US and Mexico call for international force to break gangs’ stranglehold on Haiti

Scheduled session brought forward in view of dire conditions – rampant gang violence, a cholera outbreak and escalating famine

The US and Mexico have proposed the deployment of a multinational force in Haiti to help break the stranglehold of gangs over the distribution of fuel, water and other basic goods.

Presenting a resolution at a special session of the UN security council on Monday, the US envoy to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, called for “a limited carefully-scoped non-UN mission led by a partner country with the deep, necessary experience”.

The council session was brought forward from Friday, in view of the dire conditions, with the main port and fuel terminal blockaded by gangs, widespread famine and a cholera outbreak. As the session convened there were demonstrations across Haiti, calling for the resignation of the prime minister, Ariel Henry. Negotiations with opposition groups aimed at resolving the crisis have reached an impasse.

Thomas-Greenfield said the aim of the force would be to “improve the security situation on the ground so that the delivery of desperately needed aid could reach those in need and address the ongoing cholera crisis.”

It would not be a blue-helmeted UN force but the US-Mexican resolution to be endorsed by the security council and granted authority to use force if necessary under Chapter VII of the UN charter. It was unclear whether the US was itself ready to send troops as part of the force, or would just supply funding and logistics support as Washington did with the Minustah UN peacekeeping mission.

Thomas-Greenfield said the US would “consider the most effective means to directly support, enable and resource it” and would “will rely on support from UN member states and this draft resolution explicitly asked for contributions of personnel, equipment, and other resources”.

China’s deputy ambassador, Geng Shuang, questioned whether a foreign force would be welcomed by the Haitian people or face resistance from opposition groups.

“At a time when the Haitian government lacks legitimacy and is unable to govern, will sending such a rapid action force to Haiti received the understanding, support and cooperation from the parties in Haiti, or will it face resistance or even trigger violent confrontation from the population?” Geng asked.

Dmitriy Polyanskiy, the deputy Russian permanent representative, also raised concerns that a foreign force would face popular resistance.

“Many opposition groups call for not allowing a foreign intervention and they are rightly referring to, to put it mildly, not a very successful experience with external interference in the affairs of the country,” Polyanskiy said.

The US and Mexico put forward a second resolution that would impose targeted sanctions on gang leaders like Jimmy Chérizier, a former police officer known as “Barbecue”, who leads a gang alliance called G9 and Family.

The gangs have sealed off a port at Port-au-Prince, including the country’s main fuel terminal. The UN has warned that nearly 5 million Haitians are facing acute hunger with 19,000 in catastrophic famine conditions.

On 7 October, the Haitian government appealed for the immediate deployment of an “international specialised force” to bolster the outgunned and outmanned Haitian police to allow for the distribution of fuel, water and other basic needs.

The security council session was considering options put forward by the UN secretary general, António Guterres, on how to respond, which include a multinational task force of police advisers, or a special force made up of special police units to carry out security operations in support of the Haiti police.

Other options include enhanced UN support to the Haitian police, bilateral police training programmes and greater efforts to stop the flow of arms to the gangs.

The US has deployed a coast guard cutter to patrol the Haitian coast, and together with Canada, delivered a long-delayed consignment of equipment to the Haitian police, including armoured vehicles, on Sunday.

Richard Gowan, UN director for the international crisis group said any force sent to Haiti would most likely be substantial US with some Canadian participation.

“At the end of the day, if a government of Haiti has requested this, if Mexico and Brazil say they want this, China can hardly block it,” Gowan said. “The Russians could use a veto to embarrass the US, but if Washington wants to send in a small force, it’s going to do that in the end. So Russia would probably just lose face by using its veto on an issue like this.”


Julian Borger in Washington

The GuardianTramp

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