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What the assassination of the Haitian President means for US foreign policy

The assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise has shocked the country and sparked discussions in the international community about how to contribute to stability. But Haiti's long history of foreign engagement cannot be ignored, nor can the fact that aid has often been given, whether or not Haiti benefited from it.

On Wednesday July 7th, President Moise was shot 16 times when Hatian officials claim a group of "professional killers" stormed his home in a suburb near Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti. Prime Minister Claude Joseph took the lead and immediately declared a two-week state of siege in the country to contain the backlash. Joseph's authority is questioned by some, however, as President Moise proclaimed Ariel Henry as the new Prime Minister just two days before he was assassinated. Henry was due to be sworn in last week. To make matters worse, Haiti currently has two conflicting constitutions that give different instructions on what to do when the president is no longer in power.

Moise's thirst for power determined his presidency

Moise himself had a tumultuous presidency as of 2017, highlighted by his authoritarian tactics and his inability to win the trust of Haitainers. Shortly after his election, Moise revived the nation's army, which had disbanded two decades earlier. This was a controversial decision in a country still grappling with the aftermath of its disaster 2010 Earthquake, stokes fears that the army would already use limited resources. Further skepticism arose from the history of the army's human rights violations and the numerous coup attempts. The decision to bring the army back set the tone for Moise's presidency as he consistently prioritized his interests and power over those of the people. In the absence of a functioning legislature, Haitian law allows the president to rule by decree, and in January 2020 Moise refused to hold general elections, dismissing all of the country's elected mayors, thereby dismissing his Power.

Other worsening problems in February Moise refused to step down, despite legal experts and members of an opposition coalition claiming his term expired on February 7. Moise claimed that due to a delay in the 2017 elections, his presidency would last through 2022, and his refusal to step down sparked mass anger and frustration that culminated in public protests and no-to-dictatorship chants.

While the identity of the killers has not been confirmed, speculation seems to have been determined by party affiliation. Moise supporters have stated that he was shot dead by a predominantly Colombian group of contract killers, while some opposition politicians claim he was killed by his own guards. Others said the Colombians were hired as personal guards to protect Moise from outside threats. Fifteen Colombian suspects are currently in custody along with two Hatian-American suspects, others are still suspected on the whole.

Haiti's current call for intervention is a reminder of its past

The Moise assassination leaves Haiti with an unstable government and an increasingly frustrated population. In addition to the current state of siege put in place by Prime Minister Joseph, Haiti's interim government has formally requested the US to deploy precautionary security aid to protect infrastructure including Haiti's seaport, airport and fuel reserves. During a briefing on Friday, Press Secretary Jen Psaki offered moderate support to the White House, saying, “We will send high-level FBI and DHS officials to Port-au-Prince as soon as possible to assess the situation and how we are in the Might be able to help. "

It remains to be seen how the Biden administration will react, but when US troops are sent to Haiti this could begin feel like a political déjà vu. Haiti has a long history of American military intervention.

Foreign intervention in Haiti has often made the situation worse

United States involvement began as early as the 1790s when it aided French colonists in an attempt to quell insurrections Groups of enslaved Haitians. As the revolution grew, so did US hostility towards Haiti, fearing that the revolutionary discourse would spill over to the enslaved people in the US. And although Haiti became independent in 1804, the United States did not recognize it as an independent nation until 1862.

This attitude towards Haiti changed drastically in 1915 after President Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam was assassinated a few months after taking office due to his authoritarian rule and repressive acts. In the face of heightened turmoil, President Woodrow Wilson sent US marines to Haiti to rebuild the nation and restore political and economic stability. However, the military occupation lasted nearly 20 years, during which the US controlled parts of the country's government and finances. In 1917, the Wilson government attempted to impose a new constitution on the Hatian government that allowed foreign land ownership that was prohibited to protect domestic resources and prevent foreign powers from controlling it.

A more recent intervention has occurred 1994, when the US dispatched troops to restore Jean-Bertrand Aristide to the presidency and neutralize the militant group that overthrew him and took power. The intervention, known as Operation Restore Democracy, has ultimately been successful since Aristide returned to the presidency, but questions about the longevity of the operation and the need for US involvement persist to this day.

"The Haiti intervention was a short-lived success," James Dobbins, a US special envoy during the operation, told Time Magazine. "Haiti has shown that these things take a long time – they don't change society overnight."

Indeed, foreign intervention has been shown to have changed Haitian society but not necessarily positive. After the January 2010 earthquake that struck Haiti and killed over 200,000 people, The United Nations dispatched peacekeeping forces to assist in the reconstruction effort. However, that is After October, sewage from a peacekeeping base contaminated a large water supply and led to a cholera outbreak. In an economy already weakened by the earthquake and severely underfunded health and sanitation facilities, the outbreak was catastrophic, affecting nearly 800,000 Haitians and killing around 10,000. It took the UN six years to face up to its responsibilities.

After the Moise assassination, many questions remain about the role of the United States, including how to successfully effect change over the long term.

Robert Fatton, a Haiti-born historian and professor of political science at the University of Virginia, spoke to Time Magazine about the damage that international engagement has done in Haiti. "[After the intervention] Haiti became a country that depended on international financial organizations for its funding and budget – it was and is at the mercy of what the international community is willing to give," he said.

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