Haiti Instability to Stability - An Irregular Warfare Perspective
By Chris Martin and Simmie A. Adams
To obtain a starting point, a quick search on the country of Haiti discloses a wealth of information. Haiti is a country on an island shared with the Dominican Republic. If one compares Haiti with other Caribbean countries by area, the conclusion drawn is it looks to be the third largest country. Looking at the image of Haiti, it resembles a lobster’s claw and has a populace of about 11.4 million people[i]. Port-au-Prince, located on Haiti’s western coast, is its capital.
During his memorable sail of the ocean blue in 1492, Columbus Christopher brought the first Europeans to the island of he called La Isla Espanola, or the Spanish Island. The island’s name was anglicized to Hispaniola. This island was initially claimed as being owned by Spain; however, over time, the western portion of the island was given to France. The result of this land ceding action created the land of Haiti.[ii]
Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere and has widespread slavery. The country’s economic instability began with, in essence, purchasing its sovereignty from France in1826 and continued with being heavily in debt to France, Germany, and the United States. Since the 19th century and up through the first decades of the 20th century, Haiti has also experienced great political instability. Haitian politics have been contentious: since independence, as shown by enduring numerous coups. In recent years, the country has endured another coup d'état, which prompted U.N. intervention as well as catastrophic earthquakes. It has minimal critical infrastructure, such as, insufficient electrical power, running water, fuel, sanitation works, and good hospitals. With its deteriorating economic situation, Haiti has been experiencing a socioeconomic and political crisis marked by riots and protests, widespread hunger, and increased gang activity. Haiti, in general, is a land of turmoil.[iii] [iv]
From the first Haitian revolution, the use of Voodoo was used to defeat the French, Spanish, United States and British troops on the island.[v] Voodoo is a very big part of Haitian culture as seen by the existence of Voodoo temples in Haiti. A large majority of the Haitian population believe and use voodoo. Therefore, looking at things through our perspective is not the same as looking through their eyes and their belief system and seeing the effects of their beliefs. For example, Dutty Boukman[vi] was a voodoo priest who used voodoo over the Haitian slaves to revolt from their French slave masters. The Haitian slaves believed they had supernatural powers because of the voodoo which made them believe they were invincible to defeat. Jimmy Cherizer, a Haitian gang leader of the Haitian G9 Alliance/Family and Allies gang,[vii] has correlated his leadership with the spirit of the turn of the 1800’s revolution led by Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the first Haiti Head of State and given credit for ousting the French from Haiti.[viii] Voodoo means spirit and one can infer voodoo will be used to fight Cherizer’s revolution against military intervention and the GoH.
Although the United States had sporadically intervened in Haiti in the 19th century, the twentieth century has seen numerous interventions of the U.S. into Haitian affairs. The most serious of these interventions occurred from 1915-1934. On 28 July 1915 a force of 300 U.S. Marines landed at Port-au-Prince. They landed to restore order after the Haitian President Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam had been assassinated.[ix] The U.S. occupation eventually sparked resentment among many of the Haitian elite. This Haitian resentment erupted in the so-called Cacos War (1918 1922), a guerilla insurrection in the Central Plateau, led by members of the elite and disgruntled Haitian army officers. The U.S. Marines responded with search-and-destroy operations that killed thousands of suspected guerrillas. The rebels lost the Cacos War.[x] Springing forward, from a land of occupation to modern day, Haiti is still a land of turmoil.
United States Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) units have a time-honored history starting at the very birth of the United States of America. Special Operation Forces, through many names, have evolved from battles in New England against the English to the mitigating terrorist threats in the Philippines.[xi] They fought in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam and many other countries.[xii] Given the number of Medal of Honor Special Operations Forces recipients, they have fought in secret and quietly with knowledge and skills above the common service member.
In September 1994, Special Forces Soldiers from 3rd SFG(A) deployed to Haiti to support Operation Uphold/Restore/Maintain Democracy. They were charged with providing the majority of the command-and-control structure for the Army Special Operations Task Force (ARSOTF). The ARSOTF mission statement for Operation UPHOLD DEMOCRACY stated SOF would:
“conduct special operations, civil military operations, and coalition support in Haiti in support of MNF-Haiti to maintain a stable and secure environment to facilitate the transition of the new government of Haiti (GOH) to functional governance and to participate as required in the United Nations Mission In Haiti (UNMIH). On order, handover military operations to designated UNMIH forces and redeploy.”[xiii]
Special Operations Forces (SOF) relied on their legacy Unconventional Warfare (UW) knowledge, skills, abilities, (KSAs) and experience to increase their propensity for successfully accomplishing the designated mission statement. A primary component of the SOF KSAs associated with UW is winning the hearts and minds of the indigenous population (aka the community). These KSAs were particularly effective SOF during the Vietnam War.
Within the context of SOF involvement in Haiti, UW was particularly successful because of the positive view Haitian’s had of US Forces. The Haitian perception of the US Forces, in general, were of SOF Soldiers were there to improve the Haitian situation. This perception was reinforced through the behavior noted from SOF Soldiers. The reinforced perception increased the flow of valid information from the population to SOF.
An outcome of this UW focused activity is the building of trust, increasing the level of force protection measures, and the development of intelligence collection networks. These networks aid in providing insight into the population’s environment. This insight feeds into the Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB). IPB analysis provided the SOFs such information as to who was the blue (Friendly) forces and red (Opposing) forces as well as what they are doing. This analysis led to the opposing forces never realizing a foothold. This lack of a foothold minimized the development of any viable opposing force against SOF.
As the SOF Haitian deployment progressed, frustration set it because of outside activities, not within the control of SOF, were not moving the holistic effort toward achieving the ARSOTF mission statement for Operation UPHOLD DEMOCRACY. Jean Bertrand Aristide returned to Haiti in October 1994. There was a resistance movement against the Aristide government and the Non-Governmental Organizations and Private Voluntary Organizations were not achieving desired results. In 1995, 3rd SFG(A) began redeploying back to Fort Bragg, NC. Operation Uphold Democracy officially ended on 31 March 1995, when it was replaced by the United Nations Mission in Haiti (UNMIH). From March 1995 until March 1996, 2,400 U.S. personnel from the original Operation Uphold Democracy remained as a UNMIH-commanded support group under the aegis of Operation New Horizons. U.N. forces under various mission names were in Haiti from 1995 through 2000. Haiti remains a land of turmoil.
Bad governance is looked upon as the root cause of Haiti’s instability. In Haiti's case, it is the corruption within the Government of Haiti (GoH). The people have lost trust and confidence in the GoH. Some contributing examples supporting how the Haitian people have become disenchanted with the GoH are:
Petro Caribe was a regional oil procurement agreement between Venezuela and member states. The alliance was founded on 29 June 2005 in the Caribbean during Hugo Chavez presidency. Venezuela offered member states oil supplies on a concessionary financial agreement. Petro Caribe gave the country of Haiti two billion dollars over a period of eight years. From 2008- 2016, the economic funding was supposed to be used to build the infrastructure, but the money was misappropriated / stolen by Haitian government officials. In 2018, when Jovieal Moises was President of Haiti, he was supposed to launch an investigation into the misappropriations of the funds, this never occurred.
Haiti's was hit with a magnitude 7.0 earthquake in Jan. 12, 2010. In its wake was reported 220,000 people dead, 300,000 injured and rubble nearly everywhere. Infrastructure was destroyed, schools collapsed, and the country’s medical capacity was badly broken. To aid in helping Haiti to recover from their plight, it was reported millions of dollars were made in the form of donations and pledges. A Michele Mitchell documentary titled Haiti: Where did the money Go? endeavored to provide a valid point of view to answer this question. It documented Haiti 10 months after the earthquake then returned 20 months after the earthquake to document the NGO progress. The documentary disclosed at the 10-month mark thousands of homeless Haitians were living in camps with inadequate access to clean water, food, and latrines. At the 20-month mark, despite some improvements in housing at certain camps, thousands still lived in unsafe and unclean conditions. “The answer is we don't know what's happened to the money since it's been disbursed to NGOs and private contractors,” according to Vijaya Ramachandran of the Center for Global Development. “We know that they’re operating projects in Haiti - hundreds if not thousands of projects—but because there's an overall lack of evaluation either from the NGO side or the private contractor side, it's very hard to tell what has actually happened to the livelihoods and level of income of most Haitians.” In 2015, NPR and ProPublica released their findings into the US$500 million raised by the American Red Cross for relief efforts in Haiti. ProPublica’s headline read: “How the Red Cross Raised Half a Billion Dollars for Haiti and Built Six Homes.” According to NPR, their investigation found “poorly managed projects, questionable spending and dubious claims of success.” The bottom line is NGOs have no or very limited capacity to track the disbursement of funds. The lack of Haiti improvement is still looked at by the Haitian people as a GoH issue and thus the GoH is problematic. The GoH is not seen as taking care of the people.
The oligarchs control Haiti. They are the elites, they don't look like they are Haitian, matter of fact, they migrated from the Levant in the late 1800's early 1900's. They are of Syrian and Lebanese descent. However, they are in control of Haiti. Their influence is very strong. Many of the oligarchs have been accused of supporting the gangs economically. Kidnap for ransom can only yield a certain amount for operational funding. Dictator Papa Doc Duvalier was instrumental with the genesis of gangs in Haiti. The Haitian Army had attempted a coup against Papa Doc, if failed. Papa Doc started a militia to serve in his best interests. This group was known as the “Ton Ton Macute”, the same as the gangs currently run by the oligarchs to serve their best interests. This is to cause more instability and to destabilize Haiti further.
Bad governance, as mentioned earlier, is looked upon as the root cause of Haiti’s instability. Some entities believe the way forward is to conduct a kinetic action. However, from an irregular warfare perspective, interested parties working together to achieve what is best for the country resolves problems effectively. It remains true today.
This perspective was found true during 3rd SFG(A) deployment to Haiti in Operation Uphold/Restore/Maintain Democracy. Therefore, a potential way out of Haiti’s instability rests with the United States Government (USG), the International Community (IC), the Government of Haiti (GoH), and the powerbrokers/community leaders from the Haitian communities working together to avoid a total collapse of the country. Out of these stakeholders interested in creating a way forward for stabilizing Haiti, the powerbrokers / community leaders from the Haitian communities holds the power. They have the loudest voice in what occurs as they are the stabilizing/destabilizing factors in the country.
MINUSTAH was in Haiti from 2004 -2017, and nothing was resolved. Now they want to call it a non-UN mission, but no one wants to take the lead. The IC knows believe they must go up against the Haitian gangs / armed non-state actors or irregulars. Conventional forces against irregular fighters where have we seen this before? Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Mozambique. The armed non-state actors associated with these places are the Taliban, ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, MS-13, and Al Shabab. People should understand first before any of these groups are insurgents or terrorist groups, they are organized gangs. The IC's forces will be conventional military / police and are trained in conventional warfare. The best the state actors could do is what is called law enforcement activities focused on countering irregular adversaries. Special Forces were tasked to do in Afghanistan with the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force. It is all about the community, first GoH must regain community support from the populous. Then, the GoH must dismantle the gangs by economics, and their operational capacity. Ariel Henry, the acting President of Haiti, wants to eliminate the gangs by using outside help because his Haitian National Police are not capable, nor do they have the knowledge of this kind of warfare. Acting President Henry does not understand using a conventional military contingent against a group of irregulars will be disastrous for those militaries and the Haitian National Police as they must all work together.
Haiti suffered another devastating earthquake in 2021. At this time, the United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) sent a group to Haiti. It comprised of non-governmental organizations (NGO) and the United Nations as well as other civil society organizations. Many NGOs briefed the group about the situation on the ground. Many said they were not able to get through because of roads being washed away, gangs controlling many entry and exit access points. In essence, the gangs controlled of many areas as the Haitian National Police were ineffective. It was suggested to many of the NGO's, they need to meet with the leaders of those communities at that time and negotiate with them to meet and reach their objectives, which was to deliver humanitarian aid (HA). The NGOs decided to work with the police instead of working with the community leaders. The result of this decision is the situation has flipped. Those NGOs were not successful with delivering their HA, the gangs robbed the NGOs of their HA and kept it for themselves or gave it to community members. The police and the GoH are no longer in control; the gang leaders are in control. As 3rd SFG(A) proved when deployed to Haiti, it is best to leverage the indigenous population (aka the community) to realize valid results. The NGOs and civil society groups need to deal with who is in control and allow those community assets / gang members to be their security using the community as their security bubble. The way to Haitian stability is to empower the community leaders.
Because there is so much corruption within the GoH, instability permeates. The gangs are a symptom of bad governance. The gangs currently control the streets of Port au Prince, Port au Prince is broken up into lower, middle, and upper portions. The lower is Port au Prince, the middle is Delmas and the upper is Petionville. The wealthy people live in Petionville, named after Haiti's third President Petion. He was a half black half white Haitian as most of the people in Petionville are. The gangs now occupy and run the majority of all three areas. Especially, on the lower two thirds of Port au Prince.
The gangs have now become the government providing for the populous. They can provide security for the people in their community, get them medical and food. All of the activities that the GoH isn't doing, the gangs are attempting to achieve. This is why the community has legitimized the gangs and delegitimized the GoH. The GoH no longer has community support. That has gone to the community leaders/ power brokers. For the purpose of this we shall call the gang leaders community leaders or power brokers.” The current GoH leaders don't want to even engage with the “power brokers” as the GoH calls them “terrorists”.
Currently, the G-9 Alliance/Family is headed up by Jimmy “Bar B Que” Cheizer, a former Haitian National Police Officer terminated from his position.[xiv] He, “Jimmy,” claims he is a political activist and not a gang leader and considers himself a “community leader”. The G-9 has other rival gangs they do battle with over territory in Port au Prince. Jimmy holds the key to power in Port au Prince because he controls the infrastructure. His gang controls who obtain fuel/petrol for the medical clinics, hospitals, schools, and whatever else is needed to make necessities run via fuel. Jimmy wants Acting President Henry to step down. The USG and the IC are backing Acting President Henry.
The Way Forward to Stability
Bringing stability back to Haiti is key; therefore, many power brokers are needed to bring stability back to Haiti. Each of them represents their community. The GoH believes with kinetic action taking out the leaders will yield positive results. The GoH may not be considering nor understand the second, third and fourth order of effects, or even if you throw a rock into a pond, there is a ripple effect. They might want to neutralize a powerbroker but what comes behind it may be worse. It's the devil you know vs the devil you don't know. This solution will probably backfire.
These were some viable recommendations made to the USG in reference to the Haiti situation not in any specific order:
1. Leverage the community. The GoH is not in any position not to talk to the “community leaders/power brokers” as they yield the power in the country and control the infrastructure. Simple conflict dispute resolution with the USG, IC, and other countries being mediators could go a long way to solving the problems in Haiti.
2. Place Cherizer in a political position. By placing him in a position where he keeps his influence with his community but also is capable of decision making at the cabinet level is in the best interest of the Haitian populous.
3. Identifying where and who the power source. If the power source is not contributing to the desired end state, then it is taking away the influence and power from Jimmy Cheizer. This undesired power source should be mitigated or minimized. If Jimmy Cheizer loses community support, then the community will look elsewhere to fill that void.
4. The USG and the IC should influence Henry to step down, as the populous is not supporting him.
The Haitian populous has stated they want “no” international military intervention. The community controls all. If this non-UN contingent thinks they are going to walk into Haiti and use kinetic action to dislodge the armed non state actors, they are in for a rude awakening. These countries' militaries would have to have the intelligence from the populous to carry out such operations. In fact, the opposite will probably occur. The populous is going to tell the gang members where the outside countries militaries are, where they eat, and when they are going out on operations. The gangs could kinetically defeat the IC and Haitian police just on Intelligence. Remember intelligence drives operations.
The way forward toward Haiti stability is through macro (long term) and micro (short term) thinking. As the end state is to bring stability back to Haiti, why not use the powerbroker/community leader having the community support. Stability begins at the grass roots level. Working bottom up and potentially also top down is the best way to gain stability. No matter what the issues are if the community supports Haiti stability, the effort will have a greater propensity for success.
The end state to avoid is the non-UN mission will be defeated again. They will leave and Jimmy Cheizer and the other gangs will overthrow the GoH and Jimmy Cheizer will be President of the country. Where have we seen this before? Afghanistan with the Taliban. Acting President Henry will get the money from the international community because his country is in crisis. The US and Canada will have to be concerned about Russia's influence especially since Jimmy Cheizer does not want the US to be involved with Haiti. This end state is not desired.
In closing, viable solutions are available. All the interested parties should be more “left of bang” or proactive to mitigate problems from occurring. Once again, the root cause of instability is bad governance. The USG and the IC should forego the same conventional solutions as the saying goes, if one continues to do what one has always done, the same results will occur. The solution, the solution to move Haiti from instability to stability is to use time test unconventional warfare to this irregular warfare problem.
[i] World Population Review (2022). Haiti Population. Retrieved on 9 December 2022, from https://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/haiti-population
[ii] Embassy of Haiti (2021) Voyages of Christopher Columbus. Retrieved on 9 December 2022, from https://www.haiti.org/columbus-525-an-exploration-of-christopher-columbuss-impact-on-the-atlantic-world/.
[iii] R.C. Labrador & D. Roy (2022). Haiti’s Troubled Path to Development. Council on Foreign Relations (https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/haitis-troubled-path-development).
[iv] R. Lawless et al (2022). Haiti. Retrieved on 9 December 2022 from https://www.britannica.com/
place/Haiti. Britannica: Chicago, IL.
[v] N. Green (n.d.). The Black Religion That’s Been Maligned for Centuries. The Atlantic (https://www.theatlantic.com/).
[vi] I. Somto (2020). The Epic Story of Dutty Boukman, Who Led the Haitian Revolution. Vocal Africa. Retrieved on 9 December 2022 from https://vocalafrica.com/epic-dutty-boukman-story-prayer/
[vii] B. Bushard (2022). Who Is Haiti’s Jimmy ‘Barbecue’ Cherizier? Cop-Turned-Gang leader Targeted by U.N. Sanctions. Retrieved 9 December 2022 from https://www.forbes.com/sites/brianbushard/
[viii] H. Devon (2021). Misreporting Haiti. Retrieved on 9 December 2022 from https://www.laidoffnyc.com/misreporting-haiti/.
[ix] Office of the Historian (n.d.). U.S. Invasion and Occupation of Haiti, 1915-34. Retrieved on 9 December 2022 from https://history.state.gov/milestones/1914-1920/haiti.
[x] Naval history and Heritage Command (2020). US Occupation of Haiti, 1915-1934. Retrieved on 9 December 2022 from https://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/online-reading-room/title-list-alphabetically/u/us-occupation-of-haiti-1915-1934.html.
[xi] L. Robinson, P. Johston, & G. Oak (2016). U.S. Special Operations Forces in the Philippines, 2001–2014, Retrieved on 7 December 2022 from https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/
[xii] ARSOF History (n.d.). Army Special Operations Forces TIMELINE. Retrieved on 2 December 2022 from https://arsof-history.org/arsof_timeline/index.html.
[xiii] J. Fischer, R. Stewart, & S. Sandler (1997). Operation Uphold/Restore/Maintain Democracy: The Role of Army Special Operations (November 1991-June 1995). Retrieved on 3 December 2022 from https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/pdfs/AD1117617.pdf.
[xiv] B. Bushard (2022). Who Is Haiti’s Jimmy ‘Barbecue’ Cherizier? Cop-Turned-Gang leader Targeted by U.N. Sanctions. Retrieved 9 December 2022 from https://www.forbes.com/sites/brianbushard/
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Interesting you mention that…
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