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Should the U.S. get involved in what is happening in Haiti?

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

All right, let's talk a bit more about the international community's role in what's happening in Haiti - namely, whether the United States should get involved. We have Professor Matthew J. Smith on the line. He's a historian at the University College London who studies Haitian politics. Professor, so what are the United States' options right now in Haiti?

MATTHEW J SMITH: I think what we saw coming out of Jamaica last night was very interesting. Secretary Blinken announced that the United States would give money, $333 million in total, for support of a multinational security force. It seems that that's the extent to which the United States, at the moment, chooses to enter the political crisis in Haiti. What was really encouraging to me when I heard what happened in Jamaica last night, was that the CARICOM, the Caribbean community, has also voiced a strong regional support, which is really going to be critical - that it's not only a U.S.- or even OAS-led mission, but it's a mission in which you have regional partners very actively participating.

MARTÍNEZ: Right. That's the Kenyan-led security mission. So beyond that, though, how much more should the United States get involved?

SMITH: At the moment, it's difficult to say. I mean, my view is that the United States' involvement should always be one in which the United States is part of a player in a much wider network of some form of multinational security force. I don't think we should see a return to what we have had in the past with Haiti, which is where you have a U.S.-dominated security force on the ground. That has not been ultimately useful, although it has been important in sort of trying to restore some form of security at various points of crisis. But what we have to see now is that there are multiple strands of this crisis in Haiti. And the principal one right now is the security of people in the capital and the reestablishment of some form of political order.

MARTÍNEZ: Why is it better that it's not led by the United States and that it's Kenyan-led?

SMITH: I think what we have seen in the past in Haiti - and Haiti's relationship with the United States is one of the longest ones that it's had with any other country in the Americas. And that has been a relationship going way back to the 19th century. And there have been ups and downs. The United States occupied Haiti for 19 years, between 1915 to 1934, and again was in Haiti in the 1990s following the overthrow of Aristide. In those instances, historically, there have been situations that have come out of it that were not improvements on what prevailed before. I think what we're seeing now in 2024 is a recognition, hopefully, and I'm trying to be as optimistic as possible, that you could have a intervention that would be about restoring political order and some form of infrastructure, but more importantly, making Haitians feel a lot safer than they do right now.

MARTÍNEZ: So is that history between the U.S. and Haiti so checkered that maybe Haitians don't want American involvement anytime soon?

SMITH: Certainly the history has, in fact, been such that Haitians have long memories about it. And, you know, there are lots of people who are very, very concerned about whether or not this is a U.S.-led mission. Which, again, is why I think that the meeting in Jamaica and the way in which CARICOM positioned itself with the U.S position on their intervention and their support was important.

MARTÍNEZ: Considering, though, how close Haiti is to the United States, is it unrealistic to think that the United States will not get involved beyond just being part of this multinational security mission with $300 million?

SMITH: It's difficult to say. I don't know. And I think what we're seeing now is a recognition that the Haitian crisis has to be confronted on several different layers, really, and that the first one has to be trying to get this transitional council together. Whether or not the planning is going beyond that, we just haven't heard yet. We - what we know is that there is an intention to try and get Haiti on a path towards general elections, at which point you'll see new political aspirants rising, and then we'd have to see what evolves there.

MARTÍNEZ: Just about 30 seconds left, Professor - what do you think this transition of power is going to look like?

SMITH: It's going to be difficult. I mean, what we have seen in recent past is that there have been members of the Haitian opposition who have come together with their own plans, and they have drawn very much on the sorts of, you know, views that a wide cross-section of Haitian political players as well as people from Haitian civil society, which is absolutely critical to this discussion, have put forward on the table. So it's very important that that becomes part of any transitional government or council at this point.

MARTÍNEZ: That is Matthew J. Smith, Professor of Caribbean History, University College London. Professor, thanks.

SMITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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