Over the weekend eight heavily armed men were arrested in Port-au-Prince near a police checkpoint. The men were driving in two vehicles without license plates. Inside the vehicle were multiple automatic rifles, one with a scope, handguns, several drones, satellite phones and other weapons. NPR Reports:
“They said that they were here on a ‘government mission,’ ” Miami Herald reporter Jacqueline Charles told NPR from Port-au-Prince on Wednesday. “They did not specify which government, but then they did tell the police that … their boss was going to call their boss.”
The implication, Charles says, is that someone high in Haiti’s government would be able to free the heavily armed group — and she adds, “members of the administration of President Jovenel Moise did try to get these gentlemen released from police custody — but that did not work.”
On Tuesday this week it was revealed that one of the vehicles was registered to an advisor of President Moïse. From the Miami Herald:
A letter from a local car dealership to the prime minister revealed that one of the vehicles, the Ford, was purchased by a former government official and sent to the care of Fritz Jean-Louis, an adviser of President Jovenel Moïse. Jean-Louis has since fled the country, police said. Police found license plates inside the vehicles, and at least one was registered to Jean-Louis.
So who are the men? Five of them are U.S. citizens, four of who are known to have military backgrounds. Two are Serbian nationals and one is Haitian:
The men were held by police in Haiti until Wednesday, at which point they were flown to the United States, escorted to their plane by U.S. Embassy staff.
Airport employees say the men seemed quite at ease and were taken inside the VIP diplomatic lounge to wait on the flight after their tickets were purchased at the counter. One of the two Serbians initially was not allowed to board the flight by Haitian immigration because he had no stamps showing where he resides. After a few calls were made, he was put on the flight. The Haitian national, Michael Estera, who goes by the pseudonym “Cliford,” was not among those sent back to the U.S. He faces illegal weapons charges.
Below is a brief video clip of some of the arrested men deboarding their flight in Miami:
At this point, no one seems to know what they were doing in Haiti. If they were on an advisory mission with the government, or to there to provide security, it seems that would be an easy question to answer. The silence about their activities, is thus encouraging a great deal of speculation, especially in light of reports of people shot during recent demonstration. Now that they have been flown out of Haiti by the U.S. government we may never know.
“Walls are not very effective at stopping movement. People can go around, over, under…The way that walls do work is as a symbol. The material object of the wall stands in for all of the other complex issues about borders, migration, and trade.” – Reece Jones, author of Violent Borders: Refugees and the Right to Move
“You know, a wall is the best way to do nothing while looking like you’re doing something” – Anonymous comment on India fencing project along Bangladesh border
On Friday, Congress managed to pass a compromise budget bill that included some money for wall construction. Trump, not happy with the amount, used the signing ceremony to issue an executive order declaring a national emergency in a gambit to give himself authority to use up to $8 billion from other accounts to finance his promised border wall.
While pundits debate “who won” the budget showdown and/or fact check Trump’s many lies about immigration, we thought it might be worth stepping back for a minute and look at the wall debate from a more global perspective. It is worth noting that between the end of World War Two and the end of the Cold War (1945-1989) the number of international border walls (fences or other barriers) grew from five to fifteen. Since the collapse of the Berlin wall in 1989, the number of border walls has actually grown to seventy, with at least another seven in various stages of planning.
Which is to say, the post-Cold War age of the globalization of finance, transnational production networks and open trade regimes has not been met with open borders for people. On the contrary, the impact of global economic forces has led to a dislocation of millions of people around the globe. The related force of climate change is estimated to displace 22.5 million people a year. Add to that the refugee crises that have emerged from U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S.-supported wars in Yemen and Syria and other conflicts, and there are now more people displaced in the world that any time in history. Their migration, when they attempt to cross international borders, has been met with increasing nationalistic backlash.
So, we build walls. The United States already has a border wall – a bipartisan effort launched in 2006 with the Secure Fencing Act. Nearly a third of the border is thus walled in – with the rest of it monitored and patrolled. In the course of this latest budget debate, Democrats were themselves committed to spending billions more on border security. They just didn’t want to give Trump a wall – or at least a concrete/brick wall. But billions of dollars for more fencing, border patrols and expanding a virtual surveillance wall was fine (though not enough for Trump).
It seems the political class are all nationalists now, left to debate simply the optics of implementing anti-immigrant policies. Why? Well, to hear politicians talk, it has something to do with scary people crossing our borders in search of free lunches, who thus threaten hard working Americans (or Brits, French, Greeks – whatever appropriate demonym for the given country). However, beneath this pandering to an audience made insecure by the same economic forces displacing their neighbors, there is another explanation for the turn to nationalist policies: A global market in border security.
We’re currently in the middle of a golden era for border wall contractors. Companies are building everything from fences lined with concertina wire to military-grade drones to high-tech lidar sensors to monitor borderlands, and budgets for holistic frontier defenses are ballooning in tandem. The global market for border security technology is expected to grow to nearly $53 billion in the next few years, with major security companies like Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, and Lockheed Martin leading the way.
If one views the larger homeland security industry, at a global level, the numbers are staggering. Todd Miller, says in an interview with The Nation:
[W]hen you look at the market forecast, all of them show a homeland-security market that’s growing. There are reports that say it’s an unprecedented boom period. The last one that I saw for the homeland-security market had it going to $742 billion by 2023. In Storming the Wall, I had figure of $546 billion for 2022 for the broader global security market.
So, while Trump may be unique in his bombastic approach, and dangerous in his autocratic tendencies, the phenomenon he represents is a global one of displacement, insecurity and nationalistic responses. With the money at stake, we can rest assured that pressure will remain on Congress to maintain a securitized response to the movement of people, whatever happens to Trump.
T.M. Brown “Border Walls are a big Business – and not just in Trump’s America,” FastCompany
Will Mayer, “The Climate Wall: Q & A with Todd Miller,” The Nation
Jeff Gammage, “Construction of border walls exploding around the world, as Trump demands billions for barrier at Mexico line,” The Inquirer
Haiti has experienced 9 days of protest and violent state response. Opposition leaders have vowed to shut the country down until President Jovenel Moïse steps down. After seven days of silence, President Moïse finally addressed the country last night in a pre-recorded message. He had little of substance to offer, but did say he had no plans to step-down. Meanwhile, Moïse’s administration is in turmoil. He recalled the long-time Haitian ambassador to the United States this week, and reportedly some members of the PHTK (Moïse’s party) have already begun preparing to leave the country – if temporarily. It is hard to imagine how Moïse will hold on. If he tries to, the violence is likely to escalate, though what happens if he resigns is far from clear. The current prime minister and governing cabinet have only been in office since October, after the previous prime minister was forced to resign following mass protests in July.
Video report from Al Jazeera Wednesday, February 13
The “international community” has spoken (they always do). A statement issued earlier in the week from the so-called “Core Group” (composed of the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General, the Ambassadors of Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, the European Union, the United States of America, and the Special Representative of the Organization of American States) called for compromise to move forward legislation needed for elections in this coming October:
Reiterating the fact that in a democracy change must come through the ballot box, and not through violence, the Core Group urges the executive and legislative branches of power to collaborate for the electoral law and the 2018-2019 budget law to be adopted and promulgated as soon as possible. It is only through these actions that the elections scheduled by the Constitution for October 2019, can be held in a free, fair and transparent manner, and that an institutional vacuum will be avoided. (Full statement here)
This is all reasonable advice, but no government or institution in this group has done much to promote democracy in Haiti. Indeed, these are the folks largely responsible for the electoral farces of 2011 and 2016, not to mention a coup d’etat and 14 year-long UN occupation.
Meanwhile the U.S. State Department’s spokesperson for Western Hemisphere Affairs said,
“We support the right of all people to demand a democratic and transparent government and to hold their government leaders accountable, but there is no excuse for violence. Violence leads to instability, less investment, and fewer jobs.”
Officially, the U.S. deplores violence….we’ll just leave that there. The State Department has issued a level four travel warning on Haiti, and is directing all non-essential embassy staff and family members to leave the country.
Meanwhile, with the ambassador to the U.S. recalled, Haiti Foreign Minister Edmond Bocchit is supposed to meet with Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton. As reported by Jacqueline Charles in the Miami Herald:
Bocchit has been seeking support for the Moïse administration in Washington ever since Haiti agreed to break with a longtime ally, Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro, and recognize acting opposition leader Juan Guaidó as president. The discussion topics have included getting U.S. support for the purchase of subsidized rice for Haiti and help with getting Qatar to assist it in buying its $2 billion debt from Venezuela linked to its Petrocaribe discounted oil program, say sources familiar with the discussions.
Bocchit, who last week visited the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the State Department with influential Haitian businessman Andy Apaid, would not comment on the planned Bolton meeting. Apaid, a Moïse supporter, led the civil society movement that forced the ouster of president Jean-Bertrand Aristide from power in 2004 amid a bloody revolt.
The protests this week are the latest in a series of demonstrations that have expressed deep frustration with government corruption, a stagnant economy, fuel shortages, inflation and the collapse of the exchange rate. The political opposition leading the protests, including Youri Latortue, are not exactly clean themselves. Opportunism abounds as the elite jockey for position amid the turmoil. How bad might things get? Jake Johnston writes that we may be witnessing the collapse of a political and economic system, stitched together by the “international community” to put a thin democratic facade on a system of pillage. His widely shared twitter thread ends:
The strategy of the Haitian government appears to be hunker down and hope this all just goes away. In the meantime, the situation for millions of Haitians will continue to deteriorate, caught between political violence, government ineptitude, and the ever-increasing cost of living. I believe what we are witnessing is the collapse of a system. A system that has failed the Haitian people. There are no more quick fixes; there are no more internationally devised compromises to paper over the reality. I fear that things will get worse before they get better.
The hope? A new generation of leaders who have yet to fully emerge, but undoubtedly will be the only ones able to lead their country forward. Who among the discredited political class will have the courage to step aside and empower them?
In Gros Morne, where Quixote Center’s partners live and carry out their work, the roads have been blocked for days, but otherwise things are relatively calm. There have been fighting and gunshots fired in nearby Gonaïves and St.Marc. Fuel shortages are complicating life here and everywhere in Haiti. Water treatment facilities are running out of fuel (and money) to run reverse osmosis processing. Gas in Gros Morne is up to $7.50 a gallon, when it is available at all. Hospitals are running out of medicine and other supplies because of the blockades. The team at the Jean Marie Vincent Center is thus far safe. We will keep in touch and report what we can. They did ask that we offer prayers for peace for Haiti.