Haiti News Round-Up No. 4: Kenya Offers to Lead Intervention Force

In a statement released on Twitter Saturday, Kenya’s foreign minister Alfred Mutua expressed his country’s intention to lead a multinational force in Haiti — a contingent of 1,000 police officers to “help train and assist Haitian police restore [sic] normalcy in the country and protect strategic installations.” An assessment mission is expected to travel to Haiti in the coming weeks. 

The same day, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Kenyan president William Ruto to discuss regional security issues, including the offer to lead a multinational force in Haiti. For many years, Kenya has been a key US military ally in East Africa, hosting US military bases and participating in US-backed operations on the continent, including the war against al-Shabaab in Somalia. 

Kenya’s announcement comes after a high-level US delegation that included Todd Robinson, the head of the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, traveled to Nairobi last week. Former US ambassador to Haiti Michel Sison, now the assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs, and former head of the UN mission to Haiti Helen Lalime, who now serves as an advisor to Sison, were both reportedly involved in the discussions.

On Monday, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said that the United States and Ecuador would draft a UN Security Council resolution to authorize deployment of the international force, though the mission would not be a traditional UN peacekeeping operation. The US is “committed to finding the resources to support this multinational force,” Miller added. 

The offer of police assistance was welcomed both by the de facto Haitian authorities, who initially requested such an intervention in October 2022, and by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who is due to deliver a report to the Security Council this month on “the full range of support options the United Nations can provide to enhance the security situation.” On Tuesday, the Bahamian government, which has been intercepting record numbers of Haitian migrants, announced that it would provide an additional 150 officers for the planned force. 

For the last year, countries have been reluctant to lead such a mission to Haiti, in part due to concerns about the mandate of de facto prime minister Ariel Henry and the lack of a broad-based political accord. Canada, which the US had pressured to lead an intervention force, has instead focused on financial and technical assistance to the Haitian police. On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, while welcoming Kenya’s offer, appeared frustrated with the pace of reform and lack of political dialogue.

“We’ve been there in Haiti for three decades at different times to help counter the violence, the political instability, an appalling humanitarian situation, and we still find ourselves now in a situation that is among the worst ever,” he said. “We are here to put pressure on the political class in Haiti, which is not taking seriously the responsibility they have to compromise and restore security.”

The issue of foreign forces remains a point of contention for many Haitians. In particular, there are concerns about the Kenyan forces’ reputation. The Associated Press reported that, “as the U.S. government was considering Kenya to lead a multinational force in Haiti, it was also openly warning Kenyan police officers against violent abuses.” Haiti’s ex-prime minister Claude Joseph, a member of the opposition to the de facto authorities, also expressed concern: “Kenya […] is embroiled in its own internal socio-political crisis. […] The anti-government protests against the rising cost of living are violently repressed by the police. Can a police force that is not professional in its own country act as such abroad?”

In The New York Times, Jean Jonassaint, a professor at Syracuse who studies Haiti, questioned the choice of Kenya to lead such a mission, given the language barrier. “I don’t think 1,000 soldiers can solve the problem in Haiti, especially coming from Kenya, because they don’t speak French, don’t speak Haitian Creole and cannot communicate directly to the population,” he said. The US and UN have pledged to learn from previous failed interventions, but the language barrier was also a significant issue in the 13-year MINUSTAH operation, which was led by Portuguese-speaking Brazilian troops.

The announcement of a multinational force also threatens to derail ongoing political negotiations. For months, Haitian civil society organizations have warned that the imposition of a security intervention, without first establishing a more broadly acceptable and legitimate transitional government, would be unlikely to succeed, and would instead simply consolidate the de facto authorities’ power.

Escalation of violence prompts US Embassy to call for evacuation

The US State Department has ordered its nonemergency staff at the US embassy in Port-au-Prince to leave Haiti due to escalating violence. It also reissued its “Do Not Travel” advisory for the country, which advises US citizens to leave the country immediately. Earlier in the week, dozens of Haitians displaced by ongoing violence, and seeking refuge in front of the US embassy, were teargassed by the Haitian National Police (PNH). Those attacked included children and pregnant women. 

In a July 26 press release, the National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH), condemned the PNH officers’ behavior, and in particular criticized the PNH’s acting director general, Frantz Elbe: 

“RNDDH condemns with the utmost rigor the outrageous use of force by PNH agents against a population left alone to fight, who, by going to the premises of the US Embassy in Haiti, were only seeking refuge. RNDDH recalls that the right to seek refuge whenever one’s life, safety, or any other fundamental rights and freedoms are threatened or violated, is recognized for all persons.”

Those who sought shelter outside the embassy had fled violence perpetrated by the Kraze Baryè gang led by Vitel’homme Innocent, who is wanted by the FBI in connection with the kidnapping of missionaries in 2021. In its release, RNDDH accused Innocent of being Elbe’s “protege.” The organization claims that Innocent is known to travel accompanied by state vehicles and that in recent weeks he had met with state officials. Since then, attacks have intensified, RNDDH reported. 

On the same day the US issued its travel advisory, a US nurse and her young child were kidnapped in the Cité Soleil neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, where she worked at a local clinic. The case has generated international headlines, President Joe Biden has been briefed, and the US government has said it is working for their release. 

After a brief respite — seemingly as a result of the Bwa Kale citizen justice movement — local groups have documented a sharp rise in violence in recent months. RNDDH reported at least 40 people abducted and 75 murdered from May to mid-July. 

US Senate holds two Haiti-related meetings

Last week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held two hearings related to Haiti. On Tuesday, the committee held a nomination hearing for Dennis Hankins, President Biden’s nominee for the next US ambassador to Haiti. This was followed the next day by a hearing with Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Brian Nichols and a top USAID official. Despite the high-level attention on Haiti and the looming prospect of a US-financed multinational intervention, only two senators showed up to ask questions. 

EU amends rules to impose sanctions on individuals and businesses in Haiti

The Council of the European Union amended its sanctions regime in order to allow the EU to autonomously impose restrictive measures on “individuals and entities responsible for threatening the peace, security or stability of Haiti, or for undermining democracy or the rule of law in Haiti.” While no individual or entity has been sanctioned at this stage, the measures are comprised of a travel ban for individuals, as well as a freezing of funds for individuals and entities. In addition, EU entities and individuals will be forbidden from making funds available to those listed, either directly or indirectly. 

“With this new framework for restrictive measures, we are sending a clear signal to Haitian gang leaders and their financiers: we know how they operate and there will be no impunity. The EU stands with Haiti and its people,” Josep Borell, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy stated. The EU joins Canada, the US and the United Nations in issuing sanctions against Haitian individuals and entities. 

The EU, however, has been reluctant to take leadership or an active role in the planned multinational force. In conversations with the press ahead of the EU-Latin America and Caribbean Summit, the EU Ambassador to Haiti, Stefano Gatto, said that the bloc could not support Haiti without the leadership of the United States and Canada. “Proposing to engage our security apparatus in Haiti when the Russian army is just 300 kilometers away from the European Union is quite complex,” he said, highlighting that the war in Ukraine had captured the bloc’s attention. 

“In the field of security, we could not be at the forefront or take the leadership,” Gatto added. “There are countries much closer to Haiti that can do it on our behalf. Why would the Union help Haiti when countries in the hemisphere such as the United States, Canada, or the Latin American countries, are not doing it themselves? […] We can participate in any initiative if it is led by a country from the American hemisphere.”

Expulsions and deportations of Haiti continue 

On August 2, ICE deported some 55 Haitians to Port-au-Prince. The move comes less than a week after US officials ordered the departure of all nonemergency staff, due to safety concerns. According to Witness at the Border, it is the 285th such flight to Haiti since the beginning of the Biden administration, sending a total of more than 27,000 individuals to Haiti. 

While welcoming Kenya’s offer of security assistance, Dominican president Luis Abinader pledged to continue with his country’s draconian immigration enforcement. Over the last year, the Dominican Republic deported over 200,000 Haitians, while also building a wall along its border with Haiti. 

A long interactive piece in the Washington Post looks at smuggling routes in the Bahamas that are transporting record numbers of Haitians seeking to make the journey to the US. “So far this year, Bahamian authorities have apprehended 1,736 migrants, 1,281 of them Haitian,” The Post reports. Meanwhile, this fiscal year the US Coast Guard has intercepted more than 5,000 Haitians. 

Haitians around the globe march for relief

In more than 70 countries around the world, thousands of Haitians marched on July 9 to call for relief for Haiti. In the United States, marches led by pastor Gregory Toussaint in South Florida called on Congress to pass the Haiti Criminal Collusion Transparency Act, which was just approved by the House and is now pending in the Senate. The act would mandate the State Department to regularly report on ties between Haitian elites and criminal gangs and for the US to implement sanctions on those identified. The protesters also requested for the Biden administration’s Humanitarian Parole program to remain open. 

The Humanitarian Parole program also remains highly controversial, with many PNH officers applying to leave the country, a disastrous blow to the force when it is already unable to tackle the country’s security crisis. Marleine Bastien, a Haitian community activist and immigration rights advocate in South Florida, called the program “ill-advised and ill-conceived” back in February. Others have argued that the program is further exacerbating the country’s brain drain. Florida governor Ron DeSantis and the leaders of 19 other Republican states are challenging the legality of the program in federal court. According to the Department of Homeland security, some 63,000 Haitians have been approved for travel and more than 50,000 have arrived in the US. 

A different march was organized by several Haitian diaspora organizations on July 21 in Washington DC, titled “Haitian Solidarity Day for Change.” In an interview ahead of the protest, one of the organizers said the effort was aimed at telling the White House that they must change their policy toward Haiti and for the international community to stop deciding for Haitians. “The decision of the country is up to the Haitians, we want to be around the table and take charge of the destiny of our country,” they said. 

Haiti loses an icon

On July 31, Liliane Pierre-Paul, a long-time journalist and outspoken champion for democracy and press freedom, died of a heart attack. “Liliane will always be remembered for her courage, her determination, her profound beliefs in the democratic ideals so many died for,” Michèle Montas, widow of the slain journalist Jean Dominique, told the Miami Herald. For more on the life and legacy of Pierre-Paul, read the entire Herald article.

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