Canada declined to say Thursday whether it would lead or join a multinational security force for Haiti but has dispatched an assessment team to the beleaguered country to get a sense of the situation on the ground.
Haiti is beset by food and energy shortages. Armed gangs in its capital, Port-au-Prince, control a major fuel terminal, which has triggered dire shortages of gas and diesel. Gangs also control major roads. And the country is dealing with a cholera outbreak.
Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, speaking after meeting U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Ottawa Thursday, said a federal government delegation is in Haiti now asking local decision makers what is needed to address the humanitarian and security crises.
“We will always support solutions that are by and for Haitians, because we believe in the fact that solutions are better, when they’re taken by them and that we support them,” she said.
She also said Canadians are talking to the Haitian National Police about what tools they have to deal with gangs.
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The United States has said it is confident of securing a United Nations Security Council resolution and finding countries to take part in a task force in early November to address the island’s crises.
On Wednesday, Brian Nichols, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, acknowledged Canada had the skills to lead a mission but said other countries do too. “There are a number of countries that have the skills to do that, and among those countries is Canada but it’s not the only country that can do that.”
Asked Thursday if Canada would lead or form part of a security force, Ms. Joly said Canada intends to contribute more to help Haiti but did not specify how. She said it’s important to hear from Haitians on the ground first.
Mr. Blinken told reporters in Ottawa Thursday the Security Council resolution would be in support of the Haitian National Police and that the effort would be “limited in scope.”
He said Canada and the United States are talking between themselves and with other countries to figure out which of them are on board.
“We’re talking between us but also ... with many other countries about who might be willing to participate in such a mission, as well as who will lead it,” he said. “This is a work in progress.”
Separately, the UN Security Council last week approved sanctions on anyone who threatens Haiti’s peace or stability, citing one of the country’s most powerful gangsters as its first target.
Since the 2010 earthquake, Canada has contributed $1.87-billion in assistance to Haiti and is the country’s second-largest bilateral donor after the United States.
The Globe and Mail spoke to a 56-year-old woman living in Port-au-Prince who said she is too afraid to leave her home because she could be raped or abducted.
She said the area where she’s living was safe until the presence of gangs started increasing. “The gangs are the cancer in the country, and they are everywhere.” They have invaded all of the neighbourhoods, she said, forcing people to lock themselves indoors. The Globe is not naming her because she fears for her safety.
The woman said she would never like to have military forces come into the country, but it’s gotten to the point, she said, where “you have to put your pride on the side because people need to live.”
Mathias Pierre, a former Haitian cabinet minister still living there, said what is happening in the country is “total chaos.” He said elites in the country believe the presence of foreign troops would bring about peace, while generally people are against any form of military occupation. On top of this, he said, the international community has become too involved in Haiti’s problems.
Mr. Pierre said violence in Haiti can’t be solved by an international force coming in – rather leaders from different sectors in the country need to sit together to solve problems. He would like to see the international community serve as an intermediary to bring about such dialogue.
“We don’t need the white people to come and speak to each of us separately and tell us each what the other one is saying. We would prefer to have an intermediary sit with us,” he said, adding that he doesn’t believe Canada or the U.S., or European leaders are fit for the job. He suggested an African leader step in.
With a report from Reuters