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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

An international force may be headed to troubled Haiti, again

Tires were set on fire by the police during a protest in January in Port-au-Prince after a gang attack on a police station that left six officers dead.

By Frances Robles

After nearly a year of calls from the prime minister of Haiti for armed intervention from abroad, the troubled country may soon get such a deployment from an African nation.

Just days after announcing the withdrawal of nonemergency personnel from its embassy in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, and urging other Americans to leave, the United States said Monday that it would introduce a resolution to the United Nations Security Council authorizing a multinational force to Haiti.

On Saturday, Kenya said in a statement that it would “positively consider” leading such a force by sending 1,000 police officers to the Caribbean nation, which has become a cauldron of violence and political instability.

The prime minister of Haiti is largely viewed as incompetent, gangs have taken over vast areas of Port-au-Prince, and police have done little to quell the violence, leading to the rise of vigilante groups that have targeted and killed suspected gang members in public.

After months of rampant gang-related homicides, kidnappings and vigilante killings, dozens of people have in recent weeks sought refuge on the steps of the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince.

Last week, an American nurse and her child were kidnapped. Haiti’s previous president, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated in his home two years ago, but the country has been too mired in political upheaval and violence to elect a successor.

Haiti’s prime minister, Ariel Henry, has for months asked for an international force to step in, but the United States and other nations that might take the lead had shown little interest.

Kenya’s foreign minister, Alfred Mutua, said Kenyan police would help train and assist Haitian police, restore normalcy and protect “strategic installations.” Kenya “stands with persons of African descent across the world,” Mutua said.

The West African nation has had experience in peacekeeping missions in other parts of the world, including Somalia and Congo. It recently tried, unsuccessfully, to broker an end to a more than 100-day war in Sudan.

Details of the Haiti mission will “crystallize” once the Security Council issues a mandate, the foreign minister said, adding that an assessment mission was expected in the coming weeks.

“Once they have conducted that assessment mission, they, as the lead of this multinational force, will talk with other partners about what additional type of assistance they need, what other countries might participate,” said Matthew Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department.

The United States is “committed to finding the resources to support this multinational force,” but it is too early to know what those resources might be, he added.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Tuesday: “Our support for the people of Haiti remains unwavering.”

The United Nations said it welcomed the move, but stressed that the force would be a “non-U.N. multinational force.”

“They are not asking for a peacekeeping operation” in Haiti, said Stephanie Tremblay, a spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres. “They are asking for non-U.N., but still international, assistance to help out with security.”

Among the questions about outside intervention is whether help from other countries, if needed, would come.

Haiti has a fraught history of occupations by foreign powers, and even in cases where international forces arrived to try to help the country after political unrest or natural disasters, they have often done little to improve the situation.

During a recent visit to Port-au-Prince, Guterres criticized the international community’s efforts to improve Haiti’s situation, saying it was, “once again, falling short of expectations.”

A U.N. humanitarian aid plan for Haiti, which requires $720 million, has received only 23% of necessary funding, he told reporters.

The world body has a complicated history in Haiti. From 2005 to 2017, it deployed thousands of soldiers after periods of political turbulence and natural disasters. But the soldiers brought cholera to Haiti, which killed at least 10,000 people, and the United Nations was slow to take responsibility. Human rights organizations also accused troops of sexual abuse and impregnating and abandoning hundreds of local women.

Despite that checkered U.N. history, experts say that outside assistance is necessary in Haiti.

Jean Jonassaint, a Syracuse University professor and expert on Haiti, said international leaders seemed to believe that it was best to send troops from Black or African nations, when it would have been more important to send people who spoke French.

“I don’t think 1,000 soldiers can solve the problem in Haiti, especially coming from Kenya, because they don’t speak French, don’t speak Haitian Creole and cannot communicate directly to the population,” he said. “And I don’t think they have the training to deal with gangs.”

Pierre Espérance, a leading human rights activist in Haiti, said he was not against an international mission, but was surprised to see that Kenyan police, who have a checkered human rights record, might lead it.

While an outside force is key to helping restore order in Haiti, any international mission will have a hard time establishing a lasting peace as long as gangs can infiltrate the police and political power structure in Haiti, he said.

“We should care about what happened in peacekeeping missions in the past,” Espérance said. “We need to be careful. I don’t know why they chose Kenya.”

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