Haiti’s quest for multipolarity: a look beyond the headlines

Editorial for May 02 2024


The term “ongoing turmoil” when describing Haiti may be a cliché, unfortunately, it is an accurate description of a country that has been in turmoil for as long of most of us can remember.

Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s resignation has been confirmed, with a transitional council taking office last Thursday. The council is tasked with shaping the direction of a fresh cabinet. However, notable gang leaders, who had demanded Henry’s departure, are expressing frustration at being left out of the council. The unfolding developments in the days ahead will reveal the implications of this shift.

Last October, the United Nations Security Council approved the deployment of an armed multinational force to Haiti to quell the violence and help to bring the country out of political paralysis. The force is expected to be led by Kenya, which has pledged 1000 police; Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, and Jamaica have offered to support the mission. So far, the forces that reject the presence of any foreign force in the country – referred to as “gangs”- do not support the UN resolution.

Since the enslaved Africans declared independence from France in 1804, following a successful armed revolt, the beleaguered country has been described as a basket case, and the only remedy is foreign intervention because Haitians are incapable of running anything. So accustomed to seeing Haiti in this way, the coverage of Haiti has stopped “seeing” Haiti in any other way. But as bad as it looks for Haiti, not all the demonstrations that take place in the country are alike.

The ongoing turmoil in Haiti serves as a stark reminder that prolonged subjugation can lead not only to disdain for the oppressor but also to reverence for their adversaries.

A protest that took place in November 2022 in front of the Canadian Embassy in Port-au-Prince, a demonstrator branded Canadians and Americans as “monsters” responsible for the “chaos” in Haiti. Images circulated widely, showing protesters flying Russian flags, and some even painted their torsos in Russian colors. One protester articulated a sentiment shared among many: “we don’t need Canada, France, and the US. We just need China and Russia to come to help us exploit our wealth; the others have already stolen from us.”

The animosity toward the US and Canada is so profound among some Haitians that they find themselves supporting their rivals. However, their backing of Russia and China is not just fueled by animosity; it’s also a pragmatic move. With their veto power at the UN Security Council, Haitians hope Russia and China will thwart Washington’s attempts to authorize military intervention. So far, it seems these efforts have had some success, perhaps due in part to the visible displays of support for Russia and China. In fact, Russia and China abstained when the UN Security council recently voted for foreign forces to be deployed in Haiti.

On a broader scale, these pro-Russia/China demonstrators are advocating for a multipolar world. For Haiti’s impoverished masses, such a shift could offer significant benefits by providing alternative trade terms or financing sources. Like many in Latin America and Africa, Haitians recognize that a viable rival to the US could create opportunities for maneuvering by playing competing powers against each other.

Some have suggested that Haiti should consider joining China’s Belt and Road initiative, a notion likely met with sympathy by many Haitians. However, such a move would require Haiti to cease recognizing Taiwan—a testament to its long-standing subservience to Washington.

The US has a history of aggressively opposing moves that threaten its dominance, as seen with Haiti’s involvement in Venezuela’s oil program. Despite the significant savings it offered, leaked diplomatic cables revealed intense US opposition to Haiti’s participation. This opposition extended to political interference, as seen in efforts to block certain candidates from election rounds.

While some in Canada may misinterpret Haitians waving Russian flags as support for Russian aggression elsewhere, the reality is more nuanced. For many Haitians, it’s a manifestation of their deep-seated frustration with Canadian policies and their desire to break free from the grip of US/Canadian imperialism.

Haitians long for a multipolar world, something to which “progressives” seem oblivious.