United Nations Peacekeepers Could Leave Haiti After Nearly 13 Years

Feb 18, 2017
Originally published on February 19, 2017 12:38 am
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now to Haiti, where there's talk of U.N. peacekeepers finally leaving the country. They've been there for 13 years since a 2004 coup that overthrew former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Now, this isn't the first time discussions have been brought up about the peacekeepers leaving. Some soldiers have been tied to sexual abuse allegations and a cholera epidemic that killed nearly 10,000 Haitians, this when the country was already reeling from the 2010 earthquake. But perhaps even more important, Haitian leaders say that they are ready to do the job on their own.

We wanted to know more about this, so we called Jacqueline Charles, as we often do, to tell us about Haiti. She's the Caribbean correspondent with the Miami Herald, and she's with us now from member station WLRN in Miami. Jacqueline Charles, thanks so much for joining us once again.

JACQUELINE CHARLES: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So what has been the view of the peacekeepers in the country over the years? Has their presence been generally welcomed or not?

CHARLES: Their presence has not been generally welcomed. And it really depends on who you talk to. Some people see the U.N. presence in Haiti as an occupation of a sovereign country. But at the same time, if you talk to businesspeople, they will tell you very quietly that you know what? It's been a good thing that the peacekeepers have been here because there's been the psychological impact, at least in recent years, in terms of this sense of stability.

But we have to remember the context in which the peacekeepers went to Haiti. This was 2004. We had armed gangs. The place was basically ungovernable. And they brought in security. And so we are now 13 years later, and the question is does Haiti still need a United Nations force in the country?

MARTIN: Who is initiating these discussions about the peacekeepers leaving? Is it the Haitian government or is it the United Nations? And what makes this different? I take it from your reporting that you think this is different this time.

CHARLES: It is different this time. I mean, this is the United Nations and the member states. I mean, we have to remember there are a lot of crises around the world. They need money. This operation in Haiti is $346 million a year. And over the last couple of years, every time there's been an attempt to discuss leaving or at attempt to leave something has happened.

So here we are today, just a couple of weeks into the inauguration of a new president, and the U.N. and member states are saying, you know what? Now is time. And they're not going to fully leave. What they're talking about is the military arm and saying it's time for us to pull out because there are other places around the world that need a U.N. force. And this is the only place in the Western hemisphere that has a U.N. peacekeeping mission on the ground.

MARTIN: Who will take their place or what will take their place? Has there been an effort to develop - what? - a national police force? Will it be the Haitian army?

CHARLES: And that is where the real debate and the sticking point is. I mean, the United States and the United Nations, as well as Canada, they have invested billions of dollars in Haiti's national police. The last time the U.N. left, which was in 1999, within a year or two of their departure the Haitian National Police basically collapsed. So today they're saying you know what? We don't want to go back here again. We've invested billions of dollars in strengthening this police force. They've proven that they can provide security. But we still need to continue to do this.

But what's happening now is that there are others on the ground who want the U.N.'s presence replaced with an army. Their argument is that the Haitian National Police just cannot do the job by itself and that this is a sovereign country and we need an army.

MARTIN: So what would you say is the general atmosphere?

CHARLES: The general atmosphere is sort of a wait and see. People want change. They want to see an improvement in their lives. The country had 0.8 percent economic growth last year, everything just grinded (ph) to a complete halt. And they're ready to just sort of move on.

MARTIN: That's Jacqueline Charles. She's the Caribbean correspondent for the Miami Herald. She's reported on Haiti for years. She's speaking with us from member station WLRN in Miami. Jacqueline Charles, thanks so much for speaking with us.

CHARLES: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.