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Haiti: Regional powers hold crisis meeting in Jamaica

March 11, 2024

US, Canadian, French and Caribbean envoys gathered in Jamaica to discuss what Guyana's president called a "dire" security situation in Haiti. Gangs in the lawless country say they aim to oust the government.

A woman passes to take refuge in the local welfare, as Haitians forced to flee their homes amid spiraling gang violence in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on March 9, 2024.
People in the capital Port-au-Prince are fleeing to public facilities in search of safety and shelterImage: Guerinault Louis/Anadolu/picture alliance

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Jamaica on Monday for emergency talks also involving Canada, France, the UN and Caribbean countries seeking to solve the flare-up of violence in Haiti

Locked out of his own country by the violence and last said to be in Puerto Rico, Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry is facing increasing pressure to either resign or agree to a transitional council. 

Antony Blinken stapes off a plane at the Norman Manley International Airport in Jamaica. March 11, 2024.
Blinken, who's spent much of recent months in the Middle East, was flown into the Caribbean on Monday Image: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool AFP/dpa/picture alliance

The meeting was organized by the members of the regional trade bloc known as Caricom, which for months had pressed for a transitional government in Haiti as protests called for Henry's resignation. 

"The international community must work together with Haitians towards a peaceful political transition," US Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols said online ahead of the meeting, which he was set to attend.

Caricom warns Haitian stakeholders 'are not where they need to be' 

The Caribbean Community (or Caricom) summoned its leaders as well as other international actors for the meeting in Kingston, Jamaica's capital. 

The State Department, which sent its top diplomat Blinken, said he would discuss a proposal "developed in partnership with Caricom and Haitian stakeholders to expedite a political transition in Haiti." 

Guyanese President Mohamed Irfaan Ali, the current Caricom chair, said talks to restore "stability and normalcy" to Haiti were ongoing but warned that some Haitian groups "are not where they need to be." 

"Time is not on their side in agreeing to the way forward," Ali warned, describing the reports out of Haiti as "dire." 

US pledges additional $133 million for crisis-hit Haiti

After meeting with Caribbean leaders, Blinken announced an additional $100 million (€92 million) to fund the deployment of a multinational force to Haiti to help stop the violent crisis in the country.

He also announced an additional $33 million in humanitarian aid and the creation of a joint proposal, agreed to by Caribbean leaders and Haitian stakeholders, that would expedite the creation of a "presidential college."

Blinken said the college would take "concrete steps," which he did not specify, to meet the needs of the Haitian people and enable the upcoming deployment of the Kenyan-led multinational force.

Gang leaders should not be part of negotiations, expert says

William O'Neill, the UN's independent expert on human rights in Haiti, told DW that the security situation should be the primary issue for talks. "Unless you have security, whatever you come up with on paper and talks in Jamaica or anywhere else really will be meaningless," he said.

O'Neill emphasized that the leaders of the gangs should not be a part of any negotiations, and he hoped that they would be put in jail. "These are brutal, violent people who have actually no popular support. They may control territory, but they rule through sheer terror over the population," he said.

The expert added that controlling the gangs would not be complex because they have no ideology other than power and money. "It's not like al Shabaab or al Qaeda that they're willing to die for a leader or some ideology. If someone is stronger than they are, they will not fight," O'Neill explained.

European, US, German embassy staff airlifted out, Security Council urges calm

The EU said on Monday that its embassy staff in Port-au-Prince had relocated to the Dominican Republic, with Germany's Foreign Ministry and the US taking announcing similar steps on Sunday

A deserted street near the US Embassy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. March 10, 2024.
The street that's the site of the US Embassy was deserted after nonessential personnel were flown out of the facility on SundayImage: Odelyn Joseph/AP Photo/picture alliance

The UN Security Council issued a statement calling on Haiti's gangs to "immediately cease their destabilizing actions," including sexual violence and the recruitment of children.

It said it expected that a multinational force would deploy as soon as possible to help end the violence. It urged the international community to support the Haitian police by backing the force's deployment. 

No elections since 2016, protests for months, street battles for over a week

The International Organization for Migration has warned that some 362,000 Haitians have been displaced from their homes amid the latest fighting. 

The issue boiled over early this month, after months of protests calling for elections, and as Prime Minister Henry said the security situation in the country — long plagued by influential criminal gangs who control much of the capital — did not allow for this. 

As Henry left on a trip to Kenya, seeking to shore up faltering support for an international policing mission that nobody volunteered to lead for months, an influential gang leader held a press conference and said he was trying to oust the government. 

A child watches from an opening in a security gate as residents flee their homes due to gang violence, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Saturday, March 9, 2024.
Residents in the capital are trying to avoid the crossfire between influential gangs and national security forcesImage: Odelyn Joseph/AP Photo/picture alliance

The remaining government officials declared a state of emergency and curfew, which they extended last week, but security forces are struggling to control the city in pitched battles with gangs and other groups. 

Gunmen have burned police stations and also raided two of the country's biggest prisons, releasing thousands of inmates. 

Henry has not made any public comments since the attacks began and his position was always a difficult one in a country that has held no elections since 2016.

Just days after Henry was announced as the next prime minister by former Haitian President Jovenel Moise in the summer of 2021, Moise was assassinated, propelling Henry into a more important and influential role that he has held since.

Haiti: Gang violence triggers food and water shortages

msh/wmr (AFP, AP) 

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