The Biden administration calls on France and Canada to help lead an international effort to strengthen security in Haiti, after a series of crises this year crippled the Caribbean nation and sent shockwaves through the region .
Conversations began in the fall about an allied plan to strengthen Haitian law enforcement, which is beset by corruption and increasingly overwhelmed by drug-fueled gangs operating across the country. A virtual meeting hosted by the State Department attended by French and Canadian diplomats on Friday included a discussion of the plan.
“A number of countries that participated in the discussions this morning had already contributed to international police support to Haiti through the United Nations, or through the [Organization of American States]. They expressed their common desire to explore a greater deployment of the police force in Haiti, whether through mentoring, training or foreign police units, ”said the Assistant Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Western Hemisphere, Brian Nichols, who chaired the virtual meeting with 14 international and foreign aid organizations. governments, told reporters afterwards.
“The structure of how that would happen, the coordinating elements is something we all agreed we had to explore further,” Nichols said.
Recognizing that the effort requires even more work, Nichols said that in addition to the funding and equipment announced by the United States for the Haitian National Police, pledges have been received from other countries that do not had not previously provided funding to the police. Japan, for example, has said it will give $ 3 million to build housing and other facilities for the police.
“The reality is that all the investments we provide to the Haitian national police must be accompanied by gains in governance, transparency and anti-corruption efforts,” he said.
Vice President Kamala Harris spoke of the prospect of an international coalition to support Haiti during her meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris last month, as well as her recent conversations with Prime Ministers Justin Trudeau of Canada and Boris Johnson from the United Kingdom, a white The head of the house said.
French officials familiar with the matter said security was at the center of Harris’ conversation with Macron on Haiti, which was raised at the end of their meeting. The American proposal to support the application of Haitian law is still under consideration by the French.
While details of the US plan are scarce, multiple sources told the Miami Herald and the McClatchy Washington Bureau that it would rely heavily on help from its partners and involve security training.
Following a recent visit to Port-au-Prince, Todd Robinson, assistant secretary of state in the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that they were considering forming a new SWAT team within the Haitian police to tackle the gang crisis.
Haiti’s police force remains weak despite having received $ 300 million in U.S. spending over the past decade, in addition to assistance from Canada and the United Nations.
Haiti’s national police have struggled to contain gang violence, which has fueled a wave of kidnappings and a months-long blockade of the country’s fuel ports, eroding confidence in Washington that security forces can block the chain of seizures to continue.
The ongoing investigation into the assassination on July 7 of President Jovenel Moïse, now in the hands of a Haitian examining magistrate, has not yet resulted in formal accusations or in identifying a motive, despite the detention of more than 40 suspects.
Nichols said the United States recently increased its support for the Haitian National Police by $ 15 million, including $ 12 million to strengthen its capacity to respond to violent gangs and community efforts to resist them. He also plans to increase the number of advisers to the agency, train in anti-gang tactics, and fund upgrades to his SWAT facility.
“During the Moses administration, we saw that much of the past investments in policing were left without proper maintenance and support. Morale within the Haitian national police has declined. Funding from the Haitian government for things like salaries has really not happened to the police. So it was a significant degradation of their abilities, ”Nichols said. “The last few years they had been quite capable before that.”
Those years were marked by the 2004-2006 transition period which began after then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was forced into exile amid a bloody coup. Gangs controlled only a small part of the capital, and the police force that the United States had rebuilt after its first return from exile in 1991 had been wiped out by drug-dealing cops. After Aristide left, American and French troops were deployed to Haiti, later followed by a UN peacekeeping mission.
The US security proposal comes at a delicate time for the Biden administration. The White House has already been criticized for its handling of an influx of Haitian migrants arriving at the southern border of the United States in September and for its extension of the “stay in Mexico” policy – a policy of immigration first conceived by the administration of President Donald Trump and criticized by progressives – to Haitian migrants.
The administration has also been the subject of strong criticism from members of Congress and Haitian civil society, on the one hand, for having a heavy hand in Haiti, and on the other hand for its refusal to support a initiative of Haitian civil society groups aiming to start a transition year that would include new faces taking charge of the country.
Others called on the administration not to support the use of special forces to train the current Haitian police, or a return of UN peacekeepers, whose withdrawal from Haiti after 15 years has been strongly supported by the United States, France and the United Kingdom on the UN Security Council.
“Regarding the Haitian National Police, we are not going to lead with the army, but rather use our civilian tools to support it, whether by providing goods, equipment and even training”, he said. a senior official in the Biden administration told reporters. in October.
“We think that in particular given some of the debates that are taking place in this country about the militarization of the role of the police and the standards of the police in terms of treatment, the standards of the use of force, we believe that it’s better to provide us with that kind of training from a civilian perspective that reflects the lessons we’re learning in the United States, ”the official added.
The State Department said it was hosting a meeting of international partners on Friday to call for “commitments to prevent further deterioration” in Haiti as its security crisis worsens.
In addition to security, the issue of the current impasse between Haiti’s two main political actors, the government of interim Prime Minister Ariel Henry and those who support the civil society initiative, was also addressed.
The partners agreed, said Nichols, “that political dialogue must continue among all sectors of Haitian society to reach consensus on a political agreement.”
“When Haitians reach a consensus agreement, the international community is ready to support Haiti’s return to the restoration of its democratic institutions, including the holding of elections when conditions permit,” he said. declared. “In the past, the international community was frankly frustrated too quickly, when the Haitians failed to come to an agreement. And we just said, “Well, if you can’t get together on time, we’re just going to impose an outside solution. We are not going to do that. We are focused on supporting Haitians to come together around a way forward. “
Following the assassination of Moïse in July, Haiti requested military assistance from the United States and the United Nations. The request for troops followed a similar request by Moses to the United Nations months before his assassination.
Neither was willing to send troops, and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has also expressed skepticism. But Le Drian hinted that France would be ready to provide police officers, if necessary, “under the authority of the United Nations”.
A police dispatch “must be considered as part of a strengthening of the United Nations presence, which is currently insufficient, to be able to ensure the electoral process”, said France 24 citing Le Drian outside a meeting of the UN on Libya and Libya. protection of humanitarian workers.
France and the United States sent military troops to Haiti in 2004 after then-President Aristide was forced into exile. A UN peacekeeping mission followed, and in October 2017, the UN military peacekeepers were replaced by a police mission. The United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti was in place from 2017 to 2019, and has since been replaced by a small political mission, which was invited to Friday’s meeting.
Any new UN mission would have to be approved by the UN Security Council, which would force the Biden administration to confront China for approval. China has been a critical voice on past UN interventions in Haiti and has recently sought to stop the ongoing operation.
Nichols, when asked about the possible deployment of US military forces or pushing the UN Security Council for another peacekeeping mission, noted that France, the UK, Mexico and Brazil, which have current or future influence on the Security Council, were invited.
“I think there is a broad consensus that the security situation in Haiti is a challenge for the police. It’s not a military challenge, ”Nichols said. “Determining what is the right range of support for this police requirement in Haiti is something we discussed at the meeting, and we decided that we need to go back and think more about that. “
This story was originally published December 17, 2021 at 12:19 pm.