Myths, Propaganda And The Rush To Reconstitute The Haitian Army
Since the Haitian army was disbanded there were small rumbling about bringing it back. I did not think much of it because like a lot of people who follow Haiti, I thought it was non sense. There were articles here and there strategically placed and worded for an American audience; propaganda, of the lobbying efforts that was taking place behind the scene. The constant drum beat for an army makes it appear inevitable. It's more of a question of when and who is going to pay for it. The rhetoric to install an army appeal to 3 types of people: traditional/business/political elites, concern citizens, and false patriots. These people gravitate to different set of narratives for the army base on how they think and how they view Haiti.
They want an army to protect their assets/investments and interests. In effect an army will serve as a check on the population and future administrations with radical policies that affect them. It is more efficient and effective to pay off and provide a visa to a colonel or a general to commit a coup than the long elaborated effort of convincing other nations that a government is bad and needs to be replaced. With an army, Aristide would not last 3yrs in his second term. It would have cost this group less in lobbying efforts in Washington, and less in time.
The people who are pushing for an army realize that “army” has a negative view in the minds of most Haitians. They’ve decided to use a new and more acceptable term “force national D’Haiti” or national force. They think they need 5k men at a cost of $25 million per year. Of course their arguments don’t make sense. What can 5k men do that 9k who are currently serving in the national police force will have difficulty doing? What would constitute a national force? What would a “national force” entail? Do you need tanks, RPGs , bombs, machine guns…etc? What are the goals, mission of a 5k “national force”? All the details are not clear, and they are not very well thought out or articulated to the Haitian people. It is very hard to feel secure in a poor country where more than 80% are unemployed or under employed. It does not matter how many body guards or security personnel you have around you, there is no real security until the masses have some level of economic security with hopes of upward mobility. Until that issue is addressed we are just putting guns in the hands of poor, uneducated, young men to protect the assets of the elite. We’ve done that for a very long time in our history and it has not served the country well. Doing the same thing over and over will not produce different results.
Concern Citizens - They genuinely believe that Haiti needs a national force. They see an army helping in the area of boarder/national security, and environment/safety. It takes a lot to create/support a military institution. Haiti does not have a history or a track record of supporting or creating good functioning institutions. Pretending that we can without a well thought out plan, vision or commitment to the security of the nation goes to a magical way of thinking. The security issues that we have, has more to do with ORDER. Our broken and sometimes non functioning institutions create a sense of chaos and disorder. From laws that are arbitrarily being enforced or go unenforced, to a system that is unresponsive to the population’s needs. All of that create distrust in government and breathe corruption. These underlying problems are not going to magically go away by installing an army.
The Haitian Police Force (PNH) has more than 15 divisions to tackle many problems facing the country. The divisions are specialized to handle crimes like kidnapping, drugs, and gangs. They have several paramilitary units from boarder security, coast guard, drugs, SWAT, land reform, riot police, etc. It seems like there was a lot of thought put into developing these units: function, role and responsibility. That’s why a lot of people from the IC are puzzled as to how a new “security force” like an army is going to add anything new. A military unit would divert personnel and resources and create overlapping roles and responsibilities with the PNH. The PNH is already an institution that is badly under resourced. Over the years, the IC donated equipment such as boats for the coast guard, cars and communication equipment for the police force. But the force is still under resourced and needs more personnel. They don’t have enough people to cover every commune or city. The current police force is budgeted at $31million per year. The force is close to 9,000 personnel strong. An army would short change the PNH and hurt its development.
The NYPD which supports a population of more than 8 million has a force of more than 35k and a budget of $4b. They fight gangs, MIFIA (with assistance from the FBI), drug cartels, you name it! Haiti has budgetary constraints; they will not be able to match the NYPD. A good portion of our budget is dependant on grants and loans from the IC. Would we be able to afford a 36k men/women police force at a cost of $250m/yr? Where are we going to get the money and will we have a trained and professional force? Our economy would have to grow substantially for us to afford a police force that large. We need a smart, sustainable, and well thought out plan on how to provide a secure and safe environment to everyone in the country. We need a force that can respond to emergency situations in a timely manner. If I have an emergency situation on a major road or highway, can I dial the security force and have them respond in 5 minutes? We need a force that can respond in a timely manner to prevent lynching and disputes in the provinces. What are their plans for a decentralized force that is close to the needs of the people? Putting an army in place does not eliminate these challenges. You will still need a plan, a budget, and policies/procedures to support it. You will also need to reform the judiciary so that people feel that there is justice for everyone if they are wronged.
The perception of crime is very personal. Someone who has been a victim of crime or knows someone who has been a victim of crime sees crime as being more prevalent. Haiti’s security situation is more media hyped, at times politically motivated than the realities on the ground. Haiti has a very low violent crime rate in the Caribbean region, but the number of crime committed is 4th highest in the region. You also have to take into account that Haiti has the 3rd largest population in the region. The Dominican Republic with a similar population size as Haiti has the highest number of violent crime in the region at 2,472 for the year 2010.
It would improve Haiti’s image if they would keep track of crime statistics of major cities in Haiti and make it accessible to all on the Haitian embassy website. It would be a great selling point to potential investors and tourists.
Haiti is not involved in the production, manufacturing or consumption of drugs; it’s just a transit route. We don’t have anything close to the drug violence that goes on in the DR and Jamaica. Our culture does not embrace drugs. The drug business is a mean of making fast money for a number of gangs. We don’t have anything close to the drug warfare that goes on in Mexico and Columbia. Haiti’s drug problem is still manageable by a well trained police force. Our drug problem does not need a heavily armed military to go into battle.
Haiti is in a region that is prone to hurricanes, floods, and now earthquakes. There are cheaper ways to provide environmental safety than to build an army. Environmental safety needs to be integrated into our culture and education system. The weather season is something that will be with us every year. We need to use all the tools of communication (tv/radio/sms) to educate the public on what to do when conditions get severe, where to go for safety...etc We need the mayors to be involve in putting together a plan for messaging, and evacuating the public during a hurricane or flood. Training an army unit on environmental safety is a very expensive way to go. Because you will have issues around coverage, you don’t know the turn over rate of the military, and the transfer of knowledge and experience within the army and to the population.
Boarder Security - Immigration comes from Haiti to the DR. It’s not the other way around. Same with trade because Haiti does not PRODUCE much these days. The people who are at the boarders are ti-machand and homeless children. The ti-machand who are involved in trade at the boarders are barely making enough to survive. The people who are getting over at the boarders are those who are well connected and can move a lot of goods. They know someone in the political elite or someone who manage the boarders and can move goods without questions. The issue of lost revenue at the boarders has more to do with a lack of training, accountability, and control of processes/procedures. Having an army will not solve that problem; it would just move the same problems from the existing structure to the army..
Very often there are “boarder tantrums” between Haiti and the DR, to the point where the boarders are closed. These shutdowns can cause a traffic nightmare, waste time, and lost revenue on both sides. It would be inconceivable for these outbursts to result in military conflict between Haiti and the DR. These problems are due to a need to improve on processes/procedures, open communication, and a better relationship between the administrative and security staff on both side. Most of our boarder security personnel are doing a great job with little resources, little pay and benefits. They need more training, expanded roles/responsibility, more accountability, better equipment and resources. Our problems at the boarders are manageable with the right program and vision.
False Patriots - These people ride on the idea that an army is a source of strength/pride and freedom. A little paranoid, they believe a Haitian Army will repel “foreign invaders”. They forget that they would need to borrow money from the International Community> buy equipment and weapons from the IC> get training from the IC > Maybe while they are at it, they can ask the IC to sell them some tactical nukes so that they can defend their liberty. They forget Haiti’s army existed about 20 yrs ago and they had no experience in the area of fighting and protecting the interest of the population. They see an army as a way to command respect from the IC. No one immigrate to North Korea because they have a standing army. People view a country positively because of their economic standing in the world. You command respect when you are financially sovereign and can contribute to the world economy.
In the last 50 years, the Dominican Republic has had a superior army than H
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