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Local leaders react to UN force for Haiti

See need, but question outcome

Avery Bleichfeld

Local Haitian community leaders have expressed mixed feelings about a new armed peacekeeping force slated to be sent to Haiti and led by Kenya.

The United Nations Security Council approved the armed peacekeeping force Oct. 2, with 13 of the 15 members voting in favor and two abstaining. The force is to include 1,000 Kenyan soldiers but does not yet have a deployment date.

The peacekeepers are to be brought in to address longstanding challenges with violent gang activity in the country, particularly in the capital, Port-au-Prince.

The Banner interviewed three Haitian leaders from the Boston area, which has the third-largest population of Haitians in the United States. They recognized the need to address the unruly situation but wondered whether the U.N. intervention would be able to bring stability. Some suggested a Haitian-led operation would be better. One opposed the U.N. force, citing problems caused by previous ones.

Dieufort Fleurissaint, pastor at Total Health Christian Ministries in Boston and a Haitian rights activist, called the situation in his homeland “very critical.”

Churches and schools can’t open and gang members have barged into hospitals and churches, disrupting their services. Late last month, gang members instigated an armed attack in a hospital, firing weapons in the neonatal intensive care unit.

“Haiti is in the most challenging situation at this point, and the conditions are dire,” Fleurissaint said. “Every Haitian would like to see safety, security and stability established in the country.”

Alix Cantave, senior program officer for Haiti at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, said the country has been struggling since the late 2010s with gang violence and social unrest, which escalated in the summer of 2021 with the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in July of that year.

“The situation needs to be addressed, because society has almost come to a complete stop,” Cantave said. “Our losses are going extremely high.”

For Fleurissaint, the ideal response to the violence would come from a Haitian-led operation, but with the ongoing struggles, outside support is needed.

“To be able to have elections, to make sure that we have a functioning government in Haiti … for that to all occur, safety must be established,” Fleurissaint said.

Similarly, Cantave said he sees the peacekeeping force as a necessary step, but as part of a broader effort needed to stabilize the country.

“This would be the second or third intervention that are U.N. multinational interventions in Haiti since the ’90s,” Cantave said. “How will this one be different? How will we use this opportunity to put the country on a path of social, political and economic development?”

Military intervention hasn’t historically benefited Haiti, Fleurissaint said.

A Brazilian-led peacekeeping force was sent to the country by the U.N. from 2004 to 2017. That effort led to some pacification, but did not lead to longstanding changes. Soldiers associated with the mission were accused of rape, and their presence allegedly led to a cholera outbreak in the country.

Randolph Town Councilor Natacha Clerger said that history of military interventions is the reason she cannot support the Kenyan-led mission.

“If we look at the track record of these peacekeepers, … every time they leave, the country worsened — the situation got worse instead of getting better,” she said.

Instead, Clerger said, the solution should come from Haiti.

“Give us a chance, give Haitians a chance to do their own cleanup,” she said. “The gang violence is Haitians against Haitians. Let us deal with our stuff.”

On the other hand, Cantave said Kenya’s role leading the force is a good display of African solidarity with the Caribbean nation, which holds a critical role in the African diaspora as the first Black republic.

“Haiti is as close as you could get to Africa outside of Africa,” he said.

But for Clerger, the shared roots aren’t enough for her to support the Kenyan-led mission.

“It’s true that we Haitians are African, but we’ve been under a different culture for the past 219 years,” she said.

Clerger said she worries that having Kenya leading the peacekeeping might suggest that countries like the U.S. and Canada want to distance themselves from a situation that could be messier than they want to acknowledge.

The United States pledged up to $200 million in support the peacekeeping effort.

A legal challenge in Kenya has stalled the force’s launch until at least late October. On Oct. 9, a Kenyan court barred deployment of the force for two weeks following challenges from former Kenyan presidential candidate Ekuru Aukot, who said the country’s constitution is in conflict with the law allowing the president to send Kenyan troops.

Kenya’s cabinet on Oct. 13 approved sending them to Haiti, but the operation still needs approval from the country’s parliament.

Haiti, Kenya, U.N. force
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