Jamaica’s prime minister offers troops to address Haiti crisis

The offer comes after Haitian government appealed for international support to help with the country’s gang violence.

Andrew Holness at a podium, speaking into a microphone against a blue background at the Summit of the Americas
Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness says the offer of support is meant to return Haiti 'to a reasonable level of stability' [Mike Blake/Reuters]

Jamaica’s prime minister has said his government is willing to send soldiers and police officers to Haiti as part of a proposed multinational security assistance deployment.

The announcement comes a week after the United Nations special envoy for Haiti, Helen La Lime, said she hoped the UN Security Council would deal “positively” with the pending request from Haiti’s government for international armed forces, despite Canada and the United States showing no interest.

Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness told the island’s House of Representatives on Tuesday that he wants to help Haiti and “support a return to a reasonable level of stability and peace, which would be necessary for any inclusive, democratic process to take root”.

The announcement appears to be the first time a Western hemisphere nation has publicly offered boots on the ground after Haiti’s prime minister and other top officials requested the immediate deployment of foreign troops in early October, amid a crippling fuel siege blamed on the country’s most powerful gangs.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres and La Lime have backed Haiti’s plea to no avail.

The UN Security Council has mulled the request but taken no action, opting instead to sanction some people involved in the disruptions including Jimmy Chérizier, a dominant gang leader and former police officer blamed for masterminding multiple brutal attacks and killings.

“It is our impression that the international community has not yet taken stock of the urgency of the situation that the Haitian people are facing,” Léon Charles, the former chief of Haiti’s National Police, said Wednesday during an Organization of American States (OAS) meeting.

“My country is experiencing one of the most difficult moments in its history,” said Charles, who is Haiti’s permanent representative to the OAS.

He likened the aid Haiti had so far received from the international community to buckets of water to help put out a raging fire, when what the country needs are firetrucks equipped with heavy-duty hoses.

Meanwhile, Holness said Jamaica is ready to offer bilateral support if needed.

“It is our real hope that Haiti will soon overcome her challenges and embark on a path toward restoration of stability, long-lasting peace and sustainable development for her land and people with the full backing of the international community,” he said.

A UN spokesperson said the organisation has not seen any formal offers but that countries can make offers directly to those leading the effort to establish a force.

Jamaica is a member of a regional trade bloc known as Caricom, which last week issued a statement urging “all stakeholders to come together in their search for a consensus agreement” to resolve what it called a protracted political stalemate in Haiti. Caricom added it was prepared to hold a meeting in the Caribbean to talk about the issue.

Haiti was stripped of all democratically-elected institutions when the terms of the remaining 10 senators expired in early January. Prime Minister Ariel Henry has promised to hold general elections for more than a year but a provisional electoral council has yet to be chosen, which some critics say has led to a de-facto dictatorship.

Haiti also has been struggling with levels of violence not seen in decades, ever since the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse at his private home. Gangs are now believed to control 60 percent of the capital Port-au-Prince.

The number of reported kidnappings in Haiti soared to 1,359 last year, which is double compared with the previous year, while reported killings spiked by one-third to 2,183, according to the UN.

“These are truly chilling figures,” Charles said. “The situation in Haiti is extremely urgent.”

Haiti’s National Police has fewer than 9,000 active police officers for a country of more than 11 million people who not only face a spike in violence but also deepening poverty, widespread hunger and a deadly cholera outbreak.

Source: The Associated Press