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US pledges more funds for Haiti security force as situation ‘untenable’

US pledges more funds for Haiti security force as situation ‘untenable’
epa11205757 Protesters attend a demonstration held to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry this Thursday in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 07 March 2024. Several dozen people took to the streets of Port-au-Prince to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who is in Puerto Rico after a failed attempt to return to his country on 05 March. EPA-EFE/Johnson Sabin

KINGSTON, Jamaica, March 11 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday the United States would contribute an additional $100 million to a United Nations-backed multinational security force intended to help Haitian police fight gangs and $33 million in humanitarian aid.

By Daphne Psaledakis and Sarah Morland

The commitment brings the proposed U.S. contribution to the force to $300 million, though it was unclear how long it will take this funding to be approved by lawmakers and transferred.

As of Monday, less than $11 million had been deposited into the U.N.’s dedicated trust fund, a spokesperson for the world body said, with no new additions since March 3 when Haiti declared a state of emergency due to the worsening violence from gangs seeking to topple the government.

“We all know that urgent action is needed on both the political and security tracks,” said Blinken while on a hastily arranged visit to nearby Jamaica, adding that Haiti faces an “untenable situation.”

Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness said the mission represented a “critical and necessary first step”, saying the threat of civil war was “now a real one; we all agree this cannot be allowed to happen.”

U.S. officials have been engaged in talks involving Caribbean Community (CARICOM) states and members of Haiti’s political parties, private sector, civil society and religious groups aimed at establishing a transitional council that would pave the way to the first elections since 2016.

Haiti declared a state of emergency early this month as clashes damaged communications and led to two prison breaks after Jimmy “Barbeque” Cherizier, a leader of an alliance of armed groups, said they would unite and overthrow Haiti’s unelected Prime Minister Ariel Henry.

Henry, who came to power after the 2021 assassination of Haiti’s last president but is stranded outside of the country, was in virtual discussions with CARICOM on Monday, a State Department official said. His political allies also were taking part in the in-person talks in the Jamaican capital Kingston, the official said.

Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley said Haitian stakeholders had largely agreed that a presidential council should be urgently installed to identify a prime minister, who would together with the council establish a government.

A provisional electoral council should also be established excluding those who would be involved in future elections, Mottley added at a news conference.

Mexico’s foreign minister Alicia Barcena said her country had also contributed to the shared Haiti security fund, without saying how much, and urged for more progress on stemming firearms trafficking throughout the region.

The U.N. believes Haitian gangs have amassed large arsenals of weapons trafficked largely from the United States.

The United Nations estimates over 362,000 people have been internally displaced, half of whom are children, and thousands have been killed in the overall conflict in Haiti, with widespread reports of rape, torture and ransom kidnappings since 2021.

 

‘A BLOODY REVOLUTION’

Back in Haiti, gang leader Cherizier threatened to go after hotel owners hiding politicians or collaborating with Henry. He demanded the country’s next leader be chosen by the people and live in Haiti, alongside their families.

Many influential Haitian political figures live abroad.

“If (Henry) continues down this path, he will plunge Haiti into chaos,” Cherizier said. “We’re not in a peaceful revolution. We are making a bloody revolution in the country because this system is an apartheid system, a wicked system.”

Residents in the capital saw heavy gunfire over the weekend as armed men downtown surrounded the National Palace on Friday night and by Sunday the U.S. airlifted staff from its embassy. On Monday, authorities extended a nightly curfew until Thursday.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said Washington was looking to expedite the deployment of the planned security mission, which Kenya was offered to lead.

Haiti first requested an international security force in 2022, but countries have been slow to offer support, with some raising doubts over the legitimacy of Henry’s unelected government amid widespread protests.

Many in Haitian communities and abroad are wary of international interventions after previous U.N. missions left behind a devastating cholera epidemic and sex abuse scandals, for which reparations were never made.

Mike Ballard, intelligence director at security firm Global Guardian, said if gangs completely take control of ports and airports, they would be in charge of humanitarian aid to the country, adding he did not believe Kenyan forces would effectively police or maintain peace.

“Countries with actual stakes in the region will need to step up and help shore up security,” he said, pointing to the United States, neighboring Dominican Republic and other CARICOM members.

(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis in Kingston, Steven Aristil in Port-au-Prince and Sarah Morland in Mexico City; Additional reporting by Simon Lewis in Washington, Brendan O’Brien in Chicago and Michelle Nichols in New York; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Chizu Nomiyama, Aurora Ellis, Bill Berkrot, Richard Chang and Lincoln Feast.)

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