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Waiting for the OAS: The General Secretariat's Haiti diatribe is late, but right

Haiti Gangs and Business
Rodrigo Abd
/
AP
RULE OF LAW SUNK Haitian gang members brandish the smuggled military-style weapons that have helped them gain control over much of the country

COMMENTARY The Organization of American States' rant about the international community's epic failures in Haiti sounds hypocritical — but necessary nonetheless.

This week the Organization of American States (OAS) issued a remarkable condemnation of the international community’s epic failure in epically failed Haiti. It scolded the world for having left “chaos, destruction, and violence behind” there and insisted “the country does not today, nor will it in the near future, have the conditions” for fixing its harrowing catastrophe “alone.”

To which those of us who report on Haiti responded in chorus:

“Gee — d’ya think?”

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Samuel Becket waited for Godot longer than we’ve been waiting for bodies like the OAS (the western hemisphere's U.N.) to acknowledge how badly the international community — including the OAS itself — has so often screwed up in Haiti. But we’re hardly surprised: it took the U.N. six years to admit its peacekeeping forces had brought a deadly cholera epidemic to Haiti shortly after the country’s apocalyptic 2010 earthquake.

Our reporter notebooks having been gathering cobwebs just as long — especially after last summer’s brutal assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse — waiting for an entity like the OAS to unequivocally declare that Haiti can’t pull itself back from the Dantean abyss it’s fallen into without more serious and competent international assistance.

READ MORE: Yes, it's fair to say that Biden, Democrats created Haitian crisis in Del Rio — along with GOP

It’s as if the OAS General Secretariat finally had a fire lit under its diplomatic derrière after hearing about the latest grisly atrocity committed by the gangs that control much of Haiti as government and rule of law there sink into the shark-infested Caribbean. Last Saturday, the burned corpses of former Haitian Senator Yvon Buissereth and his nephew were found in the charred remains of their car outside Port-au-Prince after they were attacked by members of the vicious Ti Makak group. That sort of Mad Max terror has been common in Haiti for well over a year now, if not two.

Still, as much as the OAS denunciations and recommendations were egregiously late, they’re laudable. It tears into the international community for two decades of “erratic” strategy in Haiti that’s left “not a single institution” there “stronger than it was before." But it nonetheless insists “[w]e would be fooling ourselves to think” the mess can be fixed without foreign help. This time, it urges countries to stop thinking that “contributing money” to Haiti is “the same as having ideas.”

After the OAS' Haiti diatribe, let’s hope it doesn’t take the international community as long to act on the problem as it’s taken them to admit the problem — and their role in it.

The OAS lays out three priorities: brokering dialogue between the country’s warring political factions; ensuring a “trustworthy” presidential and parliamentary election; and restoring public security.

Numbers one and two are important — but, as last weekend’s horror reminds us, they ain’t happening without number three.

IT'S THE GUNS, STUPID

A year after the 2010 quake, Haiti’s rebuilding process was being stymied because the international community had been astonishingly negligent about helping the country clear the massive fields of debris. Building business parks was sexier than removing boulders. So I wrote an article headlined: “Haiti’s Quake, One Year Later: It’s the Rubble, Stupid!”

LuisAlmagroOAS.jpeg
Jacquelyn Martin
/
AP
OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro

Today I’d headline it: "It’s the Guns, Stupid!” As in, the military-style guns being smuggled to Haiti’s gangs, especially from U.S. states like Florida. Until the gangs’ firepower is muzzled, they’ll keep lording over Haiti. And until their lording is over, national remedies like political dialogue and new elections can’t be administered.

For one thing, too many Haitian political bosses right now rely on those gangs as enforcers. For another, if Haiti’s gangs aren’t even allowing fuel or food trucks to pass safely in and out of their territories today, they’re sure as hell not going to let voters safely in and out of polling places.

The OAS seems to admit as much. A great deal of its diatribe focuses on “bring[ing] the violence under control and disarm[ing] the armed gangs.”

But how? The OAS mentions MINUSTAH, the U.N. peacekeeping mission that was installed in Haiti from 2004 until 2017. It doesn’t expressly say it should be re-installed — although some Haitian officials have urged the U.N. to bring it back — but it’s hard to see how order can be restored in Haiti without something like it.

Whatever solutions are pursued — and they have to be decided on in consultation with Haitians themselves for once — let’s hope it doesn’t take the OAS and the international community as long to act on the problem as it’s taken them to admit the problem. And their role in it.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.