Recreating the Haitian Army: Here We Go Again

  • Posted on: 15 July 2017
  • By: Bryan Schaaf
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Haiti's government has launched a campaign to re-establish its army, dissolved more than 20 years ago.  It wants to recruit about 500 men and women to help deal with natural disasters and to patrol borders.  The recruitment drive follows the announcement by the United Nations mission that it would be leaving Haiti in October.  But critics say the island's small budget should be spent on the national police force of about 15,000 officers.

A Ministry of Defence statement said the recruitment drive is open to both men and women between the ages of 18 and 25, who have passed their secondary education exams. The UN Security Council agreed in April to withdraw their security forces, the blue helmets, and leave only a small police presence to support the Haitian police.  The UN departure has sparked a debate over whether Haiti should or should not form a new army.

Many politicians support the idea arguing it would provide jobs for young people.  But the government's critics say a military force could quickly become politicised, becoming a weapon in the hands of whoever is the president or prime minister. For much of Haiti's history, the army has been used to crack down on political dissent by a series of authoritarian presidents.

During the 29-year family dynasty founded by Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier in the 1950s, the army was pushed aside and replaced by the Tonton Macoutes, a feared private militia famed for its savagery. But when Duvalier's son, Jean Claude, was ousted and fled to France in 1986, the army high command - notorious for its repressive tactics and packed with Duvalier appointees - remained in place. After Haiti's first democratically-elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was ousted in a 1991 military coup, soldiers and paramilitary forces committed countless atrocities and are estimated to have killed about 4,000 people over the next three years. Haiti's leaders argue the new army would have different kinds of military duties, providing help after natural disasters and fighting smuggling. Many international donors have been unenthusiastic, after having poured billions of dollars into developing the Haitian National Police which now has about 15,000 trained members.





By  Makini Brice


GRESSIER, Haiti (Reuters) - Hundreds of Haitians lined up in the blazing sun for a chance to join the country's newly formed military this week, looking past concerns about a lack of funding for the force and a history of bloody coups. Young men motivated by scarce jobs in the Americas' poorest economy waited since early Monday morning at a base on the outskirts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, to be interviewed by recruiters. Haiti has been without military forces since 1995, when former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide disbanded the army after he returned to power following a coup and the national police became responsible for security.  "The army that we build today will be a professional army that will protect our future, if the state takes it seriously," said John Felix, a 25-year-old from the southern city of Les Cayes, as he waited to enlist. 

The new army's job will be to patrol the seas and the border with the Dominican Republic, Haiti's neighbor on the island of Hispanola, and to help rebuild after natural disasters in a country that has suffered death and destruction from a catastrophic earthquake and a fierce hurricane in recent years. Minister of Defense Herve Denis said the army would also fight terrorism and he envisions a force of around 500 compared to the 15,000-member police force. 

The military mounted dozens of coups in Haiti and its forces were accused of rampant human rights abuses. A recruiter interviews a woman who is trying to join the country's reformed military in Gressier, Haiti July 18, 2017.Jeanty Junior Augustin Now, critics and activists complain the army could stretch the limited resources of a government that is already struggling to pay for education and health care. "Haiti is not yet ready to reconstruct the army of Haiti. It's going to cost a lot of money," said Pierre Esperance, who heads Haiti's National Human Rights Defense Network.  "The authorities can't manage the national police, how are they going to manage a new force?" Esperance asked.

Former president Michel Martelly, whose term ended last year, and Jovenel Moise, who took power in February, both backed plans for the new army. On Tuesday, potential recruits waited inside an air-conditioned room for officials to sift through their diplomas, photographs and identity documents.

Louicin Dieudonne, who leads the registration process, said more than 1,000 people had tried to enlist so far but many were too old or lacked the necessary education. Only 300 had made it through the first level of screening, he said. Recruits still face medical exams and psychological and intelligence tests. "We have borders that aren't controlled at all. We have insecurity in the country, and unemployment too," said potential recruit, Whitman Francisque, 25. "I want to bring order to the country."

Reporting by Makini Brice; editing by Michael O'Boyle and Grant McCool

By Andres Martinez Casares and Joseph Guyler Delva


Haiti’s president on Saturday heralded the re-establishment of the country’s military after 22 years, a divisive issue in the impoverished Caribbean nation which has a history of bloody coups and political instability.  Haiti has been without military forces since 1995, when former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide disbanded the army after returning to power following a coup, leaving the national police responsible for security. The army’s comeback has been a divisive topic in a country still suffering from a catastrophic earthquake and a fierce hurricane in recent years, with critics and activists concerned that armed forces would meddle in politics and rob essential resources from education and health care.

Haitian President Jovenel Moise on Thursday named former army colonel Jodel Lesage as acting commander-in-chief, moving troops closer to full operation. The appointment still needs to be approved by Haiti’s senate. On Saturday, Moise welcomed the army’s anticipated return with a parade featuring dozens of camouflaged soldiers toting rifles in the northern coastal city of Cap-Haitien, calling on Haitians to recall the Battle of Vertieres won against French colonialists exactly 214 years ago. “The army is our mother,” he said. “When your mother is sick and wears dirty clothes, you do not kill her. You take her to the hospital. So let us join forces to provide needed care to our mother.”

After Haiti’s independence, the military mounted dozens of coups and its forces were accused of rampant human rights abuses. Moise acknowledged that history, but vowed that the new military would be different. The United Nations has called for increased support for the Haitian National Police (HNP) with about 15,000 members. A U.N.-backed mission to aid Haiti’s justice system and law enforcement arrived in October, replacing a much larger peacekeeping mission that had focused on stability efforts since 2004.

“Having demonstrated its ability to maintain stability and guard against security threats, the HNP has emerged as one of the most trusted governmental institutions in Haiti,” U.N. spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement last month. Haitian defense minister Herve Denis told Reuters the army will begin with 500 soldiers in engineering, medical and aviation corps, but is still working to fill its ranks.

A recruiting process was well underway by last July, attracting many young men in a country that is the poorest in the Americas. Denis said the government plans to ultimately expand to 5,000 troops working to protect Haitian borders, fight terrorism, curb illegal trade and aid Haitians affected by natural disasters. Government opponents fear the Moise administration could use the military to crack down on foes despite the president’s claims that troops will steer clear of politics. “I don’t believe the Moise regime really wants to reinstate the army, but instead set up a political militia to persecute political opponents,” said Andre Michel, spokesman for an opposition coalition that has called for Moise’s resignation.

Reporting by Andres Martinez Casares and Joseph Guyler Delva,; Editing by Daina Beth Solomon and Alistair Bell

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