Haiti’s government is working to reinstate its army after over two decades since it was disbanded following a military coup in 1994. Al Jazeera noted earlier this week that while the plan is controversial, it is popular among some. Others, however, claim it could see a return of human rights violations. There are also fears that reinstating the military could burden the country’s already crippled economy and increase risk security.
The government announced that the military would be reinstalled solely to secure Haiti’s border and to address post-natural disaster responses. It is further claimed that this is unavoidable following the withdrawal of the UN peacekeeping force in late October. Yet, many believe that the new force would be used for internal security as well. Pierie Esperance, a member of the Haiti Human Rights Defence Network, said yesterday, “What is happening here is very dangerous. It seems the government is more interested in building a private military for themselves.” Adding fuel to the fire, the Haitian government is enlisting former soldiers. Such recruitment has sparked fear for those who remember the brutality of the previous military. However, Jean Fednel La Dalaise, a former solider, said, “To have a new army without us would be a catastrophe. We are ready to defend our rights.”
From the outside, it does not appear that the reinstatement of a military force in Haiti, given its turbulent history, is conducive to peace or stability, especially if it includes the recycling of former military personnel.
Haiti has a long and brutal legacy of violence seldom explained by international media. The U.S. occupation of Haiti from 1915 to 1934, ostensibly to protect the country against possible encroachment by the Germans during WWI, saw the death of an estimated 1,500 Haitians, the imposition of slave labour, and military brutality that lasted long after the departure of the U.S. During the 1960s, U.S. marines trained the dictator Tonton Macoute’s paramilitary force, which, as Al Jazeera explains, was renowned for “leaving bodies of their victims hanging in public, a clear warning to anyone stepping out of line.” The paramilitary was linked to U.S. businesses and was vital for ensuring inequality and privilege. Following the transfer of leadership to Jean Claude Duvalier in 1971, Al Jazeera claims a ruthless paramilitary was trained by U.S. marine instructors, working through a company contracted out by the CIA and signed off by the U.S. Department of State.
In 1987, the military massacred citizens attempting to vote, overthrew the newly elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991, and slaughtered his supporters. Aristide had aimed to raise the minimum wage from $1.76 to $2.94. The New York Times reported at the time that Aristide’s leadership was ironically “viciously opposed by the U.S.A. Agency for International Development because of the threat such an increase would pose to the business climate, particularly to American companies paying rock-bottom wages to workers in Haiti.” After years of brutality and corruption, the military dictatorship faced external and internal pressure, which eventually resulted in Aristide being reinstated in 2001. During this time, his government collected testimonials from the victims of the military forces and undertook judicial proceedings to prosecute military and paramilitary criminals. However, the United States’ contribution to the dissolution included inserting ex-Haitian military into what was supposed to be a civilian police force, and insisting on a full amnesty for coup perpetrators. Consequently, the reinstatement of Aristide resulted in a coup d’état. Aristide was removed with U.S. assistance to the Central African Republic in 2004 and Gerard Latortue was installed. According to Al Jazeera, during his time in power, 4,000 political murders took place and thousands of civilians were locked up. It is no wonder some are hesitant about not only reinstalling a military – particularly one that consists of former soldiers.