Listen to the Haitians Opposed to Outside Intervention

When there is such strong opposition from Haitian civil society, the case for intervention completely collapses.

The Haitian interim prime minister recently requested U.S. military assistance following the assassination of the president, but there is significant popular opposition to having U.S. forces in Haiti:

Intellectuals and members of Haiti’s civil society quickly criticized a call by Haitian officials for the United States to send in troops, citing earlier interventions by foreign powers and international organizations that further destabilized Haiti and left a trail of abuses.

“We do not want any U.S. troops on Haiti’s soil,” Monique Clesca, a Haitian pro-democracy activist and former United Nations official, said in a post Friday on Twitter. “The de facto prime minister Claude Joseph does not have any legitimacy to make such a request in our name. No, No & No.”

U.S. intervention in Haiti would be a bad idea even if there were broader popular support for it. When there is such strong opposition from Haitian civil society, the case for intervention completely collapses. The U.S. supported Moïse before his death, so it is unlikely that U.S. forces would be welcomed by the people that protested against his rule. That could make a U.S. military presence in Haiti a cause of more instability. Because Joseph is not seen as legitimate by many of his countrymen, they will not recognize his authority to invite foreign forces into the country. U.S. forces would be and would be perceived as invaders and occupiers. In my latest piece on Haiti, I said that we need to think about what purpose an intervention would serve:

Is the purpose of an outside intervention really to protect the country from disorder, or is it to prop up the political leaders that have thoroughly failed their people?

It is understandable that Haitian civil society leaders have no confidence in a U.S. intervention. Our record in Haiti and elsewhere gives them no reason to believe that intervention is the right answer. They want to seize the opportunity to reform and rebuild their country according to Haitian interests and not those of other states. The report continues:

“The solution to the crisis must be Haitian,” said André Michel, a human rights lawyer and opposition leader, calling for a broader institutional debate that would gather politicians, Haiti’s civil society and its diaspora.

Many have also argued that a foreign intervention would simply not work.

“It’s like coming back with a toolbox, but the box has the wrong tools in it,” Ms. Clesca said in a telephone interview. “What needs to be in the toolbox are voices from Haiti.”

If we listen to voices from Haiti, most of them are not demanding “swift and muscular” foreign intervention of any kind. They are calling for accountability, reform, and justice, and these are not things that the U.S. can credibly promise or provide. U.S. relations with Haiti have been marred by coercive and destructive policies for much of the last two centuries. From the first embargo that the fledgling United States imposed to punish the Haitians for their revolution to our government’s support for the Duvaliers for decades during the Cold War and the backing for Moïse in recent years, the U.S. has treated Haiti abysmally. The current political crisis represents a chance for the U.S. to break that pattern and to begin showing the Haitian people the respect that they should have been shown all along. Listen to the Haitians opposed to outside intervention and respect their wishes.