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The Opposite of Disarmament

October 2004

In the last few weeks, more than 50 people have been killed in political violence in Haiti. For days at a time, normal life in Port-au-Prince grinded to a halt, with the lucky few people who had jobs too afraid to go to work. Even emergency aid destined for the victims of September’s floods in Gonnaives was stopped, because containers could not be unloaded in the port, and supplies that were in-country could not safely be delivered to the people who so desperately needed them.

In the immediate aftermath of the ouster of President Aristide, U.S.-led multinational forces proclaimed that they would embark on a program of disarmament, demanding that insurgents and extremists lay down their weapons to make a peaceful, democratic political transition possible. The proclamations lasted a few weeks, until the head of the U.S. mission revealed a change of plan: “This is a country with a lot of weapons and disarmament is not our mission. Our mission is to stabilize the country.” (Here’s a story from Inter Press Service from March 24, 2004, and here is a piece by Rachel Stohl of the Center for Defense Information on the big threat posed by Haiti’s small arms, also from March.)

When U.S. forces passed the reigns of their “stabilization” efforts to the U.N., the U.N. briefly made noises about working on a disarmament plan, but they too quickly changed their tune and passed responsibility for disarmament to the Haitian National Police. The Latortue government issued demands that former-military rebels disarm (the last deadline came and went without results September 16), but now they seem to have hit upon a novel way to stabilize the country: bring in more guns.

This week there are a number of reports indicating that the U.S. is considering lifting a 13 year embargo on arms shipments to Haiti, and that a shipment of weapons may already be under way. (There’s also a story from Jamaica suggesting that one sector of the Haitian economy remains vital in spite of the crisis: Haitian gun smuggling is helping to flood Jamaica with illegal guns.) It is hard to imagine any outcome from this course of action that is not catastrophic. The extremely limited space that already existed in Haiti for civil, truly democratic discourse has collapsed. The government and infrastructure of the country has been reduced to ruins, through political chaos, natural disaster and bankruptcy.

If the situation continues unchecked, the only actors on the political stage in Haiti will be those with the firepower to blast their way into the scene. The only hope is that the incredibly resilient, determined, good people of Haiti will band together, reject the violence, make all their voices one, and demand that they be heard over the shooting.

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