Haiti News Round-Up No. 7: UN Authorizes Deployment of Kenyan-Led Force 

October 06, 2023

On October 2, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) voted to authorize the deployment of a Kenyan-led security force to Haiti. The resolution authorizes the force for a one-year mandate, with a review taking place after nine months. Though approved by the UNSC, it would not be a UN force, but would instead be under Kenya’s leadership. Russia and China abstained from the vote and expressed concerns about lack of clarity in the resolution. 

What’s In Blue has more details on the negotiations behind the scenes that led to the authorization. “In an apparent compromise, the draft resolution in blue authorizes the MSS mission under Chapter VII but requires the mission to submit a concept of operations prior to deployment. It also requires participating countries to inform the Secretary-General of their intent. Additionally, the draft requests the mission to include information on its exit strategy in its regular reporting to the Council,” they wrote. 

The specifics, including the actual mandate of the force and its composition, have yet to be finalized. However, last week, the Miami Herald reported on the countries that have thus far pledged to contribute to such a mission: “Besides The Bahamas, Jamaica and Antigua and Barbuda, which had previously announced their intent to take part in the mission, the others are Italy, Spain, Mongolia, Senegal, Belize, Suriname, Guatemala and Peru.”

In an interview with the BBC ahead of the UNSC vote, Kenya’s foreign minister Alfred Mutua said his country would have boots on the ground by January 1, 2024 at the latest. On September 25, the US and Kenya also signed a five-year framework for defense cooperation between the two countries that would see the US provide Kenyan security forces with increased resources.

In an interview with the New York Times, Mutua (who was removed from his position as foreign minister on October 4) said that Kenya’s assessment was that the mission would take three years and involve up to 20,000 troops from some 50 countries. This stands in stark contrast to what was discussed at the UN Security Council. 

In a New York Times guest essay, Pierre Espérance, the executive director of a national human rights organization in Haiti, argues “another international force in Haiti will never work without a functional government in place.” 

Haiti Features at the UN General Assembly 

The UNSC approval followed a blitz of US-led diplomacy at the United Nations General Assembly, with US president Joe Biden, Brazilian president Lula da Silva, and many other leaders mentioning Haiti in their speeches. In a bilateral meeting, Biden urged the Brazilian leader to support the “multinational security support mission to Haiti,” according to a White House release. 

On September 22, Secretary of State Antony Blinken hosted a ministerial meeting on the planned force at the Lotte New York Palace Hotel. According to a release from the US mission to the UN, representatives of Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, The Bahamas, Barbados, Beirut, Belize, Canada, CARICOM, Chile, Colombia, Côte D’Ivoire, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, EU, France, Germany, Guyana, Jamaica, Japan, Italy, Mexico, OAS, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Lucia, Spain, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, the UK, and Uruguay all attended. 

During the meeting, Secretary Blinken announced that the Biden administration intends “to work with our Congress to provide $100 million in support” to the multinational force, and will also provide “robust financial and logistical assistance.” He further announced an additional $65 million to further professionalize and strengthen the Haitian National Police.

The $100 million for the Kenya-led force is likely to come from prior year State Department allocations and so would not require Congress to provide new funding. However, funding transfers such as this do require a Congressional Notification, which would allow members to potentially hold up authorization. Additionally, Victoria Nuland, acting deputy secretary of state and under secretary for political affairs, told the press that the Pentagon would also provide $100 million of “in-kind support,” including for “intelligence, airlift, communications, and medical” purposes. 

Haitian-American Elected Officials Push Back on Intervention Plans and US Support for Henry

The same day as the ministerial meeting in New York, the National Haitian American Elected Officials Network (NHAEON) and FANM in Action, two civil society organizations based in the United States, wrote an open letter to President Biden and Secretary Blinken to “strongly oppose” the administration’s proposal for the multinational security support mission: “Any military intervention supporting Haiti’s corrupt, repressive, unelected regime will likely exacerbate the current political crisis to a catastrophic one,” read the letter. 

NHAEON is the largest network of Haitian-American elected officials in the US and includes Rep. Cherfilus-McCormick (D-FL), the only Haitian-American member of congress. Though a large majority of NHAEON members voted in favor of the letter’s text, Cherfilus-McCormick cheered the UNSC authorization as “a welcome step forward.” 

“If the U.S. is genuinely interested in stabilizing the political situation to avoid a catastrophic humanitarian crisis in Haiti, it will start by ceasing to prop up the corrupt government and allow the emergence of a consensus transitional government with the legitimacy to decide how the international community can contribute,” the letter read.

While supporting the deployment of the Kenya-led force, Cherfilus-McCormick echoed the call for a new transitional government and specified: “One that does not include Prime Minister Ariel Henry.”

Marleine Bastien, the executive director of FANM in Action, which signed the letter, also warned the Biden administration that Haitian-Americans are increasingly disappointed with US policy in their home country and could sit out the 2024 US elections as a result. 

“I still do not understand why the United States government continues to blindly support an illegitimate government,” Bastien said. “The accumulation of all of these frustrations and disappointments risks leading [Haitian Americans], whose vote is generally taken for granted by the Democratic Party, to reevaluate the way they vote,” she continued. 

Political Negotiations Stall as Calls Grow for De Facto PM to Resign 

On September 11, the CARICOM Eminent Persons Group, which has been seeking to facilitate a political agreement, issued a statement following its visit to Haiti. “The Group was, however, disappointed that the tone of the discussions had hardened and that the positions of some stakeholders had regressed significantly, reflected in the strident calls for the resignation of the Prime Minister,” the statement read. The EPG received criticism for pushing back on the opposition’s stance while not saying anything about Henry’s unwillingness to share power as part of a political agreement. 

Indeed, faced with the de facto authorities’ intransigence, calls for Henry’s resignation have increased. The Conference of Haitian Pastors issued a statement: “These people must realize that they would do the Haitian people, their main victim, a favor if they withdrew in silence. One may have the will to serve, but if there is no result, it is because they have failed.” For its part, the Catholic Church in Haiti, through its bishops, issued a statement criticizing the current government’s inaction as well as its involvement with armed groups, stating that they “demand that the public authorities and other sectors of the nation stop at the same time their complicity and support for armed gangs, that the police become the ally of the population, and that socio-political dialogue be built on the basis of the real needs of the people.”

In contrast with the CARICOM EPG statement, St. Vincent and the Grenadines prime minister Ralph Gonsalves lamented the lack of action on Henry’s part: “Caribbean Community countries are disappointed that promises given by Haiti’s prime minister Ariel Henry at the last CARICOM summit held in Trinidad and Tobago last July have not materialized,” the Jamaica Observer reported. Gonsalves again called for the establishment of a government of national unity in Haiti. “The Prime Minister hasn’t come by way of election. He wasn’t properly appointed,” he told his country’s parliament.

What is “absolutely necessary is for Haiti to establish a government that more broadly represents the majority of the Haitian stakeholders,” Gonsalves added. “National and international efforts to find solutions have not been successful due to the unwillingness of the parties involved to compromise. And this is the first thing which has to be addressed. You have to have a political solution. There has to be a government of national unity,” Gonsalves noted.

Alongside the UN General Assembly, Secretary of State Blinken said that deployment of a security force to Haiti “will not be a substitute for political progress.” However, progress on that front has stalled, as Henry appeared to return from his trip to New York further emboldened. On September 25, Henry told reporters that he would not wait indefinitely for the opposition: “We tried to reconcile the nation, bring people together and find a critical mass to move forward. Now we are going to move forward.” 

Days later, Henry visited the offices of the Provisional Electoral Council and reiterated his pledge to move forward despite the lack of consensus. 

Le Nouvelliste reported on the latest CARICOM-backed mediation efforts, including the cancellation of a planned September 12 meeting and the possibility of negotiations continuing in a third country sometime in the future. The article includes responses to Henry’s statement that he would move forward with elections unilaterally. “This is a refrain heard for two years,” said Emmanuel Ménard, one of the signatories of the Kingston Declaration. “We are in talks with the eminent personalities of Caricom … so that the negotiations can finally begin and lead to the restoration of executive power with new interim governance.” 

In order to have stronger leverage in future negotiations, political organizations from various coalitions decided to regroup under a new banner, the United Front for an Effective and Sustainable Crisis Resolution. The group includes initial Kingston Declaration signatories such as the PHTK and the EDE party of former prime minister Claude Joseph.

Kenya’s Leadership of Haiti Mission Faces Domestic Criticism

Willy Mutunga, former chief of justice of Kenya’s Supreme Court, criticized his government’s decision to deploy 1,000 police officers to Haiti. “The matter of Kenya sending 1,000 police women and men to Haiti is but one of the many decisions our government is taking without our participation and consent,” he wrote in an op-ed. 

Mutunga decried the decision as unconstitutional, noting that it did not follow provisions set out in the Kenyan Constitution. “We refuse a foreign policy in our name that we have not consented to. We demand that Kenya should stop fighting proxy wars for imperialism,” he wrote. 

On October 4, Kenyan lawmakers said “that parliamentary approval is required before the deployment of police to the Kenya-led peacekeeping mission in Haiti,” the AP reported. Anthony Oluoch, an opposition member of parliament, said that the conditions for foreign deployment had not been met under the country’s National Police Act. 

Kenyan Foreign Affairs Minister Addresses Concerns about Security Force 

In response to the mounting criticism of Kenya’s involvement in the security support mission, Foreign Affairs Minister Alfred Mutua stated: “… 80% of the local population is supportive of the deployment of Kenyan police to their country,” adding, “we cannot impose ourselves on a nation where we are not needed.” When questioned about past failures of UN-led missions in the country, Mutua simply stated, “this is a different mission.” However, many concerns remain about shared challenges among the proposed mission and past ones, such as the language barrier, knowledge of the local terrain, and more.

Regarding the language barrier between Kenyan forces, who mostly speak English and Swahili, and Haitians, who mostly speak Kreyòl, the minister noted that the government was currently providing French lessons to some of its officers. However, only a minority of Haiti’s population speaks French fluently. 

This week, Mutua, who has been one of the most public faces of the Haiti intervention, was removed as foreign minister. According to the AP, his removal may be related to certain public comments he had made about the timeline of the force’s deployment. 

US and Canada Add Names to Sanctions List

During the week of the UNGA, Global Affairs Canada sanctioned three more Haitian businessmen: Marc Antoine Acra, Carl Braun, and Jean-Marie Vorbe, all members of the Haitian elite. The designation states that the three individuals “have participated in gross and systematic human rights violations in Haiti and engaged in acts that threaten the peace, security, and stability of Haiti.” This brings the total number of sanctioned individuals in Canada to 28 people. Braun and Vorbe both released statements denying the allegations. 

Meanwhile, the US announced new visa sanctions against current and former Haitian officials. As with other visa sanctions, the US does not make public those whom it has sanctioned, but claims that more than 50 individuals, including family members, have been subject to visa sanctions since late last year. 

Haitian-Dominican Relations Sour Over Massacre River Canal

After a group of farmers, politicians, and engineers from Haiti began building a canal on the Massacre River shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the Dominican government adopted a series of retaliatory measures, including halting visa processing for Haitian citizens, and the near-total closure of the land, sea, and air border between the two countries. Use of the river was negotiated as part of a 1929 treaty. Dominican president Luis Abinader instructed the General Directorate of Migration to prohibit the entry of nine Haitian nationals described as “provocateurs” for their involvement in the canal. 

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a humanitarian exemption to the shutdown, with his spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric relaying that “exemptions are urgently required to ensure the continuation of all UN activities in Haiti.” Secretary Blinken also echoed the call for a humanitarian carve-out during remarks at a high-level meeting in New York.

The Dominican government is also restarting the process for developing the Don Miguel Dam, a long-term project on the river to “ensure the water supply of Dominican producers.” This came after a visit by a diplomatic delegation from Haiti failed to resolve the conflict. In response to the border closure, the Haitian Ministry of Culture and Communication published a note on its website stating: “The Republic of Haiti can sovereignly decide on the exploitation of its natural resources. Like the Dominican Republic, with which it shares the Massacre River, it has the entire right to catch there, in accordance with the 1929 agreement. The Government of the Republic of Haiti will take all measures of law to protect the interests of the Haitian people.”

According to Le Nouvelliste, many proponents of the Haitian canal argue the project is valid, despite concerns from the Dominican side that the canal might violate the 1929 peace, friendship, and arbitration treaty, because the Dominican government has already constructed multiple projects on the river. The claims that the Dominican government had authorized its own canals was validated after Le Nouvelliste released a copy of a letter by Dominican foreign affairs minister Roberto Alvarez dated July 6, 2021 on the matter of the Haitian canal confirming the fact. The letter reads, in part: 

It is true that at one point, the Dominican state authorized the construction of certain water intakes for irrigation and agricultural and pastoral use. However, it is essential to emphasize that the last of these works was completed 20 years ago, when the hydrological reality, because of the flow that existed at the time, was radically different. In addition, successive Haitian governments have not only tacitly accepted these works, but, as mentioned earlier, these works have also benefited Haitian farmers through coexistence agreements that allow the use of water by their compatriots. On the other hand, in this case, as soon as we became aware of the construction of the canal on Haitian territory, we diplomatically and publicly expressed our opposition to this unilateral construction and repeatedly requested the immediate cessation of the work.

Work on the canal initially began under President Jovenel Moïse, who supported the project. After his assassination, which took place one day after the above letter, most of the work stopped. Only in recent months has work picked up again — this time without official government support. 

Several Haitian experts also support Haiti’s right to install water intakes on the river. Maismy Fleurant, an expert in international law, stated that all necessary information had been made available to the Dominican government in May 2021, highlighting that “the Haitian state is well within its rights in light of [Article 10] of the [1929] treaty.” Seemingly in further response to the conflict, the Dominican government has also increased deportation of Haitian nationals. 

During a visit to New York for the UN General Assembly, Abinader defended his decision to shut down the border: “What we are doing is to protect our country from the bands and the gangs that are in part of the territory, political extremism that does not respect even the Haitian government. As president of the Dominican Republic, I have to protect our country and I hope … they stop the construction of the canal and we can have a solution,” the Miami Herald reported him as saying. The move has fueled extremist and nationalist sentiments on Hispaniola and in diaspora communities, with Abinader’s appearance at the World Leaders Forum at Columbia University met with protests, “as groups of Haitians and Dominicans clashed at the entrance of the university,” reported the Miami Herald.

Abinader’s decision has been heavily criticized by politicians in the Dominican Republic. In an interview with Listin Diario, former president Leonel Fernández said that Abinader’s decision was a call for war: “Stationing troops at the border is akin to a call for war, and we are not at war, nor do we want it.” The Socialist Movement of Workers of the Dominican Republic also criticized Abinader’s decision, calling on him to reopen the border. A joint statement by Haitian and Dominican Jesuits also called attention to dangers posed by a recent concession to a Canadian mining company near the Massacre River, saying it would “lead to contamination of the water we all need to live.”

Miguel Vargas Maldonado, president of the Dominican Revolutionary Party, also criticized the decision, posting on X: 

I want to warn that extreme measures such as that, in the face of such a delicate and important issue, are already beginning to have a boomerang effect against the country, affecting trade with a nation that is our second trading partner after the United States and creating a climate of tension and uncertainty that is lethal for tourism and the general image of the Dominican Republic.

According to the Miami Herald, Abinader, who is running for reelection, “has been accused of fanning anti-Haitian sentiment in his country to win voter support.” It also appears that the Haitian government has started supporting the project after seeing its popularity among Haitians. Ariel Henry stated during his UN General Assembly address: “Haiti reaffirms its sovereign right for the Haitian people to use the binational water resources, just as the Dominican Republic does, and claims an equitable distribution of the waters of this river.” The conflict over the Massacre River comes as Haitians commemorated the 86th anniversary of the Parsley Massacre on October 2. More than 61,000 Haitians have left the Dominican Republic since the border closure.

Haitian Gangs Announce New Coalition and March to Demand Henry’s Resignation

Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier, leader of the G9 federation of armed groups, launched a protest march in the streets of Port-au-Prince in mid-September during which he announced the formation of a new alliance between his group and those from the rival G-Pep group under one banner, “Viv Ansanm.” According to Chérizier, the march had two objectives: to stand in solidarity with the people building the canal, and to “overthrow Ariel’s disgusting government.” 

Chérizier also promised to “do everything” he could for displaced persons in Solino and Carrefour-Feuilles, saying he was in talks with other gang leaders and that “we will see to it that we find a solution between us for everyone to be able to return home.” The possibility of a truce between the two rival factions would indicate a significant shift. However, it is unclear what the disparate groups making up these federations will do to actually stop the violence. 

Indeed, there were reports of fighting between armed groups last weekend, as well as an armed attack in the community of Saut-D’eau in the Center department. Two weeks after Chérizier’s announcement, there is little indication of armed groups being involved with any mass mobilization against the government. The promises of return for displaced persons did not materialize either, with Radio Télé Galaxie reporting that 123 private and 17 public educational establishments in Carrefour Feuilles were unable to hold classes due to either hosting displaced persons or due to fears of attacks from the Grand Ravine gang.

Others have noted that Chérizier’s calls for Henry to resign, and his threats of armed action to force Henry out, may actually have played into Henry’s hands by motivating the international community to authorize deployment of a security force. 

Government Goes Through with School Year Despite Concerns

As Haiti’s de facto prime minister Ariel Henry traveled to Jérémie on September 11 to mark the beginning of the school year, fears remained over the dangers of sending children to school amid violence and insecurity. Henry was not well received by the population in Jérémie; videos on social media show several rocks being thrown at his motorcade.

The National Association of Haitian Workers in Education (RENTRHED) and the Association of Haitian Public School Directors (REDIENAH) have both called on authorities to take urgent action to ensure the safety of students and schools in a press conference hosted on September 10. “Several parents and teachers have expressed their worries concerning the safety of students,” noted Guyno Duverné for Rezo Nodwès.

Notably, some private Catholic schools have voluntarily chosen to delay the beginning of the new school year. The administration of Collège Saint François d’Assise announced that the school would not reopen on September 11 as planned due to the surge in violence that has been occuring in various areas of Port-au-Prince. Reports by Le Nouvelliste stated that although many schools did open their doors, they are operating at reduced capacity, with one school director noting her institution had student attendance ranging from “15 to 20 percent.”

Biden Administration Sends Deportation Flight to Haiti

In late September, 74 organizations sent a letter to the Biden administration demanding a stop to further deportations to Haiti, the Miami Herald reported. 

Nevertheless, the very next day, the administration deported about 33 people to Haiti. According to Guerline Jozef of the Haiti Bridge Alliance, the administration has sent nearly 30,000 back to Haiti since Biden came to office. 

As Jonathan Katz pointed out, migration remains a significant driver of US policy toward Haiti and as of May, there were more than 580,000 pending cases for Haitians as part of the Biden administration’s “humanitarian parole” program, more than Cubans, Venezuelans, and Nicaraguans combined. The parole program is only available for residents of those four countries. From January to June, 63,000 Haitians were approved for travel and more than 50,000  had already arrived in the US. 

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