As the situation in Haiti spirals out of control and as calls for a foreign military intervention force heat up, Caribbean governments are pondering their next move as to how to deal with the 15-nation bloc’s most populous but also most troublesome member state.
In the past week, leaders have held a virtual emergency meeting among themselves and have also used a similar medium to discuss the country’s worsening crisis with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
One key subject that keeps coming up at these and other meetings is whether the region should back a foreign military force going into Haiti to help maintain peace, calm down rival gangs competing for political turf in the country and to generally act as a stabilizing mechanism. President Ariel Henry has attended both meetings and appealed for whatever help the region could give.
Apart from being responsible for an increasing number of deaths, the heavily armed gangs roaming the country’s capital have in recent days blockaded a major fuel terminal in Port Au Prince, the capital, bringing economic life to a virtual halt, increasing hunger and leading to fears of famine in the Caribbean nation of nearly 11 million. Authorities are also worried about an outbreak of cholera, fearing that the chaos from the gang violence and control of the city will prevent health workers from beating back the spread of this disease.
In the meantime, authorities in The Bahamas say the government there is preparing the local military for deployment to Haiti once the United Nations and Caricom agree to such a development in the coming days.
“We will abide by the outcome” of any decision by the Caribbean to send a peacekeeping force to Haiti, Prime Minister Phillip Davis told reporters in the past week. Foreign Minister Fred Mitchell says “the prudent thing for our own country to do is to have our forces give us advice on if we are asked for such an eventuality, can we participate and to what extent can we participate?”
At the weekend, Bahamian Chief of Staff Commodore Raymond King said concrete steps are being made to prepare marines for deployment if necessary.
“The preparation entails identifying persons who would have been trained over the years. We have done a number of infantry training, courses and programmes. They may have worked regionally as well as with our U.S. partners. So, we have an annual training programme then we have a training programme during the year for persons to acquire those infantry competencies as consents,” he told the Tribune newspaper.
No other Caricom government has been as explicit about military help but others have done so in the past.
The Bahamas is particularly interested in a stable and functioning Haiti as, along with The Turks and Caicos, these two neighbors are forced to rescue, assist and repatriate hundreds of Haitian boat people annually.
Official estimates have put the Haitian population in The Bahamas up to 30% of the national total so the mini archipelago off Florida is anxious to play any role in stabilizing the situation there.
The region, meanwhile, is also making its point known for help for Haiti at various international forums like the U.N.’s Nations Security Council. Representing the region last week, Belize’s Permanent Representative Carlos Fuller called for assistance to the country.
“The Haitian people cannot do it alone. They require meaningful support from various regional, hemispheric and international partners to assist in implementing the way forward.”
The situation in Haiti has not been made easier by the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse during an attack on his home by Colombian mercenaries.