December 12, 2014
Over the past several months, Haiti has slipped into a political crisis that threatens to get worse in early 2015. As the International Crisis Group summarized in its 1 December 2014 edition of Crisis Watch,
Legislative and municipal elections, already three years overdue, postponed indefinitely 26 Oct as parliament unable to agree on implementation of “El Rancho Accord” signed by President Martelly, opposition parties, and civil society groups in March. If elections not held by year-end, Martelly will rule by decree. Protesters marched through Port-Au-Prince 18 Nov demanding Martelly's resignation and chance to vote. At least one person killed as bullets fired on protestors; some sources claim gunfire from govt forces, others from govt supporters. During 29 Nov demonstration protesters demanded resignation of president and PM.
Reuters reports that U.S. and U.N. diplomats are holding talks with Haiti’s government and opposition to try to strike a new deal before legislators’ terms end on January 12. Reuters also notes that
A lack of agreement by then would effectively dissolve parliament, and would likely set off a national political crisis.
In recent weeks street protests about the elections and alleged government abuses have spread across the country, shutting down some towns and blocking major roads. Officials fear the protests will grow, and turn more violent, if a deal is not reached by January 12.
Our statistical risk assessments suggest that this crisis could produce a new spate of state-led mass killing in Haiti, a country that has already seen this kind of violence more than once in the past half-century—first under the Duvalier family regime, and again in the early 1990s. In the current edition of our statistical risk assessments, Haiti ranks twenty-fifth worldwide, right around the inflection point where the distribution of predicted probabilities starts to bend upward from 1 percent.
There are, however, at least two interrelated things those models don’t consider that could mitigate the risk of state-led mass killing in Haiti: the continuing presence of a substantial U.N. peacekeeping force, and the weakness of the state security apparatus.
The U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti, a.k.a. MINUSTAH, has been in country since 2004 and currently comprises more than 7,200 uniformed personnel (see here) from dozens of countries. MINUSTAH is scheduled to shrink its footprint in Haiti in 2015, but it still expects to have thousands of personnel in country, and the current crisis could delay or alter those plans. A U.N. PKO does not guarantee that mass atrocities won’t occur—see Rwanda and Bosnia, for example—but the presence of that force should reduce the risk that political violence will spiral.
Paradoxically, the threat of mass atrocities may also be mitigated by the persistent weakness of Haiti’s own internal security apparatus. Haiti’s armed forces were abolished in 1995 after the country’s last episode of state-led mass killing, and President Martelly’s efforts to reconstitute it—a promise of his 2011 campaign—have sputtered so far. The Haitian National Police was established in 1995 to replace the disbanded military as the chief force for public order. With substantial assistance from the U.N. mission and foreign governments, that force has grown and become more effective over the ensuing two decades, but it remains a work in progress. The lingering weakness of Haiti’s domestic security apparatus is probably hobbling efforts to stabilize politics and accelerate economic growth, but in the near term, it leaves ruling officials without a ready instrument for political violence.
That’s how Haiti looks to me, a non-expert, right now, anyway. To see what else I might be overlooking and to think about how mass atrocities might unfold in Haiti if they did occur, I reached out via email to several country experts in the U.S. and elsewhere over the past week. None of them responded to my queries.
Maybe my messages went straight to spam, or maybe they were read and ignored. I wonder, though, if this radio silence isn't partly a function of the process I’m attempting to analyze. As one person I asked to recommend country experts to me wrote, “The more prominent members in the human rights community I associate with in Haiti receive threats and intimidation regularly." This is, of course, a generic problem in the analysis of political violence, but I am intrigued and concerned by the extent to which it figures in this particular story.
In any case, the Early Warning Project will continue to watch this case closely. We aren't currently running a question about Haiti in our opinion pool, but we will add one as part of the raft of questions we’ll launch at the start of the new year. In the meantime, if there are any Haiti experts out there who would like to weigh in, please leave a comment or email us (email@example.com) about writing a guest post for this blog.
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