Haiti needs many things at the moment. American soldiers are not among them.
Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph asked for U.S. military help after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise. We understand the request, but it’s one that President Biden should refuse.
If the troops would go to provide security, how long would they stay? Haiti hasn’t been a secure country for decades, much less a free one.
And what would be the rules of engagement? No one knows for sure who planned and financed Moise’s killing. Given the labyrinthian nature of Haitian politics, soldiers could become targets for competing factions.
Still, there are ways for the Biden administration to help. There also are reasons to support such non-military American involvement.
From 1957 until 1986, the United States supported the dictatorial Duvalier regime. It began under Francois “Papa Doc” and continued under his son, Jean-Claude, known as “Baby Doc.”
Under the Duvaliers, corruption and autocracy rose. Conditions for most Haitians worsened dramatically. But because the Duvaliers professed to oppose communism, the United States backed the dictatorship.
We still owe consideration to Haiti because of that support. In addition, roughly half of the 1 million Haitian-Americans live in Florida, most of them in South Florida. Links between here and there are numerous, to the point that South Floridians are accused in the plot to kill Moise.
Finally, there’s a practical consideration. A final collapse could send many Haitian migrants to the United States. As demonstrators turn out in Cuba, it’s worth remembering that about 25,000 Haitians came here in 1980, their arrival overshadowed by the Mariel boatlift that simultaneously brought an estimated 125,000 Cubans.
Even if Biden sent troops, and even if those troops restored order, long-term stability might not follow. Recent history supports that pessimism.
In 1991, Jean-Bertrand Aristide became Haiti’s first freely elected president. After a coup removed Aristide, then-President Bill Clinton worked through the United Nations and used military invention — known as Operation Uphold Democracy — to return Aristide to Haiti in 1994 and restore him to power in 1996.
Success? No. Aristide soon became an autocrat himself, despite having promised a people’s revolution. He served again as president from 2001 to 2004, when a second coup — that Aristide blamed on the George W. Bush administration — ousted him again.
The United States has sent billions in economic aid to Haiti, especially after the 2010 earthquake. Yet the country continues to deteriorate because there is no functioning civil society. Bob Graham, Florida’s former U.S. senator, called repeatedly for Haiti to establish a legitimate police force. It hasn’t happened.
Biden officials correctly have called for scheduled elections to take place this year, despite the assassination. They should try to determine whether Joseph could become a caretaker leader to a democratic transition and support stabilization efforts by the United Nations and/or Organization of American States.
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and the most dependent on remittances. Building from there would require a long-term transformation. Soldiers have no role.