PORT-AU-PRINCE — Haiti's national army was abolished 22 years ago after a disastrous period of military rule ended in a U.S.-led intervention that restored democracy in the Caribbean country. Now, recently elected President Jovenel Moïse is launching a new recruitment drive and re-establishing an institution that's still widely unpopular, as evidenced by protests in the capital, leading Haitian daily Le Nouvelliste reports. The government is moving ahead with the plans regardless.
President Moïse announced Nov. 16 that he would appoint interim commanders for a newly constituted Haitian armed forces. The next day he appointed former army colonel Jodel Lesage as acting commander-in-chief pending approval in the Haitian Senate, entrusting him with the task of recruiting and building the new Haitian military.
Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Port-au-Prince before the announcement, demonstrating against corruption and the proposed army. "We don't want an army in Haiti," protester Jean-Robert Sanon told Le Nouvelliste. "The Haitian army is known for repressing democracy in Haiti, we don't want to return to this dark past."
Once glorified for its role in the 1803 Haitian revolution that expelled French colonists and ended slavery, the Haitian army launched dozens of coups after independence and ruled the country with an iron fist for almost a decade after 1986. After its demobilization in 1995 by the newly elected democratic government, its responsibilities for internal security were passed to the national police.
Moïse campaigned on resurrecting the army in last year's presidential election. His predecessor, Michel Martelly, repeatedly promised the same. The government claims the new armed forces will be dedicated to military training, medical services and aviation. But critics are skeptical, wondering why the administration is spending money on defense when Haiti remains one of the poorest countries in the world.
The new military chiefs and a select group of recruits were paraded at a ceremony in the northern city of Cap-Haïtien, which has been roiled by protests organized by local students. Schools in the city have been lacking teachers for weeks due to a pay dispute with the education ministry. The students vowed to protest and demand further spending on education at the parade, but their voices have yet to be heeded.