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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Why foreign officers are policing Haiti



Prime Minister Garry Conille of Haiti, fourth from left, poses for a photo with members of the Haitian delegation while visiting the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Tuesday, July 2, 2024. The United States has provided many of the supplies for an international mission to restore civic order in Haiti, rushing to find armored vehicles and other equipment. (Tierney L. Cross/The New York Times)

By Frances Robles and Abdi Latif Dahir


Foreign law enforcement officers started arriving in Haiti late last month, more than 1 1/2 years after the prime minister there issued a plea to other countries for help to stop the rampant gang violence that has upended the Caribbean nation.


The 400 officers from Kenya are the first contingent of a deployment of officers from eight nations. Their job is to try to wrest control of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, from dozens of armed groups that have attacked police stations, freed prisoners and killed with impunity.


So far, the officers have gone out on a few patrols around Port-au-Prince and authorities have not reported any clashes with armed groups.


Some security experts say the Kenyan officers face a significant challenge supporting Haiti’s police and facing off with well-armed and highly organized gangs that have vowed to fight the foreign officers.


And Kenyan police have a checkered history back home, accused by human rights groups of killing and abusing civilians, raising concerns about their actions in Haiti.


Here’s what to know about the multinational mission.


Why foreign officers?


Since Haiti’s appeal for international help went out in October 2022, more than 8,000 people have died in the violence there — over 3,000 people so far this year alone, the United Nations says.


With a weakened national government and the presidency vacant, dozens of gangs have put up roadblocks, kidnapped and killed civilians, and attacked entire neighborhoods. About 200,000 people were forced from their homes from March to May, according to the U.N.


The Kenyans in Haiti are the first to deploy of an expected 2,500-member force, an effort largely organized by the Biden administration.


There is long history of international forces being sent to Haiti for the stated purpose of restoring law and order that have left behind grim legacies of civilian casualties, sexual exploitation and disease.


What will the officers do?


The newly arrived officers are expected to tackle a long list of challenges, including retaking control of the country’s main port and freeing major highways from criminal groups that demand money from drivers. Checkpoints along roads have become a major source of income for gangs, experts say.


Two weeks into the deployment, the Kenyan officers, who are based at the international airport in Port-au-Prince, have gone out on limited patrols, working jointly with Haitian police. They have patrolled the downtown streets of the capital, and the areas near the National Palace, the Haitian police academy and the U.S. Embassy.


Beyond protecting key infrastructure, the officers at some point will be expected to secure the presidential palace, which remains in shambles after a 2010 earthquake but continues to be a symbolic place of power in Haiti.


Officially called the Multinational Security Support Mission, the deployment is expected to last at least a year, according to the U.S. government.


Sanctioned by the U.N. and mostly financed by the United States, its goal is to support Haitian police and establish enough stability so the transitional government can set up elections to choose a new president, as well as members of parliament.


What other countries are involved?


Beside Kenya, the Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Benin, Chad and Jamaica have officially offered personnel for the mission.


But it has not received much financial commitment.


While Kenyan officials estimate the mission’s cost will run up to $600 million, a U.N. fund to pay for it has only raised $21 million. The United States has pledged more than $300 million, but the U.S., Canada and France — Haiti’s biggest benefactors and allies — were unwilling to send troops of their own.


Kenya was the first nation to publicly offer to do so. Many experts believed the mission would be more welcomed if it was led by an African nation.


Experts say that Kenya’s president, William Ruto, who won a closely contested election in 2022, is using the deployment to broaden his profile on the global stage.


What is the US role?


The United States has provided many of the mission’s supplies, rushing to find armored vehicles and other equipment.


The U.S. military flew more than 100 flights into Haiti to support the mission, carrying more than 2,696 tons of supplies. Civilian contractors have built sleeping quarters for the Kenyan officers at the Port-au-Prince airport.


Haitian government officials have cleared the airport perimeter of hundreds of houses, which made it easier for gangs to hide and fire at aircraft, forcing the airfield to close. The airport is now reopened to commercial flights.


U.S. officials say they are hopeful that a new prime minister and police chief will be able to stem the violence.


Garry Conille, a former U.N. official who was appointed prime minister by a presidential transitional council, met recently with Secretary of State Antony Blinken to discuss the challenges facing his homeland.

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