Haitian ambassador warns criminal gangs may overrun country

Armed gangs have shut off access to Haiti’s main fuel terminal, decimating basic services amid a cholera and hunger crisis

The Haitian ambassador to Washington has appealed to the international community to accelerate talks on deploying an armed intervention, warning that criminal gangs were in danger of taking over the country.

Bocchit Edmond made his appeal as efforts to agree to a UN resolution backing such a force appear to have stalled, and as the US and Canada have been holding urgent talks looking for ways to break the impasse.

“It is important to see how we can go fast and make sure that we take those armed gangs out of business, because if we don’t do that urgently, it’s a matter of time for them to take over the entire country,” Edmond told the Guardian.

“It is not going to be in the interests of all our closest neighbors if we allow such a thing to happen.”

Heavily armed gangs have blocked off Haiti’s main fuel terminal, bringing much of the country to a halt and triggering the collapse of basic services, amid a cholera outbreak and widespread hunger. The UN has said 96,000 Haitians have been forced to flee their homes to escape the violence.

The UN security council agreed to a resolution earlier this month to sanction gang leaders but there was no consensus on giving a green light to a non-UN force to be recruited from willing nations aimed at helping the outgunned Haitian police break the gangs’ stranglehold.

The US has said it remains hopeful that the council would eventually pass a resolution giving UN blessing to a force, and the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, visited Ottawa for talks with his Canadian counterpart and the country’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau.

Canada sent a fact-finding team to Haiti to assess the humanitarian and security needs, but Trudeau was noncommittal, saying on Friday: “Before we establish any sort of mission, we need to see a clear plan of action.”

Ned Price, the state department spokesman, said that intensive diplomatic work at the UN and outside would continue.

“The resolution that’s being discussed needs to be limited, carefully scoped. We’ve made clear it would be a non-UN mission led by a partner country, with deep and necessary experience required for any such effort to be effective,” Price said on Friday. “A number of countries around the world are working with us on this … This is a work in progress, but we are absolutely working on it.”

There is widespread apprehension that such an intervention could mire the countries sending troops in a protracted struggle with no clear exit, as had happened with previous UN forces.

Haitian activists have also warned that intervention could exacerbate the violence without offering a long-term solution. Peacekeepers deployed after a devastating 2010 earthquake were accused of systematic sexual abuse of Haitian women, and introduced a cholera outbreak which killed 10,000 and took nine years to eradicate.

Edmond, the Haitian ambassador, said a method would need to be found to get around those hurdles.

“I understand that there have been mistakes and I’m sure that we have learned from them, and we can see how we can do things differently,” Edmond said. “But the only thing I will say is: just look at the situation in Haiti, because you have a population that is defenseless in front of armed gangs, who have firepower far superior to the national police.

“There are 4 million kids who cannot go to school. All the elderly who need care at [a] hospital cannot get access to hospital, and now you have an outbreak of cholera. The companies that make potable water cannot work because the main fuel terminal is blocked. So it is the exact recipe for very apocalyptic ends,” the ambassador said. “Just look at this scenery and make your own judgment, if the Haitian people do not deserve to live like your people.”


Julian Borger in Washington

The GuardianTramp

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