This is not the first time Inroads has addressed the critical situation in Haiti, and given the country’s continuing descent into absolute chaos and anarchy, it undoubtably will not be the last. In this update, written at a time when the world is focused on the Middle East and Ukraine, far, far away from this Caribbean nation, it is hard to direct attention to Haiti.

In early October, before Hamas’s horror, the United Nations Security Council found the time to vote 13-0 – with abstentions from Russia and China – to issue a one-year authorization for a non-UN, multinational security mission to be led by Kenya. The mission would guard critical infrastructure such as airports, ports, schools, hospitals and key traffic intersections and carry out “targeted operations” along with the Haitian national police.

The United States promised $200 million. Former Kenyan Foreign Minister Alfred Mutua told the New York Times that Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Spain and Senegal pledged to send personnel, and that other countries were expected to follow suit. On the streets of Port-au-Prince, Haitians celebrated the news.

As I write, delays and uncertainties still surround the mission, reflecting the legacy of past foreign interventions in Haiti. On November 16 Kenyan lawmakers voted to support the UN request to deploy hundreds of police officers to Haiti, but any action will await the verdict due on January 26 of a court hearing challenging the deployment’s legality.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, there have been three major military interventions in Haiti. The most recent of those, a UN stabilization mission led by Brazilian troops from 2004 to 2017, temporarily quelled violence and political instability but was later marred by sexual assault allegations and the introduction of cholera into the country. However, soon after the mission’s withdrawal, instability began to rise once again, descending into effective anarchy when its last elected President, Jovenel Moïse, was murdered in 2019 and Ariel Henry became acting prime minister.

The hesitation to potentially prop up an unelected leader may explain why few Latin American countries immediately volunteered to send police forces to the country. Brazil at one point was sought out by the United States to lead the mission. However, having seen how quickly Haiti’s security situation deteriorated after it led the last one, Brazil demurred on leading another. Ultimately, Brazil did work to ensure that the UN resolution passed – urging Russia and China not to veto it.

Washington’s interest in stabilizing Haiti is in part related to the large numbers of Haitians who have been arriving in at U.S. borders in recent months. There is even more pressure, far more, at Haiti’s border with the Dominican Republic, which is confronted not only with border crossing but also with the infiltration of arms and drugs. It has become obvious that the situation is desperate and growing worse. And despite the cry from outsiders (including Canada) that there must be a “made in Haiti” solution, nothing will change without foreign intervention.

Nearly half the country’s population is experiencing high levels of acute food insecurity. Haitians are dying in unprecedented numbers. Gangs run large patches of the country, particularly Port-au-Prince. Many neighbourhoods have cleared out as people have fled widespread murders, kidnappings and extortion. Increasingly sophisticated and high-calibre firearms and ammunition are being trafficked into Haiti amid an unprecedented and rapidly deteriorating security situation. Haiti remains a transshipment country for drugs, primarily cocaine and cannabis, which mostly enter the country via boat or plane, arriving through public, private and informal ports as well as clandestine runways.

Haiti’s borders are essentially porous, and the challenges of patrolling 1,771 kilometres of coastline and a 392-kilometre land border with the Dominican Republic are overwhelming the capacities of Haiti’s national police, customs, border patrols and coast guard, which are severely understaffed and underresourced and increasingly targeted by gangs.

Still, according to University of Massachusetts political scientist Charli Carpenter,

Haiti’s current security crisis is precisely the kind of situation where a mission like the one envisioned can have an outsized value in promoting human security. The situation in Haiti is not one where a strong government is preying upon its civilians, requiring a coercive humanitarian war against a sovereign state without its consent. Instead, Haiti is more like a failed or failing state, where the sitting government has lost the monopoly on the legitimate use of force and armed actors and civilians have taken matters into their own hands. Foreign interventions of this type, coupled with peace missions thereafter, have often been successful …

The introduction of foreign troops will work best if they are sufficient in number, well-funded, operating with a mandate that fits the situation and supported with the political will for a clear exit plan and follow-on peace-building mission. Even if imperfect however, it’s important to keep in mind the counterfactual: what would happen if Haiti were simply left to dissolve into greater chaos.

What this could look like is spelled out by Frederick D. Barton, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for conflict and stabilization operations:

A modest deployment of 200 to 400 special operations forces to the Haitian countryside would help contain the gangs to the major cities, where the Haitian National Police can better concentrate on fighting them … In 1994, fifteen U.S. Special Forces units of a dozen soldiers each secured most of Haiti beyond Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haitien. Today’s gangs are more capable and better entrenched but still are no match for well-equipped Western troops.

Putting boots on the ground alone won’t work. We must also help Haitians secure their country. Fortunately, a substantial number are already involved in providing public safety. Beyond the 9,000 Haitian National Police who are still doing their jobs, tens of thousands of private security guards work for internationally supported nongovernmental organizations, and vigilante groups and community volunteers are already policing their towns.

Local pilot programs aimed at facilitating cooperation between the police and private actors already exist. These efforts need to be replicated in each of Haiti’s 10 administrative departments and in eight different police stations or safe areas of Port-au-Prince …

It is important that these kinds of efforts remain decentralized. Haiti’s political culture has been shaped by its colonial experience, with most political decisions flowing from the capital, enabling and entrenching corruption. By empowering communities and localizing law enforcement, these programs will push Haitian society to abandon old habits as it grapples with other long-overdue governance reforms. The corrupt old guard sitting in Port-au-Prince needs to be cut out.

Another warning comes from Alexander Causwell, analyst in strategic affairs at the Caribbean Policy Research Institute in Jamaica, in an article entitled “Haiti, the Zombie Republic.” Causwell envisions outside parties encouraging and aiding “a local faction with some modicum of credibility to establish control”:

As they begin to retake sections of the country, necessarily with foreign support, their efforts to permanently restore public order and services can then receive support from international NGOs, whose vigilance would also serve as a check on government excess. Whatever else occurs, rebuilding efforts must heed Machiavelli’s exhortation to distrust the “banished,” such as the Haitian expats who have embedded themselves in the DC foreign-policy Blob and elsewhere. These people hold deep grudges and strong opinions, but they lack a direct stake in the country’s future.

Aid workers estimate that large numbers of people have fled their homes to escape the violence. Nearly 200,000 people are displaced across the country, according to the International Organization for Migration.

In November 2022, the severity of the humanitarian and security crises in Haiti prompted the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to urge states to stop deporting Haitians and offer them alternative avenues when refugee status is not an option. Since then deportations from “safer” countries have increased, with more than 128,000 removals of Haitians (not including deportations from the Dominican Republic) being carried out just by the Turks and Caicos (a nearby archipelago of only 45,000 people which had become a top destination for Haitians after the 2010 earthquake), the Bahamas, the United States and Cuba.

The problem is most acute on the border with the Dominican Republic, which has engaged in large-scale deportations of Haitians. Amid the dispute this September between the Dominican Republic and Haiti over the construction of an irrigation canal in the Masacre River, relations between the two countries hardened and the Dominican Republic closed all access to Haiti. In September alone, 66,768 Haitians either “voluntarily returned ” or were deported by Dominican authorities; in August it was 23,829. The previous year a total of more than 170.000 were deported.

The flow of refugees – and subsequent deportations – can only be stemmed by restoring stability to Haiti. Many of the proposals by the international community have relied on strengthening the Haitian police, in whom there is little confidence. Gangs have surged again, and they are believed to control about 80 per cent of the capital. Though Kenya’s security forces have served in troop deployments in Lebanon, Sierra Leone and South Sudan and as part of African Union peacekeeping missions in Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, there is scepticism as to their ability to wrest control from the gangs and their own record of rights abuses and graft within Kenya. In Somalia to fight the al-Shabaab insurgency in 2018, they were widely judged to have performed reasonably well. But they did not overcome the jihadists, who cause mayhem in what is left of Somalia.

The Kenyans will be greatly handicapped in Haiti by their inability to speak either French or Kreyol, the languages of the country and the gangsters. None of the Caribbean countries that have offered police detachments speak French or Kreyol either. Nor has any francophone African country agreed to participate.

Everyone agrees that Canada would be a much better candidate to lead a multinational security mission in Haiti, given geography, language and history. But Canadians are not interested. In response to calls for Canada to act, Prime Minister Trudeau continues to insist that the Haitian government has not built sufficient consensus around international support for any intervention to be successful: “There is no solution to this situation from outside … we need to see more dialogue, more consensus-building within Haiti and around the Haitian people.”

And if pigs could fly …

During the U.S. election campaign, many non-Americans said they wished that they could cast a vote. In the words of one Montrealer, “We should have a chance to vote since the outcome will affect my life as well.” A large number of people outside the United States did, in fact, have that chance – Americans living abroad. Since 1976, people holding American citizenship, even if they have never resided in the United States, have had the right to cast ballots in presidential and congressional elections.

American expatriates can decide close elections

More than six million Americans live outside the United States – only some 20 states have larger populations. And the largest single such group lives in Canada. In a close election, the 750,000 American voters in Canada could tip the balance, and indeed they may have in the 2000 vote in the state of Florida. However, no one knows how many such ballots are actually cast. In the 2004 election, the Pew Centre study of voting estimated that more than one million overseas ballots were sent out and 30 per cent were returned. But no records are kept as to where those ballots come from.

Faced with the real possibility that they could affect the outcome, both Republicans and Democrats mounted efforts to reach members of this group, register them and urge them to return their ballots. Democrats Abroad were especially active on the ground: currently the group has 12 chapters across Canada, which leads the world in registering expatriate Democrats. The Republicans concentrated their efforts in Toronto. The differences in their organizing philosophies are apparent in their membership criteria: membership in Democrats Abroad is open to any interested American living outside the United States; membership in Republicans Abroad requires a membership fee of $50.

Democrats Abroad effectively used the primaries and the Democratic National Convention as catalysts for recruitment. On Super Tuesday mega-primary day in the United States, a global online presidential primary was conducted for overseas Democrats. Americans in Canada could cast their votes for one of the candidates either at a polling location (for example, one poll in Montreal was at a downtown shopping mall) or online. In that primary, two thirds of Democrats Abroad voted for Barack Obama, one third for Hillary Clinton. At the Democratic Convention, Democrats Abroad were accorded voting status as a separate delegation.

Americans who vote from outside the United States cast their votes in a state in which they or their parents previously resided. Depending on the state, these votes can be crucial. For this reason some Americans practise strategic voting. An American abroad can vote in his or her place of prior residence, or where his or her parent last voted, or in his or her birthplace. For example one Democratic voter chose to vote in New Hampshire, a “swing state” where he last lived, rather than in his birth state of Massachusetts, which is solidly Democratic. Similarly, a member of the Republicans Abroad Canadian executive said that she intended to vote not in New York but in Pennsylvania because “my vote makes much more of a difference in Pennsylvania than New York, which is solidly Obama.”

In 2000 and 2004, elections were decided by narrow margins in key states, the results of which could have been decided by the ballots of some of the six million Americans abroad. George W. Bush won Florida by 537 votes and thus gained the presidency in 2000. “In 2000, the untold story was that the election was lost in Toronto,” said Ed Ungar, a member of the Democrats Abroad executive and former CBC producer, in a recent Toronto Star interview. He added that since 1960 five of the 12 presidential elections have been very close, with margins of victory of 2 per cent or less in the popular vote: “It’s almost certain in a tight election there will be several states in which an allegorical handful of voters can switch it.”

Kelli Wigt of the Republicans Abroad executive agreed: “There are tens of thousand of Canadians who vote in Florida. If every single American in Canada who is eligible to vote cast a vote, absolutely it would make a difference in key states like Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Florida.”

It was the 2000 Florida vote that drew the attention of the Democratic and Republican parties to the potential of the expatriate vote. Earlier, voters overseas – though not in Canada – tended to vote massively Republican. Information dissemination and recruitment efforts were limited mainly to those in the military, government workers and employees in large American companies. There were few attempts to organize either Republican or Democratic party groups. Today, active attempts are made to reach these groups; celebrities and politicians make special appeals to Americans “wherever they are” to vote. Recently Glenda Jackson appeared in TV advertisements in Britain directed at persuading Americans to vote for Obama. In Germany, members of the youth wing of the Social Democratic Party worked quietly on the sidelines with Democrats Abroad to encourage the 20,000 Americans living in Berlin to register to vote (and helped mobilize the 200,000 people who went to hear Obama). In Sweden, Democrats Abroad are active within the expat community even in non-election years, holding social and political events ranging from pub nights to public lectures to all-day clinics on how to obtain ballots. In a number of European countries, Democrats Abroad organized phone calls to voters in swing states urging them to vote, explaining the importance of the vote not just to Americans but to “the world.”

Both Obama and McCain made special appeals to expatriates. In what amounted to a policy statement, the McCain-Palin campaign made direct promises to this group, including:

  • strengthening the dollar so as to improve the economic security of Americans abroad;
  • fighting terrorism;
  • closing Guantánamo and “coming to a common international understanding” on matters of detention;
  • making absentee voting easier;
  • making U.S. social security more available to Americans living and working overseas;
  • clarifying issues to assure citizenship to children born to or adopted by American parents outside the United States; and
  • developing a method of including citizens residing abroad in the American census so as to take them into account in apportionment of representatives among the states.

It should be noted that these policies were not publicized within the United States, or in the foreign media. The Republicans largely used their traditional communication channels: American Chambers of Commerce, American embassies and American schools, as well as corporate contacts.

On the Democratic side, neither Obama nor Joe Biden made specific overtures to Americans abroad in the form of domestic and foreign policies tailored to their interests. Yet the Democrats appear to have won an overwhelming majority of nonmilitary votes cast from outside the United States. Living abroad colours how one votes. Americans abroad tend to evaluate their country from an international standard and, nowadays, are more likely to be critical, reflecting international opinions of the United States.

A BBC survey asked more than 22,000 people in 22 countries whom they would favour if they could vote in the U.S. election. Respondents supported Obama over McCain by a 4-to-1 margin.1 In Europe, Obama received overwhelming positive responses during his July tour. In Canada, there was massive support for Obama, Canadians generally being positively disposed to the Democratic Party (even though it is the Democrats that have been most hostile to NAFTA).

The exception is voters in Israel. Whereas American Jews living in the United States tend to vote Democratic, Republicans Abroad have been especially strong in Israel, building on the feeling that a McCain-Palin administration would give greater security to that country. Americans voting from Israel, like those in Canada, could potentially have great impact because of the high number of votes that will be cast in the highly populated swing state of Florida. According to Kory Bardash, chair of Republicans Abroad Israel, in the last election more than 1,500 people in Israel cast their votes in Florida (remember that the state was won by only 537 votes in 2000).

An important role played by volunteers from the Republican and Democratic organizations is to help absentee voters with paperwork and try to ensure that their votes are actually counted. They seek to overcome fears that the votes will be rejected for various reasons, since the voters never know whether they actually are in the tally. Indeed, given the patchwork of regulations, it can even be difficult to negotiate the process of getting a ballot. Election regulations differ from state to state. Some require the absentee ballot request to be notarized, some require that it be sent by mail under fairly narrow time constraints, some allow for requests to be faxed or emailed, some have a shutoff date early in September, some allow requests until the moment of the election itself. To simplify the matter, a Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot can be issued if a ballot that was requested does not arrive in time. But this emergency ballot is only a backup, and the voter has to have conformed with whatever requirements were established by the state in which he or she votes. There remains a suspicion that some states are reluctant to send out absentee ballots and that absentee ballots in some states are rejected for questionable technical reasons.

Canadian expatriates barely register

The United States is not the only country in which expatriate voters play an important role. In the 2007 French presidential election, candidates Nicolas Sarkozy, Ségolène Royal and François Bayrou all opened campaign offices in Montreal to battle for the 33,000 registered French voters in that city. Sarkozy, the ultimate winner, even launched YouTube videos specifically aimed at expatriate voters. In Canada, however, the situation is quite different. Few Canadian citizens vote from abroad. In the 2006 election, only 9,208 votes were cast from outside Canada, and there is no reason to think that the figure has increased since.

Not surprisingly, no political party has taken steps to reach what is in fact a large expatriate community – estimated at around 800,000, with 250,000 in the United States and Hong Kong alone. Since the fewer than 10,000 votes cast are divided among Canada’s 308 federal ridings, they cannot be expected to make a difference. Hence parties have no incentive to mobilize expatriates. There is no Conservatives Abroad, Liberals Abroad or NDP Abroad organization. As Karl Bélanger, senior press secretary to NDP Leader Jack Layton, replied to a query posed by a reporter for The Embassy, a newsletter directed toward civil servants working abroad, “Obviously voters here, who are more likely to follow the day-to-day action, are a bigger priority,” It’s up to absentee Canadians to use the party’s website for information, he added.

In the same interview, the Liberal Party’s senior director for organization and outreach, James Anderson, expressed the fear that other parties would copy his party’s strategies. In an email communication to The Embassy, Anderson claimed the party did have an outreach strategy for attracting expat votes. Similarly, Conservative Party spokesperson Ryan Sparrow asserted, “We have specific ways of , but we won’t release how we campaign with them.”

The secret strategies of Canada’s mainstream parties remained so secret that this researcher could find no evidence of their existence. But it is not only the lack of interest and effort on the part of political parties that accounts for the low number of votes cast by Canadians abroad. The way Canadians conduct elections remains a hindrance. Not having a fixed election date as the Americans do means that it is very difficult to mount a “Get out the Vote” campaign. An unexpected five-week campaign such as the one Canadians just experienced does not give Canadians dispersed throughout the world time to become knowledgeable about how to vote. Moreover, since they vote only for their MPs, they have to learn and remember the name of the candidate to write into the absentee ballot for their riding (the name of which they must also learn), or the vote will not be counted. The American voter can just vote for the preferred presidential slate.

Moreover, while Americans face no residency requirement, Canadian citizens who have lived outside the country for more than five years, with certain exceptions such as those in the military or national or international bodies, lose their right to vote. Prior to 1976 the United States had a residency requirement, but this was deemed a violation of the Bill of Rights. It would seem that a similar challenge could be made in Canada, because the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (section 3) states that “every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.” But so far no senior court has been asked to rule on this matter, an indication perhaps that expatriates place limited importance on this right.

A final obstacle to Canadians voting abroad is the application process. Canadian voters from abroad not only have to indicate that they reside in Canada, or intend to reside there in the near future, but there is a much great emphasis on establishing legitimacy. In contrast to the American application, Canadians are required to submit various documents along with proof of identification. (Ironically, in the United States voters in most states must produce photo identification, while this is less frequently the case for those casting an absentee vote). The voter is then sent a voting kit, which includes instructions and a special envelope to ensure the “integrity” of the ballot. This must be returned by mail. Only some Canadian embassies or consular offices will accept the ballot. The onus is on the elector to obtain the initial form, return the form with requisite documents, get the ballots and return the ballots by 6 p.m. on election day. With unfixed election dates and a much shorter campaign than in the United States, it is no wonder that Canadians seldom vote from abroad

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