New Travel Advisory Shifts Haiti into Level 4: Do Not Travel, Continued Impact Following Jovenel Moïse's Assassination

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Imagine a climate in which obtaining an identity card took almost a year and where nearly half of all families are living in poverty. This is the picture of Haiti. Less than 30% of the country has access to sanitation. Eight million (of an estimated 10 million large population) live without electricity. [i]

On April 19, 2022, a Travel Advisory issued by the US Department of State regarding Haiti assigned the troubled country status of Level 4: Do Not Travel. The advisory recommends tourists refrain from traveling to Haiti because of criminal activity, kidnapping for ransom, and general civil unrest. [ii]

Most people likely recall the July 7, 2021, assassination of Haiti's then-president Jovenel Moïse in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The assassination only further catapulted Haiti into domestic conflict. As evidenced by Haiti's already tumultuous civil climate, the assassination seems to speak to the country's sustainability or lack thereof. There is a clear and present need for stable leadership to begin rebuilding and restructuring what remains of the country. [iii]

Watching as the country slowly fragments through seemingly self-inflicted means can seem difficult to comprehend. However, reviewing the United States' history with Haiti, the timeline of the attack on then-president Moïse, and several theories regarding the motives behind Moïse's assassination are excellent starting points in understanding the United States' past and potential future involvement.

Former President Jovenel Moïse, Assassinated in Private Residence by “Mercenaries”

Jovenel Moïse, Haiti's President, was assassinated at his residence in a barbaric act executed by a group of assailants. [iv] Heavily armed gunmen appear in what is reported to be live footage capturing Moïse's residence during the attack. [v] The assailants are alleged to be 26 Colombians and two Haitian Americans dubbed 'foreign mercenaries' by Leon Charles, the interim Haiti national police chief. [vi] The assassination of Moïse occurred when Haiti was facing a significant level of political turmoil. [vii]

Due to the US's past relations with Haiti, there are several vital facts you should know regarding Haiti and the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse:

  1. Despite persistently being portrayed negatively, President Jovenel Moïse made several contributions to the community before being elected.
  2. In addition to his notable contributions, Moïse made equally, if not more bad decisions, resulting in stalled growth for the country following a 14-month-long drawn-out election process.
  3. Many neighboring nations openly condemned the assassination and could allude to future intervention.
  4. Following the assassination, Haiti continues to be inundated with violence resulting in the Level 4 classification of Do Not Travel by the US Department of State. [vii]

President Moïse's Notable Impacts

Many have reported on President Jovenel Moïse's assassination and placed the blame for Haiti's political turmoil squarely on the President's shoulders. NPR.org quotes Francois Pierre-Louis, a Haitian politics expert at Queens College, who stated, "He made a lot of enemies. [The attack] could have come from anywhere. And he alienated too many people." [viii]

Despite the present state of Haiti, it is essential to remember the positive contributions Jovenel Moïse made before his presidency. Moïse was responsible for beginning a clean water project in 2001 to provide clean water to rural areas. In addition to the clean water project, Moïse also assisted in founding the Haitian Energy Company SA. This initiative sought to give wind and solar power to several communes in the Northwest Department. Moïse was also taking steps to resolve the political unrest within Haiti. He attempted this through consensual resolution, meeting with US Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft regarding implementing these changes. [ix]

Jovenel Moïse's Election and Subsequent Questionable Dictator-Like Behaviors

Despite an official investigation into claims of voter fraud, many believe that Moïse's election as Haiti's President resulted from irregularities and fraud. The presidential election originally began in October 2015 when the first round of voting resulted in no candidate winning the outright majority. This resulted in a runoff, but the vote was delayed several times due to concerns regarding possible outbreaks of violence. [x]

After numerous rescheduled dates, elections were finally scheduled for November 2016, during which Moïse won outright, nullifying the need for a runoff vote. Rivals challenged the vote, but the electoral tribunal confirmed Moïse's victory. Despite a few protests by opposers, Jovenel Moïse would take office. Over the years of his presidency, Haiti would fall deeper into political instability, with many criticizing the President, who conveyed very grand views during his campaigning for the presidency. [xi]

Despite depicting a desire to stamp out crime and corruption throughout the country, restructure and update the infrastructure, and work diligently towards clean water and sanitation access for all, Moïse's efforts seemed to have halted following the elections. [xii] Despite long-standing disapproval by the general population, Jovenel Moïse prevailed by vote as a legitimate leader but failed to hold necessary parliamentary elections in 2019. Further, any official who contested Moïse's decisions were unilaterally replaced by Moïse, shutting down Parliament and forcing elected officials to desert their posts. [xiii].

Though Moïse is quoted as telling the NY Times, "I am not a dictator," in a 2021 interview, the actions of then-President Moïse allude to a different precept. A few examples of such actions include Moïse's attempt to advance legislation that would allow greater control and longer terms for his office. [xiv] Despite the failure of these attempts, Moïse continued to attempt to enact decrees despite lacking parliamentary consent. He attempted this amongst a population with high rates of illiteracy, many of whom rely nearly entirely on radio broadcasts for updated information. [xv]

The Assassination of Jovenel Moïse Has Been Condemned 

President Biden of the United States of America denounced the assassination of Moïse, confirming the United States' readiness and willingness to assist in securing Haiti if needed. Many leaders across the globe weighed in on the assassination of the Haitian President, speculating the impacts of such a heinous act. Josep Borrell, foreign policy chief of the European Union, cautioned that the assassination was likely to result in greater instability within the country and a spiral of violence. This premonition would prove all too true following the assassination. [xvi]

In addition to the numerous nations who spoke out, the Dominican Republic made a bold statement by closing its border following the assassination. In addition, the Dominican Republic has increased its military presence, citing fears that the assassination will result in heightened levels of violence.  [xvii]

As many may have forgotten, the United States once invaded and occupied Haiti. The reason for the occupation was eerily similar to what just occurred with President Jovenel Moïse. In 1915 the Haitian President was assassinated. President Woodrow Wilson deployed United States Marines into Haiti to assist in restoring political stability within the country. [xviii]

With this in mind, the question looming in everyone's mind may likely be the same. "Will the recent assassination of President Jovenel Moïse result in intercession by the United States and deployments of the United States Armed Forces to Haiti?" The 1915 invasion of Haiti resulted in the United States gaining the right to intervene in Haiti when necessary and granted them complete control over Haitian finances.  [xix]

For a little more than 15 years, the United States would remain in Haiti until the 1934 Good Neighbor Policy led to the United States' official withdrawal from Haiti. As seen in recent years, Haiti's political and economic climate has been steadily declining. [xx]

Now, with the assassination of Moïse, Haiti is being thrust even further into economic despair. It is crucial to consider the implications of the United States President's recent comments regarding the assassination. If the United States were to intervene, there is a potential for much American bloodshed. Say Haiti takes its usual path of performing strikes and uprisings to dismantle the attempts at restructuring Haiti; this could be detrimental for any forces involved. [xxi]

As a result, great care should be taken before any decision to get involved or provide troops. History has proven that Haiti is constantly at an internal war within its own borders regarding power and control of resources. Involvement by the United States should be reviewed to confirm if any benefit will be realized or if this is an instance in which the United States should limit involvement. [xxii]

Haiti Assigned Level 4: Do Not Travel Further Implicating a Need for Restructuring

A new travel advisory highlighting the continuous pitfalls of Haiti warns tourists not to travel to the country due to rampant criminal activity, kidnapping for ransom, and civil unrest. [xxiii] The term 'mercenaries' is one of the most highly publicized elements of Jovenel Moïse's assassination, what some officials reported the armed assailants allegedly responsible for as being. In its simplest sense, a mercenary is a highly-trained private military contractor. Private military groups, including the US's Blackwater and private military groups from Uganda, Iraq, and Columbia, emerge daily, ready and willing to pay for highly trained arms-for-hire. [xxiv]

The highlighting of the term mercenary has, in some eyes, "brought to light" the shadowy mystery cloaked world of military strongarm for hire. Potentially to the surprise of many, US participation in mercenary activities is far from removed. In 1965, civilian and military personnel were selected for covert training. This internal 'military structure' would be used for counter-agent functions to 'sabotage terrorist activities.' Thus, Counterrevolutionary Warfare was born, as detailed by Brigadier General William Yarborough's military files. [xxv] [xxvi]

So, we know that the United States intentionally trained groups of civilian and military personnel as inside insurgents in Colombia. They did this to beat them at their own game, so to speak, and in response to the ever-evolving 'drug crisis.' Confirming this statement requires a review of the annotation to the 349 page Counterrevolutionary War publication. The publication reads: "Counterrevolutionary forces must adopt revolutionary strategy and principles and apply them in reverse to defeat the revolutionaries with their own weapons on their own battlefield." [xxvii]

Thus, with neither mercenaries nor counterinsurgency nearly novel concepts, it begs the question of the United States' true motives in its continued support of Haiti. On numerous occasions throughout history, the United States has stepped in for Haiti—in 1990 against Jean-Claude "Baby Doc," and in 1994 and 2004 against Aristide. [xxviii] The motive purports to be revolutionizing the country's political environment and revitalizing citizens and their quality of life. Regardless of this, how can the US allege to be fighting a war against such similarly motivated individuals if it contributes to furthering their motives through involvement in mercenary activities? [xxix]

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Charnell Gilchrist

References

[i] Bertelsmann Stiftung, Haiti Country Report 2022, (2022) https://bti-project.org/en/reports/country-report/HTI

[ii] US Department of State, Haiti Travel Advisory, (April 19, 2022) https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories/haiti-travel-advisory.html

[iii] BBC News, Haiti president's assassination: What we know so far, (January 20, 2022) https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-57762246

[iv] Id.

[v] Keoni Everington, Haiti president assassinated by 'mercenaries' posing as DEA agents, (July 8, 2022) https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/4243021

[vi] Jacqueline Charles, Johnny Fils-Aimé, Haiti President Jovenel Moïse assassinated in middle-of-the-night attack at his home, (January 25, 2022) https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/haiti/article252616688.html

[vii] Laurel Wamsley, Even Before Jovenel Moïse’s Assassination, Haiti Was In Crisis, (Jul 7, 2021) https://www.npr.org/2021/07/07/1013879000/even-before-jovenel-Moïses-assassination-haiti-was-in-crisis

[viii] Id.

[ix] NAN Staff Writer, Five Things You Should Know About Haiti's New President, (November 30, 2016) https://www.newsamericasnow.com/five-things-you-should-know-about-haitis-new-president/

[x] Id.

[xi] Frances Robles, He Went from Banana Exporter to President: 'I Am Not a Dictator', (July 7, 2021; Updated September 14, 2021) https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/07/world/americas/haiti-president-jovenel-Moïse-assassination.html

[xii] Merrit Kennedy, Protestors Demand Resignation of Haitian President Over Corruption Allegations, (June 11, 2019) https://www.npr.org/2019/06/11/731640235/protesters-demand-resignation-of-haitian-president-over-corruption-allegations

[xiii] Bertelsmann Stiftung, Haiti Country Report 2022, (2022) https://bti-project.org/en/reports/country-report/HTI

[xiv] Frances Robles, He Went from Banana Exporter to President: 'I Am Not a Dictator', (July 7, 2021; Updated September 14, 2021) https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/07/world/americas/haiti-president-jovenel-Moïse-assassination.html

[xv] Bertelsmann Stiftung, Haiti Country Report 2022, (2022) https://bti-project.org/en/reports/country-report/HTI

[xvi] Id.

[xvii] Daniel Publisi, Haiti: Statement by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell on the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, (Aug 7, 2021) https://www.eeas.europa.eu/eeas/haiti-statement-high-representativevice-president-josep-borrell-assassination-president_en

[xviii] Office of the Historian, US Invasion and Occupation of Haiti, 1915-34, (2022) https://history.state.gov/milestones/1914-1920/haiti#:~:text=Following%20the%20assassination%20of%20the,This%20occupation%20continued%20until%201934.

[xix] Id.

[xx] Id.

[xxi] Bertelsmann Stiftung, Haiti Country Report 2022, (2022) https://bti-project.org/en/reports/country-report/HTI

[xxii] Id.

[xxiii] US Department of State, Haiti Travel Advisory, (April 19, 2022) https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories/haiti-travel-advisory.html

[xxiv] Luis Jaime Acosta, Julia Symmes Cobb, Why were Colombian ex-soldiers in Haiti? Experts say they are popular mercenaries, (July 9, 2021) https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/why-were-colombian-ex-soldiers-haiti-experts-say-they-are-popular-mercenaries-2021-07-09/

[xxv] Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, The Inventory of the William P. Yarborough Collection #231, (ND) chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/http://archives.bu.edu/finding-aid/finding_aid_123022.pdf

[xxvi] J J Maccuen, Art of Counter-Revolutionary War – A Psycho-Politico-Military Strategy of Counter-Insurgency, https://www.ojp.gov/ncjrs/virtual-library/abstracts/art-counter-revolutionary-war-psycho-politico-military-strategy

[xxvii] Id.

[xxviii] Id.

[xxix] Id.

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Currently pursuing a Juris Doctor at Western State College of Law, freelance writer Charnell Gilchrist, a North Carolina native, now spends her free time writing in sunny Aliso Viejo, CA.

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