Haiti’s Crisis Escalates
The country’s unelected leader has approved a call for a foreign military intervention. Such incursions have a fraught history.
Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s Latin America Brief.
Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s Latin America Brief.
The highlights this week: Haitian officials request a foreign military intervention, Peru’s president faces fresh corruption allegations, and Lula and Bolsonaro supporters unite around a Brazilian soap opera.
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Pleas From Port-au-Prince
After weeks of escalating gang violence and the resurgence of cholera in the country, Haiti’s unelected prime minister, Ariel Henry, and several of his officials last Friday authorized a request for a foreign military intervention. U.S. and U.N. officials said they were considering Henry’s request.
Henry has been in power since July 2021, when former Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated. Moïse had tapped Henry as prime minister shortly before his killing but had not yet sworn him in. Foreign powers including the United States backed Henry over a challenger and have subsequently supported him; there is no caretaker president serving alongside Henry.
That’s over the objections of some Haitians, who see Henry as illegitimate. For over a year, a coalition of civil society organizations known as the Montana Accord group have worked to put forward a transition plan for the country in which an interim leader other than Henry would oversee plans for new legislative and presidential elections. Henry and the Montana Accord group have held negotiations in recent months over a power-sharing deal, but their talks broke down last week, the Miami Herald reported. Protests against joblessness, high crime, and Henry’s government have been occurring sporadically over the past few months and escalated in mid-September, when Henry announced that gas prices in Haiti would more than double.
Henry’s call for a foreign “specialized armed force” said it aimed to stop the “criminal actions of armed gangs” and a “complete asphyxiation of the national economy,” according to The Associated Press. On Sunday, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres asked the Security Council to consider the request, suggesting a rapid-action response force from one or more countries rather than a U.N. peacekeeping mission. On Wednesday, U.S. diplomats and military officials traveled to Haiti for emergency meetings, and a U.S. Coast Guard ship sailed to a location off the country’s coast to show “resolve,” the Biden administration said.
Haiti has experienced at least three major foreign military interventions since it gained independence from France in 1804. They came at different moments of political instability. U.S. forces occupied Haiti between 1915 and 1934 and were present in the country between 1994 and early 2000. They returned in 2004 after the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and were followed by U.N. peacekeepers, who remained in the country from 2004 to 2017. Though the U.N. peacekeeping mission calmed a previous period of upheaval, the intervention was marked by allegations of sexual misconduct by peacekeepers. The United Nations has also acknowledged its peacekeepers’ role in introducing cholera to the country.
Protests against the possibility of a new intervention occurred both in Port-au-Prince and Washington over the weekend. Port-au-Prince social worker Valery Voltaire told the Haitian Times that Henry’s request was “a sham for the authorities to bring in a foreign force capable of helping them perpetuate their power since they cannot lead.”
If there is a foreign military intervention of any kind, “I can’t see how [it] would be able to operate” without U.S. support, Keith Mines of the U.S. Institute of Peace told the Miami Herald. On Wednesday, a U.S. official said it was “premature” to think about U.S. troops on the ground in Haiti.
The Montana Accord group issued a statement last week rejecting the possibility of an intervention. Some of its members have also called for Washington to change its broader policy toward Haiti.
On Sept. 29, anti-corruption advocate and Montana Accord group participant Velina Charlier testified before the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, calling for Washington to clamp down on the flow of illicit weapons from the United States to Haiti and to sanction Haitian officials linked to violence. In 2021, 85 percent of guns recovered from crimes in Haiti and traced by U.S. law enforcement agencies as part of a joint violence-mapping program originated in the United States. Charlier and another Haitian who testified before the committee, human rights advocate Rosy Ducena, additionally called for Washington to cease supporting Henry and make room for a Haitian-led solution to the crisis.
Until now, the lack of U.S. anti-corruption sanctions on Haiti has stood in contrast to Washington’s approach to nearby Central American countries. On Wednesday, however, the U.S. State Department said it would apply visa restrictions to Haitian officials linked to insecurity, though it did not specify who. The U.S. government also said it would increase humanitarian aid to the country and back a proposal for U.N. sanctions on some Haitians.
U.S. officials met with both Henry and Montana Accord group participants in Port-au-Prince on Wednesday, and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Brian Nichols tweeted that the “time has come for political leaders in Haiti to put aside their differences to find a path toward sustainable peace.”
The coming days will show whether this fresh U.S. prodding leads to any new domestic political agreements—and if a foreign military intervention is in store. Among worst-case outcomes is the possibility that occupying troops kill innocent civilians, former U.S. envoy to Haiti Daniel Foote told the New Republic. If an intervention accomplishes anything positive, Haitian Times editor Garry Pierre-Pierre wrote, it should strengthen police and judicial institutions—though interventions have no track record of doing so in the past.
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Sunday, Oct. 16: Brazil’s presidential candidates, incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro and former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, participate in televised debate ahead of the country’s Oct. 30 runoff election.
Wednesday, Oct. 19 to Friday, Oct. 21: The finance ministers of Peru, Chile, and Mexico participate in an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.
Thursday, Oct. 27: Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández appears at a hearing on drug trafficking charges in New York.
What We’re Following
Complaint against Castillo. Peruvian President Pedro Castillo has survived two impeachment efforts since he came to office last July. He may soon face yet another attempt at removal: The country’s attorney general, Patricia Benavides, filed a constitutional complaint on Tuesday alleging Castillo meddled in government contracts for illicit personal gain.
Sitting presidents are usually immune from criminal prosecution in Peru, but a constitutional complaint allows lawmakers to take action. Peru’s Congress will now consider whether and how to discipline Castillo. Rather than impeachment, which requires 87 congressional votes, he could be suspended from office, which only requires 65. The next in line of presidential succession is Vice President Dina Boluarte.
This petition stands out for two reasons, Princeton University researcher Will Freeman tweeted. One is that it could set a new precedent for presidential removal based on the mere opening of a corruption probe if Congress moves to suspend Castillo; the other is that the attorney general herself has been marred by scandal, having taken controversial actions to close investigations into corruption within the judiciary.
Peruvian lawmakers have voiced eagerness to act on the complaint. If they do, “I think what we’d be seeing in Peru—Congress amassing power and moving toward testing the bounds of its constitutional authority—is part of a wave of ‘underground parliamentarism’ we’re seeing all over the region,” Freeman told Foreign Policy.
Specter of court-packing. On the campaign trail, President Jair Bolsonaro has often insisted that Brazil will “turn into Venezuela”—his shorthand for socialist-driven economic disaster and autocracy—if the opposition Workers’ Party comes to power. But this week, it was Bolsonaro’s own political allies who signaled they were considering a move that was crucial to former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s consolidation of power: court-packing.
Brazilian Vice President Hamilton Mourão, who is no longer Bolsonaro’s running mate and was elected to the Senate in the Oct. 2 general elections, said in an Oct. 7 interview with GloboNews that he was in favor of enlarging the country’s supreme court from its current size of 11 justices, though he did not say by how much. In a subsequent interview, Bolsonaro said he would not rule out the option, then walked back his comments when questioned about it again.
On Oct. 10, a former Brazilian supreme court judge who had previously announced his support for Bolsonaro criticized the idea, saying it reflected a “longing” for Brazil’s military dictatorship, when the court was enlarged to 16 justices.
Rare common ground. One of the few things uniting Lula and Bolsonaro supporters has been the hit Brazilian prime-time soap opera Pantanal, which reached viewership levels not seen for a soap opera in the country in 10 years. The show’s finale was Friday.
The remake of a 1990s ranching-and-wilderness drama of the same name managed to be both conservative and progressive at the same time, Tony Goes wrote for Folha de São Paulo. It romanticized rural life and values of honor and bravery, but also played up themes of sustainable land management. A character in the 1990s version “would occasionally make homophobic jokes; [in the remake] he chastises his father’s,” wrote the Economist.
It didn’t hurt that some of Brazil’s biggest actors starred in it. “Pantanal is still an old-school soap opera,” Goes wrote. “The good [characters] are really good, in spite of a few little sins, and the bad ones are terrible.”
Question of the Week
Which of the following has not been the subject of a Brazilian soap opera?
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In Focus: Slow Growth on the Horizon
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) released its new projections for Latin American and Caribbean countries’ economic growth in both 2022 and 2023 this week. This year, it expects the region’s overall GDP to grow slightly above the global average—3.5 percent to the world’s 3.2 percent. Next year, the reverse is true: The fund expects the region’s GDP to grow 1.7 percent to the world’s 2.7 percent.
The sluggish growth outlook in part reflects a global slowdown. But in developing countries in particular, the U.S. Federal Reserve’s recent cycle of interest rate hikes will likely cause capital to flow outward to richer countries, as it did in the 1980s, when Latin America struggled with debt crises following the U.S. interest rate hikes known as the Volcker shock. At the time, investors sought to put their money where it could earn more interest, and Latin American currencies depreciated against the dollar as a result—making dollar-denominated foreign debts harder to service.
The current scenario differs from the early 1980s in several ways, analysts say. One big difference is that U.S. interest rates are highly unlikely to rise anywhere near the around 20 percent levels of that era.
But the current hikes still pose huge challenges for policymakers in Latin America. Poverty rates in many countries have still not returned to pre-pandemic levels, and inflation in the region is also expected to stand at a whopping 14.6 percent year over year by the end of 2022. That number reflects big variations: Argentina’s inflation rate is expected to top 100 percent this year, while in Brazil it is falling, with annual inflation through mid-September standing at 7.96 percent.
To tame inflation, central banks in countries such as Mexico, Brazil, Chile, and Colombia began their own rate-hiking cycles months ago. As in the United States, those will slow down domestic economies.
One result of the slow growth projection is that countries may stall green investments needed for their respective energy transitions. Another, already evident in places such as Brazil and Argentina, is a brain drain. Spain received 33,600 Argentine citizens last year, the most since 2008, the Financial Times reported. Between January and June, the number of Brazilians legally residing in Portugal rose 23 percent.
Catherine Osborn is the writer of Foreign Policy’s weekly Latin America Brief. She is a print and radio journalist based in Rio de Janeiro. Twitter: @cculbertosborn
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