Haiti government prepares to ask for ‘specialized armed force’ from abroad

Prime minister authorized to ask international community to help end blockade of main fuel port that has led to crippling shortages

Haiti’s government has authorized the prime minister, Ariel Henry, to ask the international community for a “specialized armed force” to address a crisis caused by a blockade of the country’s main fuel port that has led to crippling shortages, according to a decree circulating on Friday.

Haiti has ground to a halt since a coalition of gangs blocked the Varreux fuel terminal last month. The lack of gas and diesel has crippled transportation and forced businesses and hospitals to halt operations.

It has also led to a shortage of bottled water, just as the country confirmed a new outbreak of cholera, the spread of which is controlled through hygiene and clean water.

The decree allows Henry to “solicit and obtain from Haiti’s international partners effective support through immediate deployment of a specialized armed force to stop ... the insecurity resulting from the joint actions of armed gangs and their sponsors”.

It was not immediately evident which countries would receive such a request.

Nor was it clear if the request would mean the activation of United Nations peacekeeping troops, whose mission ended five years ago after a troubled 11 years in Haiti.

The international body sent thousands of soldiers and police officers to restore order after a rebellion toppled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004.

In 2017, the UN withdrew military personnel and said it would focus more on the justice system and the Haitian police.

But Haiti’s national police have struggled to control gangs with its limited resources and chronic understaffing, with only about 12,800 active officers for a country of more than 11 million people.

The gangs have only grown more powerful since the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.

Critics question the extent to which the United Nations achieved its objectives of helping Haiti improve political stability and strengthen its rule of law institutions.

Many Haitians have strongly rejected the idea of another international intervention, noting that UN peacekeepers were accused of sexual assault and sparked a cholera epidemic more than a decade ago that killed thousands.

“I don’t think Haiti needs another intervention,” said Mathias Pierre, Haiti’s former elections minister. “We have been through so many, and nothing has been solved … If we don’t do it as Haitians, 10 years forward, we’re going to be in the same situation again.”

He called on the US government to help reduce the amount of ammunition and guns flowing to Haiti, and to further equip police officers so they have more weapons and the ability to run intelligence on gangs.

He also worried about the situation that an international security force would encounter.

“It’s not an army they’re facing,” he said. “They’re facing gangs located in poor areas and using the population as shields to protect themselves.”

The United Nations has not received an official request from the Haitian government, the UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Friday.

“That being said, we remain extremely concerned about the security situation in Haiti, the impact it’s having on the Haitian people, on our ability to do our work, especially in the humanitarian sphere,” Dujarric told reporters.

Staff and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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