NEW YORK: An international force for violence-plagued Haiti came closer to reality on Friday after months of fruitless efforts, with the US saying up to a dozen countries had offered support and pledged its own logistical assistance.
“Ten to 12 came with concrete offers to this mission,” acting US deputy secretary of state Victoria Nuland said after a ministerial meeting on Haiti on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
Kenya has offered to lead the force with a contribution of 1,000 security personnel and Jamaica, the Bahamas, and Antigua have made known their willingness to participate. Nuland did not name all the countries.
Haitian prime minister Ariel Henry has been calling for nearly a year for a force to deploy to the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country, where armed gangs have seized control of vast swathes of land following intersecting public health, political, and economic crises.
In an address to the General Assembly, after he took part in the US-led talks, Henry said the Security Council “must act urgently” in authorising the multinational force.
“Kidnappings for ransom, looting, arson, massacres, sexual violence, organ trafficking, human trafficking, murders, extrajudicial killings, child soldiers, blockades of major roads – this is a non-exhaustive list of the crimes perpetrated by the armed gangs,” Henry said.
He asked for “brotherly solidarity to help us turn this dark page. I ask the international community to act, and act quickly.”
Until the Kenyan offer, no country had been willing to take charge of the Haiti force, with Canada considering but determining it was too risky.
In the meantime, more than 2,400 people have died in Haiti’s violence since the start of the year, according to the UN.
US president Joe Biden has made clear he will not put American troops in harm’s way. But the US has offered logistical support including through air transport, intelligence, housing, and medical support.
Secretary of state Antony Blinken told the ministerial meeting that the Biden administration would ask Congress for US$100 million to support the mission, which includes both troops and police.
“With our support, this mission can deploy within months – and we really have no time to lose,” Blinken told the meeting that included Henry.
He said that the mission could create “space” for Haiti to resolve its political crisis. The country has not held elections since 2016.
“The support mission will not be a substitute for political progress,” Blinken said.
Blinken also announced that the US would restrict visas to five current or former Haitian officials over involvement with street gangs.
The peacekeepers will not operate under a UN flag, but the US is leading efforts for a Security Council resolution to authorise the effort.
A resolution co-sponsored by the US and Ecuador should be finalised next week, said Nuland, who expected “very strong support” on the Security Council.
In his address to the General Assembly on Tuesday, Biden called for the Security Council to act and thanked Kenyan president William Ruto.
Ruto in his own speech recalled how Haiti was the first nation in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery when it defeated French colonisers in 1804.
“Haiti deserves better from the world,” Ruto said.
Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados said on Friday that Haiti “cannot wait much longer.”
“I hope that those who constitute the members of the Security Council will recognise that they cannot use Haiti as a pawn, because they have suffered for too long and by the hands of too many,” she said.
Complicating diplomacy on Haiti is that it is one of the dwindling number of nations that recognise Taiwan rather than Beijing, although diplomats have voiced hope that China will support a resolution.
A UN peacekeeping mission was in operation in Haiti from 2004 to 2017 but fell out of favour after a cholera outbreak traced to infected UN personnel claimed thousands of lives. - AFP