“In much of the world, and especially in our region, the military has been the source of the most thankless collective memories,” read a letter addressed to Haitian President Michel Martelly from former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sánchez, who advised his Excellency to reevaluate his military plans through a historical lens. “In the best case scenario, the Latin American armies have been prohibitively expensive for our economies and at worse, have meant a permanent source of instability for our democracies,” Sánchez explained.
President Martelly does not have to look beyond Haiti’s borders to learn about the destructive effects of militarization. Malignant scars from Duvalier’s merciless army are fresh on the population’s skin, haunting the dreams of its countless victims. Nevertheless, the president perceives a Haitian army as the bridge to sovereignty, signaling his resolve to fulfill his campaign promise: reconstitute the Armed Forces of Haiti.
In fact, a series of interviews Martelly granted to the press following his first official trip to Venezuela seemed to indicate a president willing to circumvent the Northern powers to pursue his highest ideals. “Now, if nobody wants to help, then we have to think of a way to get that money to reestablish the army,” the AP quoted Martelly in response to the U.S. and Canada’s reluctance to fund his military initiatives. However, the president later admitted to a journalist of El Universal , a major Venezuelan daily with an estimated circulation of 150,000 readers, “I found a way to finance this force the same way I’ve found money for the education initiative,” mindful of the global attention he has generated. “I understand that many people are watching what we do carefully,” he added, “but we are open to working with the civil society.” Recently, President Martelly created a commission to study and evaluate the return of his army.
But, “Haiti does not need to recreate the army,” countered Nobel laureate Sánchez in his letter published in its entirety on Defend Haiti, an online news organization. Echoing the opponents of militarization, the former leader felt a resourceful, professional and well-trained police force ensuring effective law enforcement and national security would be more beneficial to the country that military aircraft, which he said would “never be more powerful than their neighbors.” Sánchez wrote that it was no coincidence that Haiti, Guatemala and Nicaragua shared a common history with strong armies and reduced social investments in education and health, and occupied the region’s bottom three places in the Human Development Index (HDI) prepared by the UN Development Programme. Reorienting the armies projected budget to social development programs for Haitians and their children, in his view, could be used “to strengthen democratic institutions to ensure minimum political stability in order to restore the confidence of Haitians and the international cooperation, whose help is essential and will remain so for a while longer.”
To his credit however, President Martelly is not the only one with military aspirations; many Haitians strongly support the return of professional armed forces, especially with anti-UN protests erupting like volcanoes around the country and even the Continent. For many Haitians, the army is not a matter of misplaced nostalgia, rather the fabric of the republic. The revolution, liberation and abolitionist movements were embodied by the brave indigenous army’s defeat of Napoleon’s forces, and credited with the birth of the republic. In fact, in conceptualizing Haiti’s military roots, on Senator proclaimed, “there is no sovereignty without an army.” Such historical and sentimental contexts are often absent from journalists’ reports and editorials, which primarily focus on Haiti’s epic poverty and misery, all points driven home by the ex-Costa Rican President’s letter.
“The difference between the population of a country and another is in education, years of schooling, teaching, diversified and full access to information technology and communication,” wrote Sanchez. His parallel drawn between the two countries’ global ranking provided ample evidence to support his argument; Costa Rica’s HDI ranking was 69 with life expectancy of 79.1 years as opposed to Haiti’s 145-place ranking with a 17.4-year average life expectancy for its children. Nevertheless, President Martelly’s economic and patriotic framing presented equally compelling arguments in the eyes of many Haitian nationals. “But at the same time, why do we need a foreign army to help us? A foreign army that’s costing us much more money,” he told the AP, asking reporters, “why not hire young Haitians? Why not regain our sovereignty?” UN parades his peacekeeping boots in Haiti on an $800 million annual budget, comparing to the projected $25 million to $30 million annual budget Martelly said it would cost to create and maintain the Haitian pride and self-esteem.
As some political analysts pointed out, President Martelly seemed determined to make the Haitian army the central theme of his presidency, looking south of the Continent as North America and Europe barricaded his ambitions. Therefore, a failed army could highlight his 5-year tenure, as they inferred. For Sanchez however, “Reinstalling the army would be an error,” which is why he said indifference was not an option. “Haiti can recover its dignity,” he concluded his letter, “when all children and young people can see the future with hope and the Caribbean winds blow equally fortunate for everyone… That’s what the people deserve, Mr. President.”
- Nobel Laureate: Haiti pres’s army plan an “error” (sfgate.com)