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Crisis summit presses Haiti political transition as US ramps up aid

Kingston, Jamaica | March 12, 2024, Tuesday @ 06:59 in World » GENERAL | By: AFP | Views: 2247
Crisis summit presses Haiti political transition as US ramps up aid

Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry, speaks to students during a public lecture on bilateral engangement between Kenya and Haiti, at the United States International University (USIU) Africa, in Nairobi on March 1, 2024. (Photo by SIMON MAINA / AFP)

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Leaders at an emergency summit on Haiti's descent into anarchy voiced hope Monday at pushing through a political solution, as the United States ramped up aid for a Kenyan-led force aimed at restoring stability.

The Caribbean bloc CARICOM called the session in Jamaica after armed gangs that already control much of Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince unleashed a campaign of violence, with the Western hemisphere's poorest nation plunging into an orgy of killing and looting and fears rising of famine.

"It is clear that Haiti is now at a tipping point," said Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who invited leaders to the talks in Kingston.

Warning that Haiti could devolve into a full-out civil war, he urged "strong and decisive action" to "stem the sea of lawlessness and hopelessness before it is too late."

Diplomats said the Kingston meeting aimed to formalize a proposal for Prime Minister Ariel Henry -- who has stayed in power under a deal with the opposition -- to cede power to a transitional council that would include a wide spectrum of Haitian society.

Port-au-Prince and the surrounding region is under a month-long state of emergency, while a nighttime curfew has been extended through Thursday -- although it is unlikely overstretched police can enforce it.

Despite the grim scenes in Haiti, where AFP reporters saw bodies lying on the streets, CARICOM leaders -- who consulted virtually with Henry and other Haitians throughout the meeting -- voiced guarded optimism on reaching a political solution.

"I'm very optimistic based on all the discussions today," said President Irfaan Ali, the head of CARICOM.

"I'm very confident that we have found commonality, and we have found a common path, through which we can support a Haitian-led solution and Haitian-owned solution," Ali said.

He appealed for all Haitians to accept a solution and "come together for the greater good."

- US boosts security aid -

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken promised another $100 million to back an international stabilization force, bringing the total promised by the United States to $300 million since the crisis intensified several years ago.

Blinken also offered another $33 million in immediate humanitarian assistance.

Escalating violence "creates an untenable situation for the Haitian people, and we all know that urgent action is needed on both the political and security tracks," Blinken said.

"All of us know that only the Haitian people can, and only the Haitian people should, determine their own future -- not anyone else," Blinken said.

But he said the United States and its partners "can help restore foundational security" and address "the tremendous suffering" in Haiti.

Blinken said Washington supported the CARICOM plan for a "broad-based, inclusive, independent, presidential college" that would work to restore security and move to elections.

Henry has been in power without elections since the 2021 assassination of president Jovenel Moise, who himself had put off a vote, with the situation worsening despite international statements of concern.

President Joe Biden -- who ended the US war in Afghanistan -- has ruled out sending troops to Haiti, which the United States occupied for nearly two decades a century ago and where it has intervened since.

Eyes initially turned to Canada, but it also decided a Haiti mission was too dangerous with success uncertain.

Canada, however, has offered $91 million for Haiti, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised continued support as he addressed the Kingston summit remotely.

- Mission gathers steam -

Kenya stepped forward but was set back by a domestic court ruling against the deployment to Haiti.

The Kenyan deployment plan has again picked up steam after Henry visited Nairobi and agreed on a "reciprocal" exchange of forces between the two countries.

Henry was blocked from returning to Haiti by the intensifying violence. He is stranded in the US territory of Puerto Rico, with no outside power interested in helping him return.

The UN Security Council reiterated its support Monday for the international mission, while calling in a statement for all Haitian stakeholders to "engage constructively in meaningful negotiations" toward fresh elections.

With the situation deteriorating, the European Union said Monday that all of its diplomatic personnel had been evacuated from Haiti, a day after the United States announced it had airlifted non-essential US staff from its embassy.

The well-armed gangs recently have attacked key infrastructure, including two prisons, allowing most of the 3,800 inmates to escape.

© Agence France-Presse 

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