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Kenyan president will receive White House praise over troops-to-Haiti move − but lack of action across Americas should prompt regional soul-searching

Jorge Heine, Boston University, The Conversation on

Published in News & Features

Kenyan President William Ruto will attend a rare U.S. state reception for an African leader on May 23, 2024 – but much of the chat will be about a third country: Haiti.

Kenyan troops are preparing to deploy to the Caribbean nation as part of a U.N.-backed mission aimed at bringing stability to a country ravaged by gang violence.

The White House event is in part a recognition by Washington of Kenya’s decision to step up to a task that the Biden administration – and much of the West – would rather outsource.

Indeed, Haiti has seemingly become a crisis that most international bodies and foreign governments would rather not touch. The U.S., like other major governments in the Americas, has repeatedly ruled out putting its own troops on the ground in Haiti.

As someone who has written a book, “Fixing Haiti,” on the last concerted outside intervention – the United Nations’ stabilizing mission known as MINUSTAH – I fear the lack of action by countries in the Americas could increase the risk of Haiti transitioning from a fragile state to a failed one. MINUSTAH was the first U.N. mission formed by a majority of Latin American troops, with Chile and Brazil taking the lead. The outsourcing of that role now to Kenya has sparked concerns from human rights groups. It should also lead to soul-searching questions in capitals from Washington to Brasília, as well as at United Nations headquarters in New York.

Haiti’s descent into chaos began almost three years ago with the murder of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021. Lawlessness in the nation has seen gangs take control of an estimated 80% of the capital Port-au-Prince and thousands killed in the spiraling violence.

 

Today, the country is not only the poorest in the Americas but is also among the most destitute in the world. About 87.6% of the population is estimated to be living in poverty, with 30% in extreme poverty. Life expectancy is just 63 years, compared with 76 in the United States and 72 in Latin America and the Caribbean as a whole.

International intervention in Haiti has been long overdue. Yet, until now, the attitude of the international community has, from my perspective, been largely to look away.

From a humanitarian perspective and in terms of regional security, to allow a country in the Americas to drift into the condition of a failed state controlled by a fluid network of criminal gangs is a recipe for disaster. Yet governments and international organizations in the region are unwilling to step up to confront the crisis directly despite pleas from Haiti and the U.N.

The Organization of American States, which in the past played an important role in Haiti and for which I served as an observer to the country’s 1990 presidential elections, and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States have been criticized over their slow response to the Haitian crisis. The Caribbean Community, or CARICOM, has made a significant effort, holding a number of meetings on the Haitian crisis; several member states, such as the Bahamas, Barbados and Jamaica, have committed to sending police forces to Haiti, albeit in small numbers.

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