Jun 12, 2023 - World

As gang wars tear Haiti apart, stalemate over who should intervene

Police officers in a gunfight with gangs near the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince. Photo: Richard Pierrin/AFP via Getty

The U.S. and UN are reiterating their calls for an international intervention in Haiti to break the stranglehold of violent gangs that have terrorized the capital city and paralyzed the country's economy.

Why it matters: It's been eight months since interim Haitian President Ariel Henry first requested an armed intervention. The government now controls only small pockets of Port-au-Prince, and violence has spread out of the slums into virtually every corner of the city.

  • The U.S. and UN are reiterating theircalls for an international intervention in Haiti to break the stranglehold of violent gangs that have terrorized the capital city and paralyzed the country's economy.
  • Thousands of others have fled in hopes of reaching the U.S., though many have been turned back at the U.S. border under new policies.
  • Vice President Kamala Harris reiterated U.S. support for a multinational intervention last Thursday at a regional summit in the Bahamas.
  • Meanwhile, UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric confirmed to Axios that Secretary-General António Guterres continues to see a "non-UN force, authorized by the Security ‎Council" as "the most effective option" to reduce violence, improve the humanitarian outlook and create the conditions for elections.

Yes, but: It still hasn't gotten off the ground. Only Jamaica has said it's willing to send troops.

  • The U.S. doesn’t want to lead the intervention, and Canada has also declined. A State Department official tells Axios the U.S. is still trying to find a “lead nation” for what would be a “police-driven multinational force.”
  • The U.S. has also approached Brazil about the multinational mission. Others have floated missions led by the UN or CARICOM, the Caribbean regional bloc.

Flashback: A UN-backed intervention that began in 2004 was marred by allegations of abuses by peacekeepers and failed to deliver stability.

  • The idea of a new intervention has divided Haitians. In a possible sign of how desperate things have become, a poll conducted in January found 69% in support.
  • In the meantime, the U.S. has provided the Haitian National Police with $92 million in assistance, including armored vehicles, protective equipment and specialized training, the State Department official says.

Driving the news: CARICOM is hosting a three-day gathering in Jamaica from Sunday to Tuesday to try to break another stalemate by pushing Henry and members of the opposition to agree on a political road map.

  • No elections have been held since 2016, leaving Haiti without an elected legislature.
  • Henry, meanwhile, was never elected and had only recently been appointed prime minister when President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in 2021. While Henry won the subsequent power struggle, he's never been widely accepted as legitimate.
  • The opposition wants him removed. They claim U.S. backing intended to stabilize Haiti is keeping Henry in power indefinitely.
  • Henry argues elections must be held to “restore democracy," but it's unclear when the situation might be stable enough to allow that to happen.

On the ground: While the gang violence has been largely centered in Port-au-Prince and the surrounding areas, the gangs have also blockaded routes in and out of the city, exacerbating the broader humanitarian crisis.

  • When an earthquake struck the southwest of the country last Tuesday, days after devastating floods destroyed thousands of homes, lifesaving aid had to be sent by sea rather than by road to avoid gang-controlled areas, says Allen Joseph, Mercy Corps’ program manager in Jeremie.
  • Four people in Jeremie were killed by the quake and around 200 homes were heavily damaged.
  • The blockades are making food more scarce and harder to afford, Joseph says. Local needs are also increasing as thousands of people flee the capital for the provinces.

State of play: The UN estimates that 4.9 million Haitians, nearly half the population, are facing “acute food insecurity.”

  • Meanwhile, Joseph is among the many Haitians who fear a "civil war" if the government can't restore control.
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