Police exchange fire with armed men next to the Petionville police station in Port-au-Prince on July 8, 2021.

Police exchange fire with armed men next to the Petionville police station in Port-au-Prince on July 8, 2021. (Valerie Baeriswyl, AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — The Biden administration is asking France and Canada to help lead an international effort to shore up security in Haiti, after a series of crises this year crippled the Caribbean nation and sent shock waves through the region.

Conversations began in the fall on an allied plan to bolster Haitian law enforcement, which has been plagued by corruption and increasingly outmatched by drug-fueled gangs operating throughout the country. A virtual meeting held by the State Department and attended by French and Canadian diplomats Friday will include a discussion of the plan.

Vice President Kamala Harris raised the prospect of an international coalition to support Haiti in her meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris last month, as well as her recent conversations with Prime Ministers Justin Trudeau of Canada and Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom, a White House official said.

French officials familiar with the matter say that security was a focus in Harris’ conversation with Macron on Haiti, which was raised at the end of their meeting. The U.S. proposal on supporting Haitian law enforcement is still being reviewed by the French.

While details of the U.S. plan are sparse, multiple sources told the Miami Herald and the McClatchy Washington Bureau that it would rely heavily on help from its partners and involve security training.

Following a recent visit to Port-au-Prince, Todd Robinson, assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that they were looking at training a new SWAT team within the Haitian police to tackle the gang crisis.

Haiti’s police force remains weak despite receiving $300 million in U.S. spending over the past decade, in addition to assistance from Canada and the United Nations.

The Haiti National Police has struggled to contain gang violence, which has fueled a kidnapping surge and a monthslong blockade of the country’s fuel ports, eroding confidence in Washington that the security force can prevent the string of crises from continuing.

The ongoing investigation into the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, now in the hands of an investigative Haitian judge, has yet to result in formal charges or identify a motive, despite the detention of more than 40 suspects.

The U.S. security proposal comes at a delicate time for the Biden administration. The White House has already been facing criticism for its treatment of a surge of Haitian migrants that arrived at the U.S. southern border in September and its extension of the “Remain in Mexico” policy — an immigration policy first devised by President Donald Trump’s administration and criticized by progressives — to Haitian migrants.

The administration has also come under heavy criticism from members of Congress and Haitian civil society, on the one hand, for having a heavy hand in Haiti, and on the other for its refusal to support an initiative by Haitian civil society groups to begin a two-year transition that would include new faces taking charge of the country.

Others have called out the administration for not supporting the use of special forces to train the current Haitian police, or a return of U.N. peacekeepers, whose withdrawal from Haiti after 15 years was heavily supported by the United States, France and the United Kingdom at the U.N. Security Council.

“When it comes to the Haitian National Police, we’re not going to lead with the military, but rather use our civilian tools to support them, whether it’s in providing assets, equipment and even training,” a senior Biden administration official told reporters in October.

“We think that particularly given some of the debates that are taking place in this country about the militarization of the role of the police and the standards of the police in terms of treatment, standards of the use of force, we believe it’s better for us to provide that sort of training from a civilian perspective that reflect the lessons that we’re learning in the United States,” the official added.

The State Department said it was hosting a meeting Friday of international partners to ask for “commitments to prevent further deterioration” in Haiti as its security crisis deepens.

Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols will chair the virtual meeting with international aid organizations and foreign governments.

After the assassination of Moïse in July, Haiti asked the United States and United Nations for military assistance. The request for troops followed a similar request by Moïse to the United Nations months before his murder.

Neither was willing to send troops, and France’s foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, also expressed skepticism. But Le Drian did suggest that France would be prepared to provide police, if needed, “under the authority of the United Nations.”

A dispatch of police officers “should be seen as part of a strengthening in the United Nations presence, which is currently insufficient, to be able to ensure the electoral process,” France 24 quoted Le Drian as saying outside a U.N. meeting on Libya and the protection of humanitarian workers.

France and the United States sent military troops to Haiti in 2004 after then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was forced into exile by a bloody coup. A U.N. peacekeeping mission followed, and in October 2017, U.N. military blue helmets were replaced by a police mission. The United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti was in place from 2017 until 2019, and has since been replaced by a small political mission, which is invited to Friday’s meeting.

Any new U.N. mission would have to be approved by the U.N. Security Council, which would require the Biden administration to go head to head with China for approval. China has been a critical voice about past U.N. interventions in Haiti and recently sought to shut down the current operation.

©2021 Miami Herald.

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