(AFP) Lined up in two long columns in the courtyard of a military base, hundreds of young men and a few women await interviews to join Haiti’s national army.
After decades marked by coups and military interference in politics, Haiti demobilised its army in 1995, long before these potential recruits were born.
But now the government wants to rebuild the military, so these young people are stepping forward to do their patriotic duty — and get a job in a country where poverty is extreme and unemployment is endemic.
There is an opening for 500 recruits between the ages of 18 and 25 years.
“Many young people after the last year of high school can’t find much to do … so for them this is a chance to find work and to serve their country,” said Captain Louicin Dieudonne, in charge of recruitment at the Leogane military base east of the capital Port-au-Prince.
The screening for new recruits began Monday and continues throughout the week.
The poorest country in the Americas is invoking the need to “reclaim national sovereignty” as a 13-year UN peacekeeping mission comes to an end.
The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) was deployed in 2004 to stem violence following the sudden departure of then-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and is set to leave in October amid an improving security situation and a successful electoral process after two years of political turmoil.
It will leave behind a residual training force of international police officers.
Like many people lined up, Benjamin Ferry said that patriotism was the driving force that led him to try to sign up.
The 24-year-old telecommunications student says he wants Haiti “to be responsible, without having to depend on foreigners as with the MINUSTAH.”
With no declared enemy or known terrorist threat, Haitian officials say they plan to deploy troops along the border with the Dominican Republic to fight smuggling.
In the country routinely hit by disasters such as earthquakes and flooding, soldiers will also be deployed in vulnerable areas.