The Biggest Gang in Haiti is the United States

Washington is preparing yet another military intervention in Haiti, all on the pretext of saving Haitians from the chaos it creates and exploits. Haitians deserve reparations, not soldiers.

The Biggest Gang in Haiti is the United States
A totaled car in front of MINUSTAH headquarters in 2011, where it was left to remind soldiers not to drink and drive. Photo: Arikia Millikan

Edited by Sam Thielman

Spencer here. By the time you read this edition, the United Nations may already have voted, in a perversion of international law, to soft-endorse a U.S.-led military intervention in Haiti, a country the French and then the Americans have ravaged and exploited for hundreds of years. To cover it better than I could, here is a piece from my friend Arikia Millikan, a former colleague of mine at WIRED who has reported from Haiti many times.

SO. IT'S TIME FOR ANOTHER ROUND of a favorite American game show, which we’ll call “Can the Haitian People Manage Themselves, or Does the First World Need to Intervene?” Unfortunately, this show ends the same way every time.

Thus far this week, the U.S. has already sent security forces to Port-au-Prince, in the form of “an elite disaster assistance response team” and has deployed a “major Coast Guard vessel to patrol the Haitian coast.” More U.S. “security vessels” are expected to arrive on Saturday. Canada and Mexico have also jumped on the bandwagon, so now the U.S. can quasi-legitimately call it a multi-national military force, rather than a unilateral one, which is much closer to what it is.

The excuse this time? Gangs. The U.N. Security Council is slated to vote on Friday on a resolution “demanding an immediate end to violence and criminal activity in Haiti” [lol] and to impose sanctions on gang leader “Jimmy Barbecue” Chérizier, so named for his penchant for burning opponents alive. The Washington Post eagerly advocated an intervention "justified on humanitarian grounds [that] dovetails with the United States’ own interests."

It’s a convenient story—a tale of good and evil made for Hollywood, both snackable and easy to endorse. But as Irish Parliamentarian Clare Daly said during an Oct 5 debate in the European Union Parliament, “If Haiti is a mess–and it is–then Europe and the US are to blame. If we want to support the Haitian people—and we should—we’ll stand up to the US, the world’s bully, tell them to get out of Haiti and get out of it ourselves.” Lydia Polgreen agreed in the New York Times: “The first step to helping Haiti fulfill its destiny, to be the independent Black republic its revolution promised, may be for the rest of us to get out of its way,” she wrote.

As reported by the Miami Herald, on Oct. 14, the U.S. proposed a United Nations Security Council resolution that would encourage “the immediate deployment of a multinational rapid action force.” The resolution comes on the heels of a push for military action by the U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, who on Oct. 10 requested that someone intervene in Haiti. Guterres had been careful to state publicly that this militarized force definitely would not originate from the U.N. itself (again), but suggested that if, perhaps, some other, non-U.N. entity (wink wink, nudge nudge) wanted to step up and intervene by creating a multi-national special force (again), this would be a great idea. Of course it would definitely not be a U.N. deployment—the U.N. would “simply welcome such a force” which Guterres might “boost U.N. capacity to support.” But not in a militarized way or anything like that; just to “ensure the coordination” of efforts with said hypothetical international force.

If you’re not sure why the U.N. couldn’t just come out and say what it’s doing—which, to be perfectly clear, is endorsing a U.S.-led military intervention in Haiti—it’s because that course of action didn’t go so well the last time. Even forgetting that there was no valid reason for the 2004 intervention—unless you believe removing another country’s democratically elected leader and then violently suppressing the pushback is a valid reason—there is “accidental genocide” to consider. FADISMA, a law school in Brazil, accused the U.N. of just that in 2011 in its blistering account of the careless introduction of cholera to the impoverished country. The outbreak is now synonymous with the United Nations in Haiti.

The U.N. responded with not much more than a “did I do that?” after creating the deadliest cholera epidemic the world has seen in the last three decades. Scientists found that the disease could have been prevented with a mere $2000 investment into screening kits for soldiers. The U.N. has also refused to clean up its $2 billion mess, nor pay any reparations to Haiti, the 815,000 it infected or the families of the 10,000 dead as a result of this gross negligence.

“To put it in context, the number of cholera infections per capita in Haiti still exceeds the COVID-19 infection rate in any nation,” Beatrice Lindstrom, Harvard law instructor and former director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, told Harvard Law Today in June of 2020. All the more reason to invade, apparently. For three years, there have been no new cases of cholera, but now the disease has returned to the island with over 300 cases documented since September 2022, and is being used to further justify a U.S./U.N. military homecoming.

HAITIANS HAVE OTHER, EQUALLY GRIM reasons to mistrust the U.N., too. Hundreds of members of the U.N.’s military “peacekeeping” operation in Haiti (formerly known as MINUSTAH) were caught raping Haitian people, many of them underaged. Writing in the Guardian, Mark Weisbrot dubbed it the U.N.’s “Abu Ghraib moment in Haiti;” the “constant chorus of laughter” could be heard throughout on a video of one assault. A 2005 U.N. killing spree through notorious slum Cité Soliel left 20 girls under the age of 18 needing treatment for gunshot wounds, according to Doctors Without Borders. “To them, apparently, it's just a drunken party,” Weisbrot noted. That is consistent with my own experiences with the U.N. in Haiti during my several visits there between 2009-2018 to report and visit my Haitian family.

But no party lasts forever. In 2017 Haitians were so justifiably disgusted with the MINUSTAH/U.S. occupation of Haiti that after several violent protests, many directly outside the gates of U.N. headquarters, the force announced its intention to leave Haiti. This was a lie. The occupation changed its name from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti to the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH. See? Totally different), a process the International Peace Institute called “the rambling path of a long-planned but unclear transition.” The new name still didn’t sound removed enough, so in 2019 “the U.N. family” proudly announced it had completed its 15-year mission of peacekeeping in Haiti and changed its name again to the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti. No more mention of missions, stabilization, justice, or any other ironies that had become too much for the Haitian people to bear.

And now the U.N. and the U.S. both want to go back for a more sober, considered rampage. But of course this time it will be fast. Just like how the original MINUSTAH was only supposed to last a year, but was renewed for another 14. And surely this time the gangs, which exist in protest to foreign intervention and the general conditions in Haiti caused by decades of colonial plunder, will really yield to demands to end violence, which the Rapid Action Force will enforce with violence.

Haiti has seen this show on repeat since the original U.S. occupation in 1915. Surely its planners know their excuses won’t convince anyone they’re going to solve Haiti’s gang problem this time. Perhaps to the U.S., Haiti is merely a playground, a place where it can offload all the racism brewing on its own soil, safely and with impunity.

Is it true that Mr. Barbecue is dangerous? Certainly. Powerful? Sure. Is he “the most powerful person” in Haiti, as Polgreen asserted in her Times op-ed this week? The assertion is laughable. Forget about the Haitian Elite, who own the ports and majority of wealth on the island, and have dumped plenty of that wealth in places outside Haiti, as uncovered by the Panama Papers—the biggest gang in Haiti is the CIA, which has been documented to death meddling in Haiti’s affairs in all sorts of ways since at least the 1980s, when it established the Haitian National Intelligence Service and the military that fueled the coups that ousted democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristede.

The fantasy that one monstrous villain is personally the root of Haiti’s problems is identical to the proposition that Osama bin Laden was singularly responsible for all terrorism in the Middle East, and that his elimination would solve problems that owe much of their complexity to decades of backroom handshakes and weapons deals involving the U.S. itself. If the U.N. and U.S. were in Haiti doing such a good job “peacekeeping” and training a civilian army after the 2004 overthrow of Haiti’s duly elected leader, why are there gangs at all? Where did they get their weapons? Who ultimately stands to benefit from the U.S./U.N. intervening once again to address what the Security Council draft dubs “the nation’s worst security and health crisis in decades?”

One thing is clear. While Jimmy Barbecue is being used to justify more military intervention, he would not have the kind of power and influence that attracts international condemnation without the U.S.’s history of military intervention. Many in Haiti question whether government officials under recently assassinated President Jovenel Moïse deliberately armed the gangs backed by U.S. funding in order to fuel the type of instability that would require foreign intervention for military purposes. Deliberate or not, American and U.N. solutions have often involved funding and arming the Haitian police, which is intimately connected to Haiti’s gang culture. (Jimmy Barbecue himself is a former cop.)

This is all just history folding in on itself until no one is left but a single culprit, which is not Mr. Barbecue the Gang Leader, as scary as he may be, but the act of militarized, neo-colonial foreign intervention in Haiti itself. The Haitian people have spoken loudly and clearly against the governmental request for outside intervention, which came from a Prime Minister who was not elected but installed by the coalition of western powers known as the Core Group, which includes representatives from the United Nations. The power of nightmares is a heavy contender, but when the call is coming from inside the house, it’s time to get the fuck out.

If the international community truly wants to help Haiti, it should look outside the text of the U.N. Security Council resolution. Genuine aid begins with confronting the original sin against Haiti, the ransom the country had to pay France, a permanent U.N. Security Council member, which scholar Marlene Daut calls “the greatest heist in history.”

The world must pay reparations to Haiti for what was stolen from them in their victory for independence, and they must pay it directly to the Haitian people. Colonialism, imperialism, and more external military intervention will never work in Haiti—they will only create more monsters while inevitably “needing” to be fought by more imperial forces. The people of Haiti have had enough. Playtime is over.

SPENCER AGAIN. I thought I'd have a second edition of the newsletter this week, but I'm working on a reported piece about Biden's counterterrorism apparatus and it's taking me longer than I expected. So here are a couple of quick items I don't want to get lost in the shuffle.

CHECK OUT Bob Dylan spiraling and writing a Bob Dylan song under the guise of examining Frank Sinatra's "Strangers in The Night." Very relatable Dylan move, if you ask me. Meanwhile, Frank would have probably just said y'know, it's about fuckin' a stranger, but it takes place before.

VIA THE SPYTALK newsletter, here's an email sent to longtime FBI official Paul Abbate, now the deputy director of the FBI and a mainstay of bureau counterterrorism, a week after January 6. An unidentified FBI official says that "from my first-hand and second-hand information from conversations since January 6, there is, at best, a sizable percentage of the employee population that felt sympathetic to the group that stormed the Capitol."

It's worth clicking through to this email, uncovered by the January 6 Committee. It's one person's account, but it describes a contemporaneous sentiment across what they describe as multiple field offices. One assistant special supervisory agent estimates that "over 70% of his CT [counterterrorism] squad + roughly 75% of the agent population in his office" were sympathetic to everything but the violence and "could understand where the frustration was coming from." An analyst in a different office overheard colleagues explaining the insurrection away as a response to COVID lockdowns and job losses. After a lengthy redaction that makes me very curious, there's another account of agents turning the office TVs to Newsmax because they think Fox is pandering to the left.

I don't know how many chances in life I'm going to get to use this Kingsley Amis quote about Robert Conquest's The Great Terror, so: I told you so, you fucking fools. In 2016, anonymous current and former FBI officials told me there was a deep well of sympathy for MAGA. This reporting was typically dismissed as contained within the notoriously galoot-ish New York Field Office. Reader, the piece never says that, because I was reporting on a broader sentiment within the FBI. Before that, I reported extensively on the virulent, ignorant instructional materials about Islam the FBI was comfortable using for training those special agents. I warned right after the election that you can't ignore a contingent within the Security State that could form the core of a Trumpist Deep State. And here's this email, written two months later, attesting to the power and danger of this contingent. Look, this shouldn't come as a surprise: the FBI are cops. Read Jim Comey's memoir and pay attention to how much blue-lives-matter stuff is in it.

For those inclined to say that the FBI has transposed its persecution of American Muslims over to right-wing white people, I challenge you to find a similar account during the past 20 years of substantial internal FBI sympathy to the targets of its mosque infiltrations, community maps, and so forth. It's worth remembering that those routine FBI operations did not target the commission of a crime, let alone a criminal insurrection to nullify an election like January 6.

None of this reporting fit within a neat Trump-vs-The-FBI narrative constructed by both MAGA and the liberals, whereby the corrupt/valiant FBI persecuted/held accountable the valiant/corrupt former president, so it got ignored or marginalized. But Security State institutions are not monolithic, they're fractious—America is fractious—and factionalism matters. My friend Thanassis Cambanis, who was the Boston Globe's man in Iraq before joining the Century Foundation, commented for my 2020 post-election story, "The FBI and CIA are not allies in our effort to reform the abusive Security State, and this is one of the huge mistakes that people have made during this interregnum, to ally with that."

IN A STORY SO HORRIFIC I don't really want to recap it, it appears that a U.S. Marine officer stole an Afghan child from her family. Years before, the State Department and the Justice Department warned now-Maj. Joshua Mast that taking the child, whose parents apparently died during a U.S. military raid in 2019, would be illegal under international and Afghan law. I have done no reporting on this story, but the AP claims that Mast and his family used the fall of Kabul as an opportunity to separate the child from her Afghan family, in broad daylight at a military base, once the family was evacuated. "We feel like we are living in a dark jail," said the child's adult cousin, now a refugee in Texas.