SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The U.N. Security Council was evaluating options, including the immediate activation of foreign troops to help free Haiti from the grip of gangs that have caused shortages of fuel, water and other basic supplies.
Such a force would “remove the threat posed by armed gangs and provide immediate protection to critical infrastructure and services,” as well as ensure the “free flow of water, fuel, food and medical supplies from major ports and airports to communities and health care facilities,” according to a letter UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres submitted to the council on Sunday.
The letter, seen by The Associated Press and has not been made public, said one or more member states would deploy the force to assist the Haitian National Police.
It also states that the secretary-general can deploy “additional UN capabilities to support a ceasefire or humanitarian arrangements”.
However, the letter notes that “a return to a stronger United Nations engagement in the form of peacekeeping remains a last resort if decisive action is not urgently taken by the international community in accordance with the above-mentioned options and national law enforcement capacity is demonstrated unable to reverse the deteriorating security situation.”
The letter was submitted after Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry and 18 senior officials called on international partners to “immediately deploy a specialized armed force, in sufficient quantity,” to stop the “criminal actions” of armed gangs across the country.
The request comes nearly a month after one of Haiti’s most powerful gangs seized control of a key fuel terminal in the capital Port-au-Prince, where about 10 million gallons of diesel and gasoline and more than 800,000 gallons of kerosene are stored.
Tens of thousands of protesters have also blocked roads in Port-au-Prince and other major cities in recent weeks, blocking the flow of goods and traffic as part of an ongoing protest against soaring gasoline, diesel and kerosene prices.
Gas stations and schools are closed, while banks and grocery stores operate with limited hours.
Protesters are demanding the resignation of Henry, who announced in early September that his government could no longer afford to subsidize fuel.
The deepening paralysis has caused supplies of fuel, water and other essential goods to dwindle amid a cholera outbreak that has killed scores of people and sickened dozens more, with health officials warning the situation could worsen.
On Sunday, Haitian senators signed a document demanding Henry’s “de facto government” suspend its request to deploy foreign troops, saying it is illegal under local law.
A representative for Henry could not immediately be reached for comment.
Haitian officials have not specified what kind of armed forces they are looking for, with many local leaders rejecting the idea of U.N. peacekeepers, noting that they have been accused of sexual assault and sparked a cholera epidemic that has killed nearly 10,000 people during the 13-year war. mission to Haiti that ended five years ago.
The letter submitted by the UN secretary-general on Sunday suggests phasing out the rapid-action force as Haitian police regain control of infrastructure, and that two options could be pursued: member states create an international police team to help and advise local officers or create a special force to help tackle gangs “including through nationwide joint strikes, lockdowns and restrictions”.
The letter notes that if member states do not “move forward with bilateral support and funding,” the UN operation may be an alternative.
“However, as stated, a return to UN peacekeeping was not the authorities’ preferred option,” it says.
The letter also states that the Security Council could decide to strengthen the police component of the current United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti, known as BINUH, and call on member states to provide additional equipment and training to local police, which are understaffed and under-resourced. Only about a third of the 13,000 or so operate in a country of more than 11 million people.
The Secretary-General said the matter was urgent, noting that Haiti “is facing a cholera outbreak amid a dramatic deterioration in security that has paralyzed the country.”
The US Embassy granted temporary leave to staff and urged US citizens to leave Haiti immediately.