already supports the Haitian government in areas including political dialogue, elections, justice reform and violence reduction efforts.  It also has a mandate to help build the Haitian police’s operational and administrative capacities.

Furthermore, twelve different UN agencies, funds and programs assist Haiti in a wide range of development and humanitarian initiatives.

UN officials are quick to emphasise that the MSS is not a UN-led operation, in part to avoid direct association with the mission should it falter.

But alignment, if not direct collaboration, between the MSS and the UN as a whole will be critical to address the country’s interlocking political and security dilemmas.

IV. The Dilemmas of Taking on the Gangs

Foreign forces will encounter major operational hurdles as they seek to weaken the hold of Haiti’s gangs.  With the mission expected to number between 2,500 and 5,000 personnel – not all of them officers carrying out direct policing operations – Kenya, other contributing countries and Haitian authorities will have to carefully weigh their strategic priorities.

Given its limited scope, the mission is not intended to end Haiti’s gang problem once and for all.  But even seeking to achieve a limited set of objectives that could bring tangible improvements to people’s lives – such as regaining control of southern and northern gateways to the capital and restoring free passage on these roads – will, unless something changes, mean engaging in frontal combat with several gangs.

The gangs appear to be mulling two ways of responding to the mission’s arrival, according to interviews with people privy to the discussions.  On one hand, and despite the spike in inter-gang clashes, gang leaders are talking about reinvigorating the cooperative framework of Viv Ansanm, but this time for the purpose of forming a united front to face the foreign troops.

In fact, a mediator between the rival gang coalitions showed Crisis Group evidence that the main gang leaders in the capital continue to communicate with one another and might be willing to battle the foreign mission together.

Sources tell Crisis Group that, if the gangs perceive the Kenyan-led force as poorly equipped or trained and thus ripe for defeat, they will not hesitate to attack the troops.

If Viv Ansanm were to be revived to coincide with the mission’s deployment, it could give the gangs a significant boost and allow them to hit the international troops simultaneously on several fronts.

At the same time, however, these same gang leaders have also signalled that, if confronted with a force that has the evident capacity to overpower them, they would be willing to engage in discussions about how to disarm.

Even the most powerful gangs might ponder alternatives to engaging in direct combat with international personnel and local police after one successful operation against the groups.  Already, some gang leaders seem to be considering how to position their organisations politically and ideologically in order to garner greater popular support and prepare for talks.

Although their histories suggest otherwise, some gang leaders have claimed their groups’ fight is rooted in political causes.

Sources affirm that these leaders are interested in providing the gangs with a platform to start negotiations with a view to demobilisation should that seem the best course.

Assuming the mission does engage the gangs in combat, an outstanding dilemma for operational planners is how to protect civilians, particularly in Port-au-Prince, during offensive operations.

The most powerful armed groups have established strongholds in crowded slums in and around the capital.  Almost inevitably, mission personnel will be called on to conduct operations in these high-risk environments.  For example, in their attempts to retake critical infrastructure like the Varreux oil terminal – which sits in the gang-controlled Cité Soleil district of Port-au-Prince – as well as the roads linking the capital to the rest of the country, they will have to find their way through densely populated areas.

Some homes in these neighbourhoods are made of flimsy materials like wood and corrugated iron sheets, increasing the risk that stray bullets could hit those unable to flee.

Secondly, distinguishing between gang members and non-members in the civilian population will be difficult.  Most gang members in Haiti do not wear uniforms or any distinctive symbol, except the occasional balaclava; nor do they have protective gear that could identify them.

They also know their way around the labyrinthine territory under their dominion, allowing them to blend in and out of the civilian population.

The fact that very few of the foreign police officers will likely speak Haitian Creole (or even French) is likely to make interactions with residents harder, as the officers seek to ferret out the gang members.

Thirdly, collusion between the police and gangs will make leaked information another likely obstacle to operations.  Corruption in the police force is a widespread problem that not only involves rank-and-file officers but also reaches the upper echelons of the institution.

Two sources in the Haitian police who spoke separately to Crisis Group said senior commanders managed at least once to stop an operation to capture a powerful gang leader, allegedly because of the gangster’s links to politicians or members of the force.

Finally, not all communities may be fully receptive to the mission.  Even in areas where the gangs are very unpopular, the MSS will not necessarily be welcomed with open arms. The mission will have to contend with the hard reality that many Haitians have learnt to coexist with gangs that, for all practical purposes, have become local authorities.

Some residents of gang-controlled areas in Port-au-Prince told Crisis Group they have become apprehensive about Haitian police raids, as these operations not only fail to break the gang’s hold on their neighbourhoods, but also often spur gang members to retaliate against people perceived to be collaborating with the police.

V. Building Lasting Security

A. Preparing to Deploy

Haiti desperately needs international assistance, but the MSS must not be rolled out prematurely.

Haitian experts who spoke to Crisis Group expressed the hope that the international mission would be able to intimidate the gangs into cooperating by showing up in numbers and projecting impressive capacity.

One with deep knowledge of gang dynamics in the capital said: “[The mission] is going to have to focus on the perception of the balance of power, making a big show of force to let them know that if there are clashes, it’s all over for them”.

That scenario hangs on the hope that sufficient numbers of trained and equipped forces are available for the mission.  A thin, poorly prepared detachment would run the risk that gangs perceive weakness, press their advantage and tangle up the mission in knots.

Moreover, even if the MSS can muster an impressive show of force, it will need to be prepared for the possibility that the gangs will fight tenaciously in places where the mission is seeking to wrest territory from their control.

It will be up to the mission’s force commander to decide when the MSS is ready to deploy with sufficient confidence that it will make the situation better rather than worse.  In preparing to make that determination, certain steps may help.

The small advance contingent of … Kenyan police … should work with Haitian counterparts to map areas where gangs are dominant.

First, as the legal challenge to Kenya’s deployment makes its way through the Nairobi courts, the mission leadership should use the time to gain the best possible sense of the operating environment.

The small advance contingent of several hundred Kenyan police that is due to arrive in Haiti early in 2024 should work with Haitian counterparts to map areas where gangs are dominant, assess their firepower and understand the threat levels in places where the MSS is expecting to deploy.  They may wish to consider a strategy for asserting control in phases, first targeting areas with more accessible terrain, from which many civilians have already fled.

In planning initial operations, they should also contemplate ways in which the force can display its numbers and capabilities – including overflights by drones or helicopters or motorcades of armoured personnel carriers – to increase the potential for deterrence while taking care not to be provocative or create a risk of escalation.

Of course, none of this will be possible unless Kenya gets the financial and troop support that others have committed to make, and additional contributions to fill any gaps.

Having strong intelligence gathering capacity will also be important for success.  The mission could take cues from how MINUSTAH operated, establishing means of collecting information on gang activity from residents.

At the same time, the mission should take steps to protect operational security so that sensitive information is not compromised by the Haitian police, particularly given links between some officers and the gangs.

International partners should support the acceleration of vetting efforts already under way by BINUH, bolstering new special units whose members have all been thoroughly scrutinised (including, but not exclusively, the Unité Temporaire Anti-Gang, or U-TAG).

Vetting should be built up progressively in order to check not only all members of the special units, but eventually every police officer.

The MSS should also place civilian protection at the centre of their strategy, leaning on expertise in civilian harm reduction developed by the UN, the International Committee of the Red Cross and others.

Basic precepts range from having reliable information about the areas where combat will take place to giving advance warning to civilians in these places to enable evacuation planning.  This expertise will be especially important in designing rules of engagement for urban warfare that are protective of the civilian population, including with respect to selection of armaments.

As Crisis Group has recommended in the past, Haitian police and foreign mission personnel will need to be able to warn people in conflict-affected areas of coming operations and to help them leave their homes safely, while commanders should always consider how to create a corridor that will allow residents to get out of areas where fighting is raging.  The mission will need to have French speakers on hand for these purposes.

The MSS’s rules of engagement should also provide concrete instructions for addressing the challenges that self-defence groups could pose.  As noted above, some of the vigilante brigades that have proliferated since the Bwa Kale movement emerged have been cooperating with gangs in parts of the country.

MSS forces could come across these brigades, either working with the gangs or in self-defence mode, threaded among angry crowds seeking to lynch suspected criminals.

Either way, the best strategy for dealing with the vigilantes is to avoid these scenarios by trying to bring them onside as soon as possible.

As a first step, the police should make contact with the brigades and encourage them to collaborate with the authorities by providing information that may help to capture suspected gang members, while urging them to desist from carrying out acts of violence on their own.

Besides its mandate to counter the gangs, the mission will need to be especially well prepared to prevent gender-based violence committed by its own members.  The scandal of the “MINUSTAH babies”, the result of peacekeepers impregnating hundreds of women, many of them minors, before abandoning them, continues to cloud that mission’s legacy.  Foreign personnel should receive the requisite training before they deploy to prevent such cases from recurring.

The mission will also need training to address the gangs’ widespread use of sexual violence.  Ideally, foreign partners could also second at least one gender expert to help the mission monitor and report on any abuses, as well as pay local staff who can act as community liaisons to detect cases of sexual exploitation and violence early.  Women should of course also be appropriately represented among the deploying forces.

B. Critical Tasks for Enduring Success

Beyond the work that is required to prepare for deployment, certain key tasks will be critical to the mission’s enduring success.

The first will be to increase the number of police officers who can start working hand in hand with the MSS’s personnel and eventually be ready to take over from the mission.  International assistance – through BINUH and schemes such as the Joint Programme for the Haitian National Police (commonly referred to as the UN basket fund) – to bolster the Haitian National Police will have to be greatly expanded if Haitian authorities are to have a chance of building a stable police force that can keep gangs and other criminal organisations in check.

Consistent with the above recommendations, the continued strengthening of fully vetted special Haitian police units dedicated to joint anti-gang operations, and efforts to vet the entire force over time, could help build the local force’s capacity to collect and use intelligence for planning and conducting operations.

Strengthening the police and ensuring that offensive operations are effective will not be enough to consolidate state control in areas retaken by security forces.

Secondly, serious thought has to be given to what demobilisation of the gangs might look like.  Strengthening the police and ensuring that offensive operations are effective will not be enough to consolidate state control in areas retaken by security forces.

Killing or capturing top gang leaders is unlikely to prevent the reconfiguration of armed groups, and the removal of gang commanders may instead lead to escalating violence among factions that splinter from the original band, as has happened elsewhere.

Prisons are extremely overcrowded, meanwhile, and the justice system will be unable to handle the thousands of cases likely to reach it once the MSS starts arresting gang members, making an alternative route to allow these young men, many of them minors, to abandon violent crime indispensable.

The Haitian state, with support from foreign powers and donors, should look to establish demobilisation pathways for hundreds, or even thousands, of gang members.  These are sorely lacking at present.

President Moïse reactivated the National Commission for Disarmament, Dismantlement and Reintegration in 2019, but it is barely functioning, and its members have not been paid for more than three years.

Haiti and its international partners, particularly the UN (including the division of demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration of the Department of Peace Operations), should work with local mediators who have the gangs’ trust to design schemes that would enable individuals willing to defect to do so safely or to initiate group processes if an entire gang is willing to stop fighting.

C. Major Reforms and Initiatives

While quick wins by the MSS could help bring about a long-awaited improvement in Haiti’s security conditions, structural reforms will be needed to put a brake on the country’s cycles of violence.

Both Haitian authorities and the MSS should plan for initial policing operations in gang-affected areas to phase into a community policing strategy, aimed at building better links between civilians and the police in former gang bastions.

“A strategy to counter gangs based exclusively on aggressive crackdowns is unlikely to succeed”, said a former director of the Haitian National Police.  He argued that achievements in fighting gangs during his term were due, in part, to work that focused on improving trust between police and residents, which helped the police understand gang habits in these areas.

Mission staff, in cooperation with international partners and civil society organisations, should start identifying community leaders who can help the police establish solid connections with those living in gang-controlled territories.

The Haitian state, with the support of international donors, should also over time be prepared to launch programs aimed at rebuilding public facilities like schools, hospitals and police stations in these neighbourhoods.

Aside from the urgent need for better facilities, such projects would provide jobs, helping improve the livelihoods of thousands of vulnerable families.  Foreign government and private-sector support will be needed to create additional programs that can create stable, lawful employment opportunities for demobilised gang members.

For the country to make strides toward ensuring the safety of its citizens, two bases of the gangs’ enduring power will also have to be tackled.  Stemming the illegal flow of weapons and ammunition into the country, much of which comes from the region, including the U.S., the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, will be essential.

The Security Council’s July resolution renewing BINUH’s mandate urges member states to take all necessary measures to stop illegal arms from entering Haiti, “including through inspecting cargo to Haiti, in their territory”.  Washington is already enhancing its capacity to investigate and prosecute individuals involved in transnational crime, such as with the Transnational Criminal Investigative Unit being created in Haiti.

But there will additionally need to be robust, concrete measures to improve controls upon outbound shipments at the ports that send the most weapons and ammunition to Haiti, especially in Florida.

Individuals who support criminal groups and benefit from illicit activities such as international drug trafficking must be investigated and held accountable.

The other source of gang power that will need to be addressed is the strong bond between gangs and Haitian business and political elites.  Individuals who support criminal groups and benefit from illicit activities such as international drug trafficking must be investigated and held accountable, including through international sanctions, but also through prosecution of those for whom there is sufficient evidence of sponsoring violent groups.

Stronger intelligence gathering and international cooperation will be needed to sever the connections among politicians, businesspeople and gangs, which should remain an abiding concern for Haiti’s foreign partners as they seek to help the country combat gang violence.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Haiti’s political deadlock must be resolved.  There is still no straightforward route to establishing an elected government with strong public support.  Thus, Haiti’s international partners should continue pressing all sides to form a transitional government with broad-based backing.

Recent CARICOM-led negotiations, as well as dialogues led by other national and international mediators, point to divisions within the opposition.  Some groups insist that Henry fulfil his promise (made in the “21 December agreement”) of leaving power by February.  But many acknowledge he is unlikely to step down and worry that the mission’s arrival will inevitably strengthen his hand.

An agreement that includes Henry alongside the most important opposition figures, particularly those from parties that plan to participate in the next elections, is needed to create the foundation for a transitional government.  This government would then be charged with restoring functioning institutions, such as a Provisional Electoral Council, so as to pave the way for general elections.

For better or worse, this sequencing remains essential.  Should these polls be organised solely by Henry’s government, without support from other parties, tensions would be sure to rise even higher.

Haitians might also well distrust a rushed process that they perceive as partisan or opaque, reproducing the low voter turnout in the 2016 presidential election.  Polls lacking cross-party support could also see a repeat of the violence and institutional corrosion that followed the hastily organised elections after the 2010 earthquake.

VI. Conclusion

Haiti’s catastrophic wave of gang violence, not to mention its political breakdown and humanitarian emergency, have persuaded the country’s authorities and much of the public that there is no better prospect than armed support from abroad.

If well-planned and executed, the Kenyan-led multinational mission that is scheduled to send its first small contingent to Haiti in early 2024 may be able to give Haitians reprieve from the gangs’ depredations, setting the stage for reforms that will be indispensable for their future well-being.

But rigorous attention to both short- and long-term considerations will be essential to the mission’s success.  Should forces deploy before they reach the numbers and obtain the training that will allow them to operate effectively and with adequate protection for themselves and civilians in Haiti’s close urban quarters, then the gangs could well turn the tables on them, discrediting the whole enterprise.

Unless the force’s efforts are complemented by downstream reforms, and a political settlement that the country’s factions in government and opposition see as legitimate, then any good work it does could quickly be imperilled.

The prospect of an international mission to help restore Haiti’s security and address its humanitarian crisis offers Haitians a glimpse of safety and dignity.  It is essential that the opportunity not be wasted.

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

FNM In Turmoil

Former FNM MP and Cabinet Minister, The Hon Thomas Desmond Bannister has Urged Free National Movement (FNM) Leader, The Hon Michael Pintard to Call A National Party Convention ASAP to Settle The Various Issues Facing The Party - Like Leadership

Mr. Michael Pintard M.P./ Leader /The Free National Movement
Mackey Street, Nassau, The Bahamas

Dear Mr. Leader:

Thomas Desmond Bannister
I spent a considerable amount of time this weekend contemplating the issues that are currently impacting our beloved party, and consequently felt compelled to write to you.

We are both passionate about the F.N.M., which as you know was formed by a group of courageous Bahamian patriots who risked everything in order to fight tyranny in the interest of ensuring that the Bahamian people could end cronyism and prejudice in public life. Our founding fathers and those who followed them suffered through discrimination, vicious and violent attacks, and heavy handed persecution as they took the principled stance that the Bahamian people deserved and were entitled to caring and transparent leadership.

Through the years our party has provided a clear beacon of hope for our beloved country. We have stood for freedom of expression in all of its manifestations when others would have done their best to intimidate our fellow citizens into silence. Through many turbulent decades the party has fought for the rights of the Bahamian people, and earned their admiration, respect and support.

Michael Pintard
The blatant and violent attack on one of our members outside F.N.M. headquarters on Thursday night threatens to undo decades of progress. Our party has always condemned political violence. In our beloved Bahamas no person, least of all an executive of the party, should be subjected to politically inspired attacks on their person.

The recent constant discordant and hostile public airing of disagreements within the party together with litigation among party Executives; allegations of unconstitutional interference in Constituency Associations; and the perceived failure of our party to support a sitting Member of Parliament as he faces criminal prosecution before the courts have all combined to negatively impact public confidence in our ability to lead. The vocal public enmity among loyal party supporters clearly hamper the ability of the F.N.M. to be considered as a serious alternative to the governing party just when they appear to be conceding the next general election to us through their blatant miscues and alleged acts of malfeasance.

We will both appreciate that the primary purpose of a political party is to win elections and to form the Government. In this context I consider the words of the theologian and philosopher Ivan Illich that “Leadership does not depend on being right” as instructive for us. Whether or not party leaders consider that they are right in the decisions that they have taken, a thirty-four percent turnout of supporters in the recent by-elections midway through the Government’s term in office begs us to seriously consider other perspectives.

In the circumstances, I am respectfully urging you to call a National Convention for the party at the earliest possible date. Any Convention will be a referendum on your leadership, but all political Conventions are referenda on political leadership. If you cannot retain that leadership post after more than two years serving in that capacity, then this is simply not your time. Once a Convention is held and party members have been permitted to participate in free and fair leadership elections, the party leader will emerge with a national mandate on behalf of the F.N.M. Members will appreciate that they have had the opportunity to freely campaign and vote for their chosen candidates during a national Convention. The losing candidates will be bound by the party’s mandate to coalesce with and support the elected party leadership team. The F.N.M. will then have in excess of two years to earn the confidence of the Bahamian people once again, and to regain the Government.

To delay calling a Convention will diminish confidence in your leadership. Party members will question your confidence in remaining party leader, as well as your ability to raise the requisite amount of funds that will be required to hold a Convention and to successfully contest a General election.

Simon Sinek has famously provided the guidance that “LEADERS ARE THE ONES WHO HAVE THE COURAGE TO GO FIRST, TO PUT THEMSELVES AT PERSONAL RISK TO OPEN A PATH FOR OTHERS TO FOLLOW”. Putting your position of leadership at risk during a national Convention will inspire Bahamians. Whether you win or lose, you will be considered a true leader through your voluntary vulnerability, and for being seen to put the party and the Bahamian people first.

Should you win, your mandate cannot be subjected to legitimate questioning. Should you not win at Convention, you will still be elevated in the lore of the nation, to use Lord Denning’s categorization, with “bold spirits” such as Sir Cecil, rather than as a “timorous soul”. The country recognizes that even though he never became Prime Minister, Sir Cecil’s efforts contributed mightily to our eventual victories at the polls. He may not have gotten there with us, but his contributions unquestionably helped to lead us to the promised land in 1992.

In contrast, holding on to leadership without facing competition will weaken your leadership mandate, and your ability to win a general election will be open to question.

Mr. Leader, for the sake of clarity, the purpose of this email is not to seek to pass judgment on your tenure in office. Rather, it is to encourage robust, passionate and peaceful debate on issues that are important to all of us and to the future of the party. I urge you to please consider these thoughts and suggestions, which if implemented, will in my view propel our party to having a legitimate opportunity to lead our beloved Bahamaland once again.

The Free National Movement has always had an exceptional commitment to democracy; hence, I intend to share this letter with the elected members of Parliament and widely with party members, and I encourage you to do the same so that together we may stimulate widespread, amicable discussion on the issues that now face the party.

My sincere best wishes as you continue to consider pursuing the course that is best for our country.

Thomas Desmond Bannister
1. Dr. Duane Sands
National Chairman
2. Mr. Shanandon Cartwright M.P.
Deputy Leader
3. Members of Parliament:
Dr. Hubert Minnis M.P.
Mr. Kwasi Thompson M.P.
Mr. Iram Lewis M.P.
Mr. Adrian Gibson M.P.

Mr. Adrian White M.P. 

04th December,2023