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An armored vehicle operated by the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) patrols an area outside Port-au-Prince in 2011. President Michel Martelly pledged to replace MINUSTAH with a Haitian army and has asked the governments of Ecuador and Brazil for assistance. (Ezra Fieser for Infosurhoy.com)
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – The Haitian government plans to establish a new military nearly two decades after a former president disbanded the armed forces due to a track record of abuses.
President Michel Martelly, who has pushed the idea since taking office in 2011, said a military is needed to replace the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), a peacekeeping force made up of foreign troops and police that is planning a drawdown of its presence.
After taking office in May 2011, Martelly told the Toronto Star he sought to establish “a force that can keep peace, secure borders, control narco-trafficking and assist in times of natural disasters.”
“We’re talking about a modern army, especially an army that could create employment, integrate youth and regain our sovereignty,” he told the newspaper.
The governments of Ecuador and Brazil have offered support to develop the army, in response to Martelly’s requests. The government has said the relaunch would be modest, with about 1,500 soldiers, but it was not clear how soon the force would be commissioned.
However, Martelly’s administration cautioned the establishment of an army still is in the idea phase and the focus at the moment is on strengthening the police force.
“In principle, there is no progress regarding the creation of the army,” Martelly’s administration told Infosurhoy.com in a prepared statement. “We are working on a 2012-2016 development plan for the National Police, which, among other things, will create an elite police force and increase the force’s strength to 15,000.”
Brazil has said it would provide military training and engineering among other aspects needed to help the country establish a military.
“Brazil will give all its know-how to help Haiti rebuild its army,” a Haitian defense ministry spokesperson told Reuters.
Last month, the first 10 of 40 Haitians selected to study at Ecuadoran military schools departed for South America.
Brazilian soldiers have made up a large part of MINUSTAH. The largely foreign peacekeeping unit is widely seen by Haitians as an occupying force. A 2012 joint survey by the l’Université d’État d’Haïti and City University of New York found that a plurality had a negative view of the peacekeeping force’s ongoing presence.
MINUSTAH was established in 2004, but its role has shifted, most recently after the 2010 earthquake that left more than a million homeless and killed hundreds of thousands. As of September, it consisted of 10,105 troops, 2,803 police and nearly 2,000 staff and volunteers.
A Haitian National Police vehicle passes a polling station outside Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, on Election Day on Nov. 28, 2010. The police force is expected to take over from MINUSTAH in the coming years. President Michel Martelly wants to establish a military to complement the police. (Ezra Fieser for Infosurhoy.com)
The U.N. Security Council recently extended its mission in the country until at least October 2013. But it also decided on “a balanced withdrawal” of the force’s size, eventually handing over responsibility to the Haitian National Police.
“The strengthening of the national police remains a key prerequisite for [MINUSTAH’s] eventual withdrawal from Haiti,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his report.
Some have questioned the idea of MINUSTAH’s pulling out within a year. The International Crisis Group, which examines the security situation in Haiti, has called for a five-year drawdown of MINUSTAH forces.
“Both the Haitian government and the U.N. Security Council are looking for a way out for MINUSTAH, but it would be foolhardy to rush that process given the serious gaps in consolidating security and justice,” the group said in an August report. “It is unlikely that full departure can or should be accomplished before a peaceful handover of democratic power takes place at the end of Martelly presidency” in 2016.
Police and judicial reform are a large part of the mission’s mandate, but researchers have called that process slow.
“Most of the international community is in favor of real police reform and an adequate police force,” said Dan Beeton, a researcher at the Center for Economic Policy Research, a Washington-based organization that has carried out numerous studies on Haiti.
As skeptical as Haitians are about the presence of the MINUSTAH force, they appear to be more concerned with returning power to a military with a checkered past.
Much of the fear over establishing a military is due to its controversial history.
Since its establishment in the 19th century, the military has been linked to several coups and numerous human rights violations.
The Duvaliers – father and son who ruled the country under a two-generation dictatorship that lasted from 1957 to 1986 – used the military to rig elections and suppress political opponents.
In 1991, a military junta orchestrated a bloody coup. It ruled from 1991 to 1994, a period in which government and paramilitary forces were accused of killing about 4,000 people.
Former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide disbanded the army in 1995, but calls for its revival have persisted.