Haiti: An Anatomy of an Invasion

The following article was first published in Black Agenda Report on 22 May 2024.

As all eyes are on the genocide in Gaza, Haiti is undergoing a full scale foreign military invasion. As of May 16th, thirty large transport planes have landed at Toussaint Louverture International Airport, unloading 835 tons of cargo and military equipment and bringing military personnel and contractors. At least one hundred more aircraft, some from the US Air Force, others leased by the US State Department, are expected to arrive in the coming days. Sections of Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince are “now the outpost of an international military contingent.” The Pentagon is issuing lucrative contracts to US companies for the provision of materials and services to support the military occupation. The leader of the US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), in her typical patronizing and racist language, has already announced that its soldiers will take over Haiti’s ports. On twitter, journalist/US state department stenographer Jacqueline Charles posted a video of herself walking freely through the empty Toussaint Louverture airport with a contingent of US military and state department officials. It was as if Haiti was already theirs.

And perhaps it already is. Poor Haitian people have already begun to suffer the consequences of this new invasion. For example, this build up of US military equipment and foreign personnel in the country —this slow motion foreign invasion—comes alongside the destruction of 350 to 400 homes of some of the most impoverished people in the capital city, Port-au-Prince, because they are too close to the airport. Presumably, the US is insisting that destruction of property and further displacement of the Haitian poor is necessary to “secure” the airport. The goal is to destroy 90 more multi-story buildings, displacing more and more poor people.

If the scale of the invasion of Haiti is breathtaking, the sense of the invasion’s inevitability is disappointing. The media, including the aforementioned Jacqueline Charles, present it as a fait accompli, scrubbing from the record the recent history of imperial meddling and crisis that brought Haiti to this point, while conveniently forgetting the manufactured “chaos” and “anarchy” that were used to justify intervention in the first place. Just weeks ago, we should remember, Toussaint Louverture International Airport was reportedly shut down because of “gang violence.” While this “gang violence” narrative is now overshadowed by western celebration of the impending invasion, it did its work in aiding the manufacture of consent around an old, consistent, and racist trope: that Haitian people cannot rule themselves and do not deserve sovereignty. This is, perhaps, the only thing that can explain how the world has so easily accepted the US invasion of Haiti under the Black-face masquerade of a contingent of feckless Negro mercenaries from Africa and the Caribbean.

How did we get here?

Foreign Invasion, Occupation, and the Making of a “Failed State”

As I have argued elsewhere, Haiti officially lost its nominal sovereignty in late February 2004 through a US/France/Canada-led coup d’état. The coup was then cleaned up by the United Nations which, under the leadership of the UN Security Council permanent members US and France, voted to dispatch a “peacekeeping” mission to Haiti under a “chapter 7” mandate which allowed foreign soldiers to use full force against the population. The UN occupation under MINUSTAH was marked by its brutality towards Haitian people. Civilians were attacked and assassinated. “Peacekeepers” committed countless sexual crimes. UN soldiers also dumped human feces into rivers used for drinking water, unleashing a cholera epidemic that killed between 10,000 and 40,000 people. The US and MINUSTAH also trained and militarized Haiti’s police and security forces, often rehabilitating and reintegrating rogue members. For Haitian people, occupation has only meant death, misery, environmental degradation, and an affront to our human dignity. The UN has never been held accountable for these crimes against Haitian people.

The 2004 occupation was solidified through the creation and operationalization of the Core Group , the current colonial rulers of Haiti. Some claim that this occupation officially ended in 2017 with the formal draw-down of the MINUSTAH mission. Yet the UN has remained in Haiti through a new office with a new acronym: BINUH, the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti. Through the Core Group and BINUH, Haiti is currently run by a group of non-Haitian foreigners. They are the very same people responsible for the destruction of Haiti’s democracy.

Under this 20-year foreign occupation Haiti’s state has been completely destroyed. The US installation of Michel Martelly (and his “Parti Haïtien Tèt Kale” (PHTK) as president of the country in 2011 was another blow to Haitian sovereignty. Martelly had lost the first round of the elections and all members of the Haitian electoral council refused to formally ratify the vote. While Barack Obama’s Secretary of State Hilary Clinton flew to Haiti to direct the results of the elections, the Organization of American States (OAS), a member of the Core Group, also colluded in this brazen undermining of Haiti’s democracy.

Of course, democratic elections under military occupation are impossible. It is from the Martelly/PHTK installation that we see the complete loss of even the veneer of Haitian “democracy” that the US and the west were trying to present to the world. Martelly’s tenure was one of deep corruption and violence (including the arming of groups to terrorize the poor neighborhoods and the theft of billions of dollars from the PetroCaribe funds), the attempted sell-off of Haitian land and resources to foreigners, and importantly, the disruption of Haiti’s electoral cycle. By the time of the assassination of his successor (and protégé), Jovenel Moise (who also came to power through undemocratic “elections”), there had not been regional and local elections in Haiti since 2016. By the end of their terms, both Martelly and Moise were ruling by decree. Once the Core Group installed Ariel Henry as Haiti’s de facto prime minister in July 2021, the talk of elections was placed on the backburner. The US and Core Group did not encourage Henry, their Haitian puppet government, to organize elections, preferring instead to keep him in power as long as possible. By late 2023, the terms of the last elected Haitian officials had expired. Haiti currently has no elected officials and no legitimate government.

This is an important point. Any negotiations and international agreements undertaken by an illegitimate puppet government is, by definition, illegitimate. This includes the request for a military invasion of Haiti ostensibly made by the puppet government of Ariel Henry but actually demanded by the US and the Core Group. To state this in the clearest possible terms, the current military invasion and occupation of Haiti is illegal and illegitimate.

“A Robust Use of Force” or, the Multinational Security Support Mission

On October 2nd, 2023, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) voted on a resolution for a Multinational Security Support Mission (MSS) authorizing the deployment of a foreign  military and police intervention into Haiti. Although the vote did not receive unanimous approval as it saw abstentions from two permanent UNSC members (Russia and China), 13 other permanent and non-permanent members voted in support, including 3 African countries (Gabon, Ghana and Mozambique). Yet the US administration, the corporate media, alongside figures such as Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US representative to the UN, hailed the vote as a victory. Indeed, despite receiving the blessing of the UNSC, this “security support mission” is not an official UN mission. This is the reason that, rather than being funded by the UN, as UN “peacekeeping” forces are, the mission will be primarily funded by the US and other volunteer nations. So far, Canada and France have provided some financing (with Canada offering $8 million, absurdly, for the Kenyan force to “learn French” – a language not spoken by the majority of Haitians). The US has also managed to convince Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Benin, Chad, and Jamaica to participate. It is obvious and telling that there is no white nation officially sending troops for this mission.

What is most significant about this MSS is that the resolution (UNSC Resolution 2699) was passed under Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter, a rare call because a Chapter 7 deployment is usually meant for a country at war and it allows the use of deadly force against the population. We must pause here to ask why the UNSC would allow a Chapter 7 deployment – allow such use of force – for an explicitly non-UN mission. Indeed, Brian Concannon of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti has argued that:

…although the Security Council approved the mission last October, it did not want to be associated with it. The authorizing resolution insisted that the mission not be an official UN mission, that the organization would have to take responsibility for it because it would need to apply too much “robust use of force” on Haitians.

In effect, Haiti is getting an invasion force of foreigners that is free to use “robust” force on the population without any accountability. We can only point out how violent the 2004 – 2017 UN “peacekeeping” mission was, despite the fact that the troops were supposed to be held accountable by the UN. Accountability is not clearly established for this new military invasion and occupation. And as we know, it will be the Haitian poor bearing the brunt of unaccountable brutal violence at the hands of armed foreigners paid by the US and sanctioned by the UN.

The call for a new intervention is not new. The US had been pushing for a build-up of the military presence in Haiti to protect the puppet government of the unelected and unpopular Ariel Henry since 2021. Over the past three years, it elicited – and received – the support of UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres, Mexico’s Manuel Lopez Obrador (or, AMLO), the US left’s darling who served as “co-penholder ” with the US to draft the intervention resolution, and Brazil’s Lula Da Silva, who has been pushing for a “rapid response ” (i.e. a foreign military invasion) in Haiti. The US is not willing to put its own boots on the ground. Instead, it turned first to Canada, then Brazil, then the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the Caribbean (CARICOM) countries – all of whom were reluctant to lead the mission, even if they supported the call for military intervention.

The Kenyan government, however, leapt at the opportunity to “lead” the intervention with 1000 police officers. In the lead up to the participation of their police in a US invasion of Haiti, some have argued that this is an expression of Kenya’s Pan-Africanism. To this, the Haiti/Americas Team of the Black Alliance for Peace responded : “An occupation of Haiti by an African country is not Pan-Africanism, but Western imperialism in Black face.”

Kenya, we’ve now learned, was bought off by promised national security assistance provided by the Pentagon (that included a visit by US Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin), increased IMF funding, $300 million for its soldiers, and, most egregiously, the promise of a US state visit. This coveted state visit (proudly boasted by Kenyan neocolonial officials as the first for an African head of state since 2008) is set to happen on May 23rd and has to coincide, according to officials, with the physical presence of Kenyan forces in Haiti.

It is curious that, as we see U.S military planes and personnel land in Haiti, as the director of SOUTHCOM boasts about flying in supplies into Haiti and its forces taking over Haiti’s ports, the western media continues to refer to this US military invasion as a “Kenya-led, UN Mission.” The idea that this is a “Kenya-led” security mission to Haiti is just as dubious as the idea that this is a “UN mission.” What is also dubious is the celebration – in the western media and mainstream Caribbean political circles – of the “independence” and “benevolence” of CARICOM leaders in their dealings with Haiti.

CARICOM & the Haitian Transitional Council

One of the reasons that the brutal UN military occupation of Haiti that began in 2004 could fly under the radar was because it was populated by a multi-national and multi-racial military and civilian force. The US admitted as much, as revealed in the Wikileaks files. Former US Ambassador to Haiti, Janet Sanderson, lauded the occupation force (MINUSTAH) as a cheap source of US power in Haiti, as it was made up of a multinational coalition of western and nonwestern forces, including countries ranging from Benin and Kenya to Brazil and Ecuador, who all seem bent on using Haiti as their training ground. From very early on, the US has sought the help of other “regional partners” for its planned invasion of Haiti. Once turned down by Brazil, Canada, and Mexico, it turned its attention to the leaders of CARICOM.

In early 2023, despite the pressure from the US and Canada, CARICOM, under the leadership of the Prime Minister of Bahamas, Philip Davis, refused to agree to send police and military forces for an invasion of Haiti. But by summer of 2023, CARICOM leaders reversed course, caving in to pressure from the US and its minions, including UN Secretary General Guterres and members of the Core Group.

Ironically, this about face came during CARICOM’s Heads of Government conference, in July of 2023, which also marked the 50th anniversary of the organization. The meeting was attended by US officials, including Vice President Kamala Harris,  Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and, among others, African American congressman Hakeem Jeffries. The month before, in June, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mélanie Joly, hosted a meeting on Haiti with Caribbean Countries and various UN agencies ministerial meeting today with key partners to discuss the security situation in Haiti. Thus, by the end of the CARICOM conference, the member states issued a statement in support of the US-orchestrated military invasion of Haiti. Like Kenya, the CARICOM countries have been promised robust packages of aid and security assistance for their service to empire (see Kevin Edmonds’s timeline demonstrating how “CARICOM is taking a leading role in legitimizing foreign intervention in Haiti, literally selling out Haiti for increased funding” and to improve political fortunes).

By spring 2024, CARICOM leaders would become the biggest advocates of the MSS to Haiti. CARICOM was catapulted into the spotlight once Ariel Henry was prevented, by Haitian armed groups, from landing in Haiti after a US-sponsored trip to Kenya to sign an agreement on the deployment of Kenyan police (an agreement mandated by the Kenyan courts after it received a challenge in the constitutionality of sending Kenyan police to Haiti). In lieu of a Haitian government (since, if we remember, the US had not forced its puppet to hold elections), the US elicited the help (or, cover) of CARICOM to concoct a new “government” for Haiti.

We were told by the western media that, on March 11th, there were “CARICOM-led” discussions with Haitian leaders. In reality, however, CARICOM member states worked under the supervision of Core Group. The US chose which Haitian leaders to invite to the discussion and the Core Group – US, France, Canada, Brazil and Mexico – first met privately to work out a plan for Haiti, before bringing in chosen Haitian representation. Most significantly, those Haitians chosen to be part of the negotiations on a new Haitian government had to agree to US terms for a foreign intervention before being allowed to participate in the discussion! Indeed, Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, another darling of the US left, working alongside Guyana’s President, Irfan Ali, was adamant that the meetings could not begin without Haitian support for this foreign military invasion.

It is in these meetings that the “solution” devised was for a “Transitional Presidential Council,” a 9-member council of Haitian political, private sector, civil society, and faith-based “stakeholders” to exercise the duties of the President of Haiti until elections can be held in 2026. The representatives include members of all the old political classes, including Martelly’s party, PHTK and former President Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas. It must be reiterated that the members of this council were handpicked by the US and they all had to agree to support foreign invasion (and, ultimately, occupation). This is what passes as the “Haitian-led solution” so often touted by US officials, Core Group occupiers, and the western media. In this sense, the Presidential Council cannot be considered legitimate, nor can it be used to speak of Haiti as sovereign.

Indeed, one of the council’s first major acts was to write to the Kenyan government to ask for the invasion. On May 16th, members of the Transitional Council met with the resident occupier of the country, Maria Isabel Salvador, head of the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH) – an office whose existence demonstrates Haiti’s lack of sovereignty. If we needed further proof, Jake Johnston, an analyst for the Center for Economic Policy and Research tweeted on May 10th: “I asked a source close to the presidential council if there had been any communication about these planes from the US. The answer: no.”

On May 20th, the UN News published a story on Haiti with the headline “Haiti: Multinational mission and the ‘inexorable requirement to restore security conditions.’” In it, we are told that the foreign invasion of Haiti by the MSS is necessary because of “entrenched criminal gang activity.” BINUH head, Salvador is quoted, raising the alarm, “it is impossible to overstate the increase in gang activity across Port-au-Prince and beyond.” Salvador then argues that the “gang” attacks “have further weakened state institutions and deepened the already critical challenges to the re-establishment of the rule of law.” We must leave aside, for a moment, the dumbfounding irony of Salvador who is from Ecuador, speaking as if her country is not one of the most notorious for its gang violence, gang violence that has gripped the entire country, not just the capital city. What is interesting here, however, is the suggestion that it is Haiti’s “gang violence” which is the cause of the “weakened state institutions.”

Who are the Real Gangsters in Haiti?

In September 2022, a group of Haitian grassroots activists penned an open letter to UN Secretary General António Guterres, to denounce his characterization of the people’s popular protests as “gang” violence:

Contrary to your assertions, these popular protests are part of a struggle for a Haiti free from suffocating foreign interference, gangsterization, this extreme manufactured misery and an anti-national, illegitimate, criminal political regime established by the Core Group of which the UN is a member. This puppet political regime, operating under the dictation of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), has just stabbed the people by the decision to increase by more than one hundred percent (128%) the price of petroleum products…

The letter not only castigated Guterres for his support of IMF demands that the Haitian government must remove fuel subsidies, but placed the “gangsterization” of Haiti squarely on the UN, Core Group, and the continued occupation of Haiti. It argued that “gangs” in Haiti are “political appendages of the current de facto power [Ariel Henry], of the Core Group” and they have tried to infiltrate the popular movements under the order of their bosses to provide the international community a pretext to criminalize ongoing anti-government and anti-imperialist protests that had been ongoing in Haiti since 2018.

One of the most underreported aspects of the current “crisis” in Haiti is the continuous protests of the Haitian people against occupation and for self-determination. The people protested in the hundreds of thousands in 2004 following the removal of Aristide by the US, France, and Canada. They protested the imposition of another illegitimate president, Jovenel Moïse, in 2015 and 2016. They protested the corruption of the US-imposed political party of Martelly and Moïse, PHTK, in 2018 and 2019. And they protested the unelected and de facto US-installed prime minister, Ariel Henry, until the political elite empowered the armed groups to terrorize the populations in the poor neighborhoods.

The other underreported aspect of Haiti’s supposed “gang” problem are the roles of Haitian oligarchs and political elites who fund these youth. Indeed, armed young men terrorizing poor neighborhoods – especially leftist political strongholds – is not a new phenomenon. The Haitian oligarchs have always used armed groups to settle business and political scores, and to wreak havoc from which they could benefit. Indeed, from the early 1990s people like factory owner Andre Apaid, were being outed as a sponsor of armed groups that terrorized the population. More recently, in 2022, the Canadian government sanctioned oligarchs Gilbert Bigio — who is often called the richest person in Haiti — Reynold Deeb and Sherif Abdallah. Many have agreed that “the gangs today are largely paramilitary allies of the PHTK, the US-installed political party that has dominated Haiti for the past decade with a combination of election fraud and violence.”

But this part of the story doesn’t align with the racist narrative that Haitian people are inherently violent and, as such, deserve violent intervention.

We are told that the interest of the US in Haiti is humanitarian, that the U.S wants to protect the Haitian people from “criminal gangs.” Yet US weapons have flooded Haiti, and the US has consistently rejected calls to effectively enforce the UN Security Council resolution for an arms embargo against the Haitian and US elite who import guns into the country.

In fact, when we speak of “gangs,” we must recognize that the most powerful gangs in the country are subsidiaries of the US itself: the United Nations Integrated Office (BINUH) and the Core Group, the two colonial entities that have effectively ruled the country since the coup d’état of 2004. It is this gang, the Core Group, their minions (CARICOM), and their installed puppets in Haiti who are insisting on this violent solution to the crisis in the country—a crisis they themselves helped to create.

The US needs to maintain its control of Haiti as the country is strategically important for its geopolitical aims – the further militarization of the Caribbean and Latin American region in preparation for its confrontation with China and to implement the Global Fragility Act. Indeed, a review of the actions of the United States and the so-called “international community” in Haiti from 2004 to the present demonstrates how Haiti has served as the testing ground—the laboratory —for much of what is encapsulated in the Global Fragility Act (GFA). The GFA, in other words, is not so much a new policy as it is a formal expression of de facto US policy toward Haiti and Haitian people – at least over the past two decades. In order words, Haiti’s destabilization is callously calculated.

But in order for the western imperial powers to mask their own responsibility in the face of violence, precariousness, misery, unemployment, and poverty that they have helped to create and structure within the population, they devote themselves to their favorite sport – foster a political crisis so that they can messianically arrive to play savior.

There are many reasons for this.

One of the consequences of the interference of Western powers in Haiti, or at least of the domination of the international community (represented only by US, France, Canada, of course) or the development aid policies of Western governments, is to engender a tailor-made process of dependency based on the exploitation and oppression of populations that ultimately benefits only capitalist interests. It is, therefore, important to understand the US role in the complete dismantling of the Haitian state not just as a side event, but as a calculated and specific set of strategies.

Why Haiti?

First, there is the matter of the Haitian Revolution. Haiti has never been forgiven for shattering, if only for a short time, white supremacy, and destroying the system of plantation slavery that was at white supremacy’s base.

Second, the UN-led (and world enforced) military occupations were deployed as proxy enforcers of US regional policy. This regional policy has a number of parts which seem to include the destruction of the remnants of the popular movement that arose in Haiti after the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship, and to promote the interests of the “business-friendly” Haitian transnational bourgeoisie. In brief, it was to further the neo-liberal economic agenda that had subtended US foreign policy in the Caribbean and Latin America. In 2011, leaked diplomatic cables between Washington and the US Embassy in Port-au-Prince revealed then US ambassador Janet Sanderson, saying that the “UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti is an indispensable tool in realizing the core USG [US Government] policy interests in Haiti,” interests which included suppressing “resurgent populist and anti-market economy political forces.” The goal, it seems, is to open up the space for the US and Canadian governments, especially, to entrench Haitians as cheap labor for multinational corporations. To accomplish this requires the take-over of land owned by the peasants and transfer of this land to international corporations, while at the same time alienating the masses from their land.

The US has another key objective: to use Haiti to control the Caribbean basin in preparation for its confrontation with China, as well as to control the states that it deems its enemies: Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua. Indeed, the growing US military presence in places such as Guyana and the increasingly large regional US-led military exercises such as Operation “Tradewinds 24” (hosted by Barbados) reveal the true objectives of the US. And Haiti is perfectly positioned, geographically and politically, for entrenching and expanding US imperial power.

We cannot underestimate the power and tactics of US imperialism. And the crisis in Haiti – the crisis of Haiti – is a crisis of imperialism. This is the context within which to understand the US insistence on yet another military invasion and occupation of Haiti, and to also understand the criminal absurdity of yet another foreign military invasion and occupation of Haiti.

The multinational, western-led occupation of Haiti that began in 2004, and that continues, should be considered what Peter Hallward referred to as the “most successful exercise of neo-imperial sabotage.” The US, France, and Canada were able to remove a democratically elected and popular president, bypass the country’s constitution and, over the past twenty years, install prime ministers, and presidents, while overseeing the complete dismantling of the Haitian state. And now, we are to believe that the crisis in Haiti is about “gangs” and that violence on Haitian people and their sovereignty is the only possible solution.

We must reject this call for violence and remember that it is Haiti’s history as the site of one of the longest struggles in the world for both Black liberation and anticolonial independence that explains the US empire’s constant reactionary onslaught against its people. As Haiti faces yet another US invasion and occupation, we would do well do remember the words of  Haitian statesman, Dantès Bellegarde, in describing the first US occupation in 1915 –  in the hope that they will serve as a call to action:

American imperialists, taking advantage of passing troubles, have entered Haiti. They have destroyed all liberal institutions in the country, all the achievements that had already been made in the path of democracy; they have replaced the “black satrapy” by a white dictatorship, but with this disadvantage, namely, Haitians could revolt against the black satrapy and overthrow it, whereas they can do nothing against the white dictatorship so strongly supported by the bayonets of the Marine Corps, the bombs of the aviators of the United States Army and the cannon of American cruisers…  The American action is Haiti is in bankruptcy.”

The occupation continues. But so does our struggle for Haitian sovereignty.

About the Author

Jemima Pierre is an editor and contributor to Black Agenda Report, the Haiti/Americas Co-Coordinator for the Black Alliance for Peace, and a Black Studies and anthropology professor at UCLA.

Featured photo: A U.S. Marine and a UN soldier in Haiti during a 2010 deployment. Credit: Public domain.