Can a New Intervention Do Right by Haiti?
A complicated history looms over the latest effort to fix the country’s security crisis.
Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s Latin America Brief.
Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s Latin America Brief.
The highlights this week: Regional powers are divided over how to intervene in Haiti, Argentina’s presidential front-runner skirts details on his dollarization pledge, and the 2030 men’s World Cup fleetingly returns to its roots in Uruguay.
On a Mission
Around a year ago, acting Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry called for an international security force to assist the country’s police in quelling elevated gang violence. On Monday, the U.N. Security Council voted 13-0—with abstentions from Russia and China—to issue a one-year authorization for such a force, thus greenlighting a non-U.N., multinational security mission led by Kenya.
On the streets of Port-au-Prince, many Haitians celebrated the news and expressed hope that it could bring them safety. Gang kidnappings and road blockades remain common in Haiti, and by the U.N.’s count, at least 3,000 people have been killed in the country since January.
Many details remain unclear about the mission, but some countries have already volunteered their support. The United States said it aims to contribute $200 million to the efforts. Before being removed from office Wednesday in a cabinet shake-up, former Kenyan Foreign Minister Alfred Mutua told the New York Times that Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Spain, and Senegal have already pledged to send personnel, and that he envisions dozens of other countries will follow suit. China and Russia initially refused to allow the mission to move forward, in part because there was no consensus on its rules of engagement, which are now due to be discussed in the coming weeks.
The delays and uncertainties surrounding the mission reflect both the legacy of past foreign interventions in Haiti and differences in how Western Hemisphere powers, in particular, view Haiti’s current crisis.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, the United States or United Nations have led at least three major military interventions in Haiti. The most recent of those, a U.N. stabilization mission led by Brazilian troops from 2004 to 2017, temporarily quelled violence and political instability but was later marred by sexual assault allegations and the introduction of cholera into the country. Soon after the mission’s withdrawal, instability began to rise once again.
The U.N., France, Canada, and the United States have remained influential in Haitian politics in the interim years; indeed, their endorsement helped Henry become acting prime minister without an election after former President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in July 2021. But the bad reputation of past foreign security interventions led them to shy away from offering to lead one this time around. Instead, the United States in particular has sought to drum up support for someone else to take up the mantle.
Washington’s interest in stabilizing Haiti is in part related to migration concerns. In recent months, Haitians have been among the top nationalities of migrants arriving at U.S. borders. Human rights groups and Haitian-American organizations have repeatedly criticized the U.S. government for continuing to deport people to Haiti amid the security crisis, even as it warns its own citizens to get out.
Countries elsewhere in Latin America and the Caribbean have been more skeptical about the prospect of a foreign security force. A Community of Latin American and Caribbean States regional summit earlier this year noted Henry’s request yet also emphasized the need for Haitians to agree on a plan for new elections. Washington has said the same, but some Haitian civil society groups have accused Henry of blocking a potential transition of power with Washington’s blessing. In September 2021, a U.S. special envoy to Haiti accused Washington of as much in a searing resignation letter.
The hesitance to potentially prop up an unelected leader may explain why few Latin American countries immediately volunteered to send police forces to the country.
Brazil, at one point, was sought out by the United States to lead the mission. However, having seen how quickly Haiti’s security situation deteriorated after leading the last one, Brazil demurred on leading another, top foreign-policy advisor Celso Amorim has said. Brazil’s tense relations with its own security forces complicate the prospect even further. Civilian officials in the current government are still rebuilding trust in security forces after revelations that some top generals voiced readiness to back a coup to keep former President Jair Bolsonaro in power. Moreover, as international relations scholar João Fernando Finazzi has written, Brazilian troops were criticized for using violent techniques in poor Brazilian neighborhoods that were honed through operations in Haiti.
Ultimately, Brazil did work to ensure that Monday’s resolution passed—urging Russia and China not to veto it—and pushed for stronger language to support investments in long-term economic growth in the country.
The U.N. resolution emphasizes that the goal of the mission is building conditions for free and fair elections. That’s one of its most important potential outcomes, Pierre Espérance, of Haiti’s National Human Rights Defense Network, wrote in the New York Times this week. “Supporting a credible, new transitional government is a critical opportunity for the United States and the international community to do right by Haiti. They should take it.”
Sunday, Oct. 8: Colombia’s cease-fire with FARC-EMC rebels comes into force.
Sunday, Oct. 15: Ecuador holds a presidential runoff election.
What We’re Following
Dulling dollarization. Argentina’s presidential candidates took part in their first televised debate on Sunday night. Anarcho-capitalist Javier Milei, the race’s front-runner, has promised to dollarize the country’s economy. But many economic commentators within and beyond Argentina have since cast doubts on the feasibility of this plan—which perhaps explains why Milei did not mention dollarization during the debate.
Milei’s silence on the matter left voters guessing how much he might moderate those ambitions if he is elected. Behind closed doors, Milei’s economic team is divided over the details of the dollarization plan, Clarín reported last week. In September, Milei said that if he wins the election, he plans to name as his central banker Emilio Ocampo, who co-wrote a book calling dollarization “a solution for Argentina” in its title.
But at a recent event, Ocampo said Milei would simply give Argentines the option to use the dollar rather than force it upon them. However, Clarín cited sources saying that Ocampo’s position has not in fact softened; he was instead referring to a gradual phase-out of the Argentine peso that would still end in a fully dollarized system.
A rocky road to inauguration. Guatemalan President-elect Bernardo Arévalo and his supporters have pushed back this week against ongoing attempts to undermine his party’s legal standing. The attacks come from conservative-aligned parts of the Guatemalan judiciary that are staunchly opposed to anti-corruption figures such as Arévalo.
Arévalo and his supporters have responded emphatically on the streets of Guatemala and in the halls of Washington, D.C. After Guatemala’s attorney general’s office raided the offices of Arévalo’s party last Friday, Arévalo supporters blocked highways across the country on Monday in protest and continued to demonstrate throughout the week. Arévalo spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday, and on Tuesday he met with top advisors in the Biden administration and the leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who endorsed a peaceful transfer of power come January.
“A steep uphill battle now looms,” scholars Rachel A. Schwartz and Anita Isaacs wrote this month for the Journal of Democracy. “The shock of the [election] results fractured the criminal-oligarchic coalition, but the Arévalo administration and its reform agenda may provide the common enemy that the coalition can use to reconstitute itself.”
Spreading the love. FIFA announced Wednesday that the 2030 men’s World Cup—the 100-year anniversary of the first tournament—will be co-hosted by Spain, Morocco, and Portugal, with a handful of opening games in Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay. The Latin American leg of the tournament is a nod to its earliest days. Uruguay’s match will be played in a stadium that hosted the first-ever tournament in 1930.
While some fans celebrated the historic decision, many were also quick to point out that the logistical challenges of a sprawling 2030 tournament. With its choice, FIFA appeared to be trying to please various world regions—Africa, Europe, and Latin America—at once, the Athletic’s Matt Slater wrote. Commentators also speculated that globally distributing pieces of the 2030 tournament was designed to make FIFA appear more justified in choosing a Middle Eastern host for the 2034 contest—specifically, Saudi Arabia, which continues its campaign to buy up global soccer.
Question of the Week
Before FIFA hosts a World Cup in six nations in 2030, it will practice in 2026 by hosting in three. Which of the following is among them?
The next edition, like a famous Western hemisphere trade agreement, will be a U.S.-Mexican-Canadian affair.
FP’s Most Read This Week
- Russia’s Crimean Red Line Has Been Erased by Casey Michel
- The Scrambled Spectrum of U.S. Foreign-Policy Thinking by Ash Jain
- Washington Is Losing Credibility Over the Canada-India Spat by Howard W. French
In Focus: Slow Growth Déjà Vu
A new forecast from the World Bank released Wednesday was the latest to confirm that though inflation is cooling in most Latin American and Caribbean countries, the region also appears to have returned to a pattern of slow economic growth that preceded the COVID-19 pandemic.
The region’s GDP is projected to grow an average of 2 percent in 2023, lower than all other regions in the World Bank’s calculations. Though that rate is expected to increase slightly in the next two years, the report acknowledged somberly that “these rates, similar to the 2010s, are not enough to make much needed progress in inclusion and poverty reduction.”
Experts who study the region have not been shy about connecting the dots between slow economic growth rates and broader social and political consequences. These include explosive protests against politics-as-usual, falling levels of trust in democracy itself, and outward migration. José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, the executive secretary of the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), said earlier this year that the current economic outlook risks triggering “episodes of social agitation.”
Low growth is by now a familiar pattern, and it has produced a slew of expert reports about potential remedies. In recent weeks, disparate economic research bodies, such as ECLAC and the global group of former central bankers called the Group of 30, have been aligned in some of their recommendations. They say that higher growth is within reach and that to attain it, countries should focus on increasing productivity and diversifying exports.
The big and hard-to-calculate risk that is sure to affect countries’ economic performance in the coming years is, of course, the climate crisis, which threatens to eat into budgets that countries could otherwise invest in efforts to grow productivity. Some projects can contribute to a green transition at the same time, but threading the needle is tricky. By one Inter-American Development Bank estimate, addressing the goals of the Paris Agreement requires annual infrastructure spending equivalent to 2 to 8 percent of GDP and annual social spending equivalent to 5 to 11 percent of GDP in the region.
In their report, the Group of 30 authors voiced confidence in ongoing talks with multilateral lenders such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) to boost their climate finance: “If only a portion of the plans … come to fruition, there will be tens of billions of dollars or their equivalent in public money that emerging and developing economies can access.” Signals on whether that is indeed the case are expected at the annual fall meetings of the World Bank and IMF next week.
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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