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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Preparations ramp up for global security force to quell Haitian violence



Guy Philippe, one of Haiti’s most feared warlords, listens as villagers ask him for help during a food aid distribution in his hometown of Pestel, Oct. 16, 2016. Contractors and supplies have begun landing in Haiti, paving the way for a seven-nation security mission, led by Kenya, to deploy to the troubled Caribbean nation in the coming weeks, U.S. officials say. (Meridith Kohut/The New York Times)

By David C. Adams and Frances Robles


U.S. military planes filled with civilian contractors and supplies have begun landing in Haiti, paving the way for a seven-nation security mission, led by Kenya, to deploy to the troubled Caribbean nation in the coming weeks, U.S. officials say.


But even as the security situation worsens and millions of Haitians go hungry, a military-style deployment that is estimated to cost $600 million has just a fraction of the funding required.


Biden administration officials would not say whether a precise date for the deployment date had been set. The Kenyan government did not respond to requests for comment.


Several military flights, including at least seven from Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina, have landed at Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, the capital, in the past week, according to the U.S. Southern Command.


Contractors were being flown in to help secure the airport before building a base of operations there for the international security force. More planes carrying construction contractors and equipment were expected in the coming days.


“The deployment of the multinational security support mission in Haiti is urgent, and we’re doing all we can to advance that goal,” Brian A. Nichols, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, told reporters last week. “Every day that goes by is a lost opportunity to provide greater security for the Haitian people. And that’s why we’re doing everything we can, along with our Kenyan partners, to advance that.”


The United Nations first approved the security mission seven months ago to help Haiti, which has been ravaged by gang violence in a crisis that the U.N. says is pushing more than 1 million people toward famine.


The deployment was hobbled by a series of delays as opposition lawmakers in Kenya and a Kenyan court objected. Now, officials say, the legal impediments have been cleared for a 2,500-member security force, led by 1,000 police officers from Kenya, to Haiti, where several gangs have taken over large swaths of the capital.


More than half a dozen other countries have also pledged to contribute personnel in stages. Among them are the Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Benin, Chad and Jamaica, according to the United Nations.


Benin, in West Africa, pledged 1,500 to 2,000 people, and Jamaica offered 200 police officers and soldiers, according to letters submitted to the U.N. The Bahamas volunteered 150 law enforcement officers, who will concentrate on community policing, as well as maritime and port security.


In March, dozens of members of the Canadian Armed Forces flew to Jamaica to train Jamaican officers heading to Haiti in peacekeeping skills and combat first aid, the Canadian military said.


Other countries have publicly expressed interest but have not submitted official commitment letters.


Thousands of people have been killed in Haiti in the first few months of this year. In late February, gangs that for years clashed with one another joined forces to take over much of the capital, blocking key infrastructure like ports, and taking over entire neighborhoods.


More than 350,000 people have been forced from their homes in the past year, and millions more are unable to work in the face of rampant violence and indiscriminate gunfire. Thousands of inmates were freed in late February as gangs attacked several prisons.


With the ports blocked for several weeks, ships could not dock, and food supplies dwindled. After more than two months, commercial flights are expected to restart next week.


Gang leaders said their goal was to force the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry, and to prevent the international security deployment. Henry stepped down and a presidential transition council has been named with the goal of appointing a new interim government and organizing elections by late 2025.


The Haitian National Police has already drawn up plans with timetables for the takeover of all the areas currently occupied by the gangs, according to Police Chief Frantz Elbé.


“Our country, being a member of the great community of nations, cannot pretend to solve its problems alone, especially when these may have repercussions on the security of other states,” Elbe said in an email to The New York Times.


The U.S. government has pledged $300 million for the security mission but has faced obstacles in getting Congress to approve the release of funds. So far, just $10 million has been released.


A U.N. fund to pay for the mission has just $18 million, much of it pledged from Canada, according to the U.N. But there are other ways to finance the mission, including with in-kind donations such as the provision of $70 million of materiel and equipment authorized by the Biden administration.


“We really hope it hits the ground as quickly as possible,” said Stephanie Tremblay, a U.N. spokesperson. “We cannot say that often enough.”


While U.S. officials declined to say when the mission would begin arriving in Haiti, the timing was widely expected to coincide with a state visit by Kenya’s president, William Ruto, on May 23.


“There’s no question they’re trying to make this a reality within the next couple of weeks,” said Jake Johnston, a Haiti expert at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington. “At this point, with all the planes landing, it’s really clear they’re going to have somebody on the ground by the time Ruto is in D.C., but it’s going to be largely symbolic. This doesn’t mean that there is like an operational force on the ground in 2 1/2 weeks.”

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