Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wants European countries to join Canada in sanctioning Haitian elites for their alleged links to the violent gangs that have crippled the country.
He also said Canada must avoid repeating past mistakes when responding to requests for foreign military intervention from Haiti’s unpopular government.
“We have a long history in Haiti, and 30 years later, we still find ourselves in a crisis, if not more serious than other countries,” Trudeau said in French in a year-end interview with The Canadian Press on Monday. .
“We are leading the United States, and even Europe, to impose their own sanctions.”
Haiti has endured numerous invasions and foreign military interventions over the decades, including six United Nations operations since the 1990s. One lasted 13 years and ended in 2017 with a cholera outbreak brought by UN peacekeepers.
Now, the country is plunged into even more chaos.
Haiti has not held elections since before the COVID-19 pandemic. Prime Minister Ariel Henry takes over as president following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July 2021.
Instability in the country has given violent, feuding gangs control of key infrastructure and the capital, Port-au-Prince.
This led to power outages, shameless massacres and cholera outbreaks.
Henry’s government has called for foreign military intervention to create humanitarian corridors, a move endorsed by the UN secretary general. Earlier this year, U.S. officials named Canada as a possible leader for such a mission.
The International Crisis Group said the idea could stop the violence, but many in Haiti’s political opposition fought back. They argued that this would only lead to more chaos and entrench Henry’s rule, which they challenged on constitutional grounds.
Trudeau said Canada has not closed the door to participating in or even leading a military intervention. But he said Ottawa has sanctioned more than a dozen senior Haitian politicians and business leaders in an effort to bring about lasting change.
“We have not given up on any negotiations, but with 30 years of experience in Haiti we know very well that there are huge challenges in any intervention,” he said in French.
“It’s clear that we have to change our approach this time, and that’s why we’re imposing sanctions.”
The way forward requires not only consensus among Haitian political players, but support from Caribbean neighbors and even parts of South America so that whatever happens, it is not seen as another Western meddling in Haiti.
“We know that making mistakes or doing the wrong thing can make things worse and put many people at risk,” Trudeau said in French.
“We remain fully engaged, but we know that finding the right solutions is what people need.”
Trudeau said the idea behind the sanctions was to try to build consensus by holding political elites to account rather than committing resources that would not lead to lasting reform.
These resources don’t always work.
Canada, for example, funds a number of programs aimed at training the Haitian National Police, including having RCMP officers mentor recruits. However, the force was largely ineffective in fighting gangs, one of which was led by former HNP officer Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier.
This fall, Ottawa took the extraordinary step of sanctioning Haiti by putting the country’s most recent president and prime minister on the list, including someone from Henry’s party.
“This could be a way of breaking this long-standing pattern,” Trudeau said, describing a series of failures in Canada, the United States, France, Europe and the United Nations.
“Our role is to see how we can help and we can’t be naive anymore.”
Regardless, Trudeau said Canada is ready to play a key role in whatever happens in Haiti.
“It’s a challenge that is very close to our hearts, there is a level of trust between the Haitian people and the Canadian government, and a lesser level of trust between them and other allies elsewhere,” he said in French.
“We recognize that we will play a leading role in this.”
The Canadian Press report was first published on December 13, 2022.