Arrest in Haiti Stirs Memories of Past Meddling

As Robert Mueller wraps up his investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections, a recent incident in Haiti offers a chilling reminder to many of what political interference actually looks like.

Haitian Weapons Arrest and Subsequent Release
On February 17th, five American citizens, along with two Serbian nationals (at least one of whom is a U.S. resident) and a Haitian national (who had been deported from the U.S.), were detained at a checkpoint in Port-au-Prince with a cache of automatic rifles, drones and satellite phones. They were arrested on weapons charges. But the Haitian minister of justice intervened and had the Americans released from the police station and flown back to the U.S. They were met by U.S. law enforcement, but were only debriefed before being released free and clear.¹

A group of five Americans, two Serbians and one Haitian was detained in Haiti while driving with this arsenal on hand. Source: Miami Herald

Two of the Americans are former Navy Seal officers, two others also served in the U.S. military, and the fifth is a contractor with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.² According to the Haitian police, the men claimed they were on a government mission. Per U.S. authorities, the men claimed they were providing private security for a businessman doing work with the Haitian government.³

Haitians are apoplectic, demanding an explanation for the release of the men from police custody. Their immediate discharge upon landing in the U.S. escalated the situation, as the minister of justice claimed he had authorized their release in order for them to stand trial in the U.S.

The timing of this incident is bad. Throughout the month of February, there have been intense street protests calling on Haitian President Jovenel Moise to resign over soaring inflation and allegations of corruption. The U.S. and Canadian governments had issued travel advisories warning people not to travel to Haiti due to crime and civil unrest, and the U.S. State Department had just ordered the evacuation of all non-emergency personnel and their families from the country. Even the Carnival celebration, near and dear to the heart of every Caribbean and Caribbean-descended person, has been canceled. President Moise has rejected calls to step down, promising instead “a wide range of measures” for economic relief.⁴

And now heavily-armed American mercenaries are parading through Haiti? And when they are caught they are merely whisked out the back door and to the nearest airport by senior government officials, with no consequences? Hmm…

Bad Memories
Many children of immigrants grew up with tales of interference from the U.S. In fact, for many of us that was one of the main destabilizing forces behind our parents and/or grandparents relocating here.

For example, many people, including my parents, emigrated from Jamaica during the 1970s and 1980s. Jamaica was defined by the political rivalry between Michael Manley and Edward Seaga, the men who alternated at the prime minister post from 1972 to 1992. Manley was a popular leader who led the People’s National Party (PNP), considered himself a democratic socialist, and strengthened diplomatic relations with Cuba. Seaga was the Boston-born, Jamaica-raised, Harvard-educated prime minister who headed the Jamaican Labour Party (JLP) and was very friendly with the U.S. government. Like many developing countries, the Jamaican political environment was violent, as the gangs were closely affiliated with the political parties. It was like the Democrats versus the Republicans, but if the Crips were closely affiliated with the Democrats and the Bloods with the Republicans. (It gives “Get Out The Vote” drives a completely different aura.) Long story short, the U.S. and Cuba engaged in a battle to arm Jamaican gangs for political purposes, a process that reverberates to this day through continued gang violence in Jamaica, and one that had many Jamaicans fleeing overseas to New York, Miami, Toronto and London.

(It’s worth pointing out here that although Kingston, Jamaica’s capital, does suffer from gang violence, it is a beautiful city nestled at the base of the picturesque Blue Mountains. My daughter and I vacationed there as recently as the summer of 2017 and walked all over the city. Like any major city in a developing country, you just have to be careful, use common sense and avoid certain areas.)

And that’s just one example. A lot of ink (including on this very site) has been spilled on the U.S. interventions in Latin America and how these have led to our current immigration patterns. Many Iranians of past generations will always have charcoal in their hearts for the U.S. government that deposed their beloved Mohammad Mosaddegh and supported the U.S.-friendly but cruel and repressive Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Any student of the Pan-African movement will be sure to mention Patrice Lumumba and how the CIA plotted to assassinate him (although the Belgians beat the Agency to it). And the list goes on. (And I haven’t even gotten to economic interference, proxy interventions through the IMF and other international bodies, etc. All of which would make this a much longer article.)

A Reminder
So while we worry about sifting through Facebook, weeding out fake civic groups and phony news articles with inflammatory headlines, let’s take a moment to remember what political meddling actually has looked like to many other countries and that it was our country that effected it. And let’s also consider how much it led to immigration into the U.S., as Latin Americans, West Indian-Americans, and many other hyphenated Americans (and our parents and grandparents who actually had to live through it) can attest to.

¹ Source: Miami Herald
² Source: NPR
³ Source: Miami Herald 
⁴ Source: CNN, Miami Herald