Tuesday, December 6, 2022

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Haitians push for local solutions as insecurity and violence rise

Civil society groups reject the Haitian PM’s call for foreign intervention and warn against “repeating the same mistakes”.

With violence gripping the streets of Port-au-Prince and no neighborhood spared the insecurity of armed gangs or critical fuel shortages, virtually everyone in Haiti’s capital lives in a state of insecurity, says resident Judes Jonathas.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow,” Jonathas, senior program manager for Haiti’s humanitarian group Mercy Corps, said in a recent video call to Al Jazeera, describing that not a day had passed in the past week when he hadn’t had any shots heard.

“It’s like we’re living minute by minute. We’re going out, we don’t know if we’ll be back.”

Haiti, which has faced years of political instability, is in the midst of a deepening crisis as powerful gangs recently seized control of a key fuel terminal in Port-au-Prince, cutting off much-needed supplies to residents and healthcare facilities.

Last week, acting Prime Minister Ariel Henry appealed to the international community to set up a “specialized force” to quell the violence, but civil society groups and lawyers said Henry had no legitimacy – and they dismissed the prospect of foreign intervention.

“There’s frustration, there’s anger, there’s resignation … it’s across all classes [of people]’ Jonathas said of the deteriorating conditions. “Most Haitians are traumatized.”

Haiti’s Council of Ministers late last week authorized Henry to seek support from “international partners” to help deploy “specialized forces” immediately to deal with a humanitarian crisis spreading across the country as a result of the gangs.

The Caribbean nation this month reported its first cholera cases in more than three years, and human rights groups said the fuel blockade was hampering the response of health workers. Many communities lack access to clean water, already high rates of hunger are set to worsen, and some 1.2 million children are at risk from the cholera outbreak.

Bocchit Edmond, the Haitian ambassador to the United States, recently told Reuters that he hoped the US and Canada would “take the lead and act quickly” if the country called for help.

The US State Department said on Saturday that it was reviewing Haiti’s application, and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres a day later “urged the international community, including members of the Security Council, to review it.” [it] for urgent reasons”.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Biden administration will “accelerate the delivery of additional humanitarian assistance to the people of Haiti.” Blinken also announced Wednesday new visa restrictions for Haitian officials and others “involved in the operation of street gangs and other Haitian criminal organizations.” He did not specify which officers were targeted.

Brian Nichols, US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, also traveled to Port au Prince on Wednesday for a series of meetings in which he said Washington remains “committed to the health, safety and protection of the Haitian people.”

Translation: We appreciate the commitment of Canada and the US to Haiti at this difficult time. It is absolutely urgent that our [international] Partners are acting in solidarity with us to help us get out of this [situation].

While some Haitians have said outside help is badly needed, many view possible international intervention with skepticism and disdain after a long history of foreign occupations.

In recent decades, various UN operations to restore security and strengthen the country’s institutions have largely failed. UN peacekeepers have also been linked to sexual violence against women and girls in Haiti and to a cholera outbreak in 2010 that killed about 10,000 and caused more than 820,000 infections.

The Groupe de Travail sur la Securite (GTS), a security think tank run by Haitian citizens, in August dismissed the prospect of a new UN operation “on the false pretense of helping us restore a climate of security.”

“The Haitian people have left the bitter smack of a foreign power over our situation: theft, rape, cholera, food dependency, deregulation of the economic system, without mentioning the fact that we do not remember having been gang leaders arrested or incapacitated at the time, wreak havoc.”

Rosy Auguste Ducena, an attorney and program director at the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights (RNDDH) in Haiti, said: “History has shown us more than once that foreign forces bring us more problems than solutions.”

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