November 28, 2011:
For the last sixteen years, Haiti has not had any armed forces. But the current government proposes to revive the armed forces, something that many Haitians oppose. The president believes that the army is needed to defend the country. That has not been the case for a long time, as no one in their right mind would invade poor, chaotic Haiti.
The military was disbanded in 1995 because, well, the army had not done Haiti much good. For two centuries, Haiti has seen one coup, and dictator, after another. A lack of an honest, and popularly elected, government has resulted in corruption, economic decline and what Haiti is today. The army has been responsible for over 30 coups and much grief over the last two centuries and in 1995 there was an elected president powerful enough to eliminate the army.
The 1995 armed forces had about 7,500 troops and over 90 percent belonged to the army. This force was more of a paramilitary operation, organized into 30 infantry companies and some support units. Even after they lost their jobs, the soldiers were a lethal nuisance. Many kept their weapons, and hired out to warlords and criminal gangs.
Nine years later, the government, backed by over 10,000 UN peacekeepers, made a deal to disarm the ex-soldiers. The ex-soldiers received compensation for being "illegally dismissed" in 1995 (when deposed president Aristide was installed as president by American troops). The 6,000 former soldiers received about $4,800 each. Payments were spread over three months, and soldiers were expected to turn in their weapons as part of the deal. Not all of the ex-soldiers were willing to accept this deal. They wanted the army revived, but the government was unwilling to do that, until now.
It is proposed that the new army have 3,400 personnel, and troops and officers will be carefully selected and trained. The new army will still be more of a paramilitary force, because Haiti has never had enough police. The UN is helping to recruit and train more police, so that the force will have 10,000 cops and civilians. But most police experts believe Haiti needs twice as many. The problem is, Haiti cannot afford to maintain a force that large.
One thing Haiti does still have is a tradition of private militias, corruption and little respect for the law. It will take more than a larger police force, and a new army, to deal with that.