POLITICS

US pledges an additional $100M for a multinational force awaiting deployment to violence-hit Haiti

Mar 11, 2024, 6:12 AM | Updated: 5:08 pm

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday announced an additional $100 million to finance the deployment of a multinational force to Haiti following a meeting with Caribbean leaders in Jamaica to halt the country’s violent crisis.

Blinken also announced another $33 million in humanitarian aid and the creation of a joint proposal agreed on by Caribbean leaders and “all of the Haitian stakeholders to expedite a political transition” and create a “presidential college.”

He said the college would take “concrete steps” he did not identify to meet the needs of Haitian people and enable the pending deployment of the multinational force to be led by Kenya. Blinken also noted that the U.S. Department of Defense doubled its support for the mission, having previously set aside $100 million.

The joint proposal has the backing of Caricom, a regional trade bloc that held Monday’s urgent meeting.

“I think we can all agree: Haiti is on the brink of disaster,” said Guyanese President Irfaan Ali. “We must take quick and decisive action.”

Ali said he is “very confident that we have found commonality” to support what he described as a Haitian-led and -owned solution.

Meanwhile, Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness said the meeting was a work in progress.

“It is clear that Haiti is now at a tipping point,” he said. “We are deeply distressed that it is already too late for too many who have lost far too much at the hands of criminal gangs.”

Embattled Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who faces calls to resign or agree to a transitional council, did not attend the meeting. He has been locked out of his own country while traveling abroad, due to surging unrest and violence by criminal gangs who have overrun much of Haiti’s capital and closed down its main international airports.

Henry remained in Puerto Rico and was taking steps to return to Haiti once feasible, according to a brief statement from the U.S. territory’s Department of State.

While leaders met behind closed doors, Jimmy Chérizier, considered Haiti’s most powerful gang leader, told reporters that if the international community continues down the current road, “it will plunge Haiti into further chaos.”

“We Haitians have to decide who is going to be the head of the country and what model of government we want,” said Chérizier, a former elite police officer known as Barbecue who leads a gang federation known as G9 Family and Allies. “We are also going to figure out how to get Haiti out of the misery it’s in now.”

The meeting in Jamaica was organized by members of a regional trade bloc known as Caricom, which for months has pressed for a transitional government in Haiti while protests in the country have demanded Henry’s resignation.

“The international community must work together with Haitians towards a peaceful political transition,” U.S. Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols wrote on X, formerly Twitter. Nichols will attend the meeting.

Concerns remain that a long-sought solution will remain elusive. Caricom said in a statement on Friday announcing the urgent meeting in Jamaica that while “we are making considerable progress, the stakeholders are not yet where they need to be.”

Mia Mottley, Barbados’ prime minister, said that up to 90% of proposals that Haitian stakeholders have put on the table are similar. These include an “urgent need” to create a presidential council to help identify a new prime minister to establish a government.

Her comments were briefly streamed by Caricom, in what appeared to have been a mistake, and then were abruptly cut off.

The meeting was held as powerful gangs continued to attack key government targets across Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince. Since Feb. 29, gunmen have burned police stations, closed the main international airports and raided the country’s two biggest prisons, releasing more than 4,000 inmates.

Scores of people have been killed, and more than 15,000 are homeless after fleeing neighborhoods raided by gangs. Food and water are dwindling as stands and stores selling to impoverished Haitians run out of goods. The main port in Port-au-Prince remains closed, stranding dozens of containers with critical supplies.

Late Monday, the Haitian government announced it was extending a nighttime curfew until March 14 in an attempt to prevent further attacks.

Henry could not be immediately reached for comment after Monday’s meeting. He landed in Puerto Rico last week after being denied entry into the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.

When the attacks began, Henry was in Kenya pushing for the U.N.-backed deployment of a police force from the East African country that has been delayed by a court ruling.

A growing number of people are demanding Henry’s resignation. He has not made any public comment since the attacks began.

The U.N. Security Council on Monday urged Haiti’s gangs “to immediately cease their destabilizing actions,” including sexual violence and the recruitment of children, and said it expects that a multinational force will deploy as soon as possible to help end the violence.

Council members expressed concern at the limited political progress and urged all political actors to allow free and fair legislative and presidential elections.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres is calling for the urgent deployment of the multinational force and that the mission be adequately funded, said his spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

Currently, funding is at only $10.8 million, with officials in Kenya demanding more than $230 million.

___

Associated Press writers Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Evens Sanon in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, contributed to this report.

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US pledges an additional $100M for a multinational force awaiting deployment to violence-hit Haiti