UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called the situation in Haiti “tragic,” and acknowledged that it has been difficult mobilising the international community to rescue the country from the “absolutely appalling” gang violence.
“This has been a difficult exercise,” Guterres said from Kingston, Jamaica.
“It has been difficult mobilising the will of those that would have the best capacity to lead this operation.
“And it has been difficult to create, also, the political conditions to make it easier for different countries to accept to be part of this action.”
Guterres, who arrived in Jamaica on Sunday, spent Monday meeting with Prime Minister Andrew Holness.
The two discussed a range of issues from the climate crisis in the Caribbean to the lack of low-interest borrowing for developing and vulnerable middle-income countries, to the deteriorating situation in Haiti where more than 600 people were killed last month across metropolitan Port-au-Prince in conflict caused by armed groups.
“Haiti is in a tragic, tragic situation,” the secretary-general said, personally addressing Haiti’s catastrophic descent into a spiral of violence for the first time in months.
Previous comments have come through a spokesperson, his representative in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, or his regular reports to the UN Security Council.
“You have dramatic humanitarian needs. You have a political system that is paralysed, and you have levels of violence by gangs that are absolutely appalling,” he said, adding that both the gang violence and the political paralysis needs addressing.
“The number of people killed, the number of people unable to live their lives, the dramatic food insecurity problems are indeed something that needs a much stronger commitment by the international community.”
Guterres’ visit came a day before foreign ministers of the 15-member Caribbean Community, known as CARICOM, are set to meet in Jamaica.
The meeting, chaired by Jamaica’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Kamina Johnson Smith, will broach several issues including the region’s foreign policy, bilateral relations with the United States, Canada and the UN, and the situation in Haiti, the regional bloc said in a statement.
In October, as a gang federation seized control of the country’s main fuel terminal in the capital, Guterres called for “the immediate deployment of a multinational rapid action force” to assist the country’s beleaguered police force as it struggled to regain control from powerful gangs.
His appeal, which was part of a multi-pronged security plan, was later accompanied by a resolution by the U.S. and Mexico before the Security Council to create a non-UN multinational force.
By making it not a UN peacekeeping mission, per se, the U.S., which doesn’t want to deploy its own boots on the ground, was hoping the proposal would be more palatable to the Haitian public — and perhaps members of the international community who have been critical of previous UN interventions in Haiti.
Seven months later, however, neither request has gone anywhere and the security situation has only worsened. Gangs now control at least 80 per cent of the capital and have expanded their reach to the Artibonite Valley, just north of the capital.
At least eight documented gang massacres this year have contributed to the deaths of at least 1,446 people in the first four months.
With violence becoming more extreme, kidnappings have soared and mob killings and lynchings are on the rise.
The UN says at least 164 suspected gang members were killed in April by the population taking matters into its own hands.
In late January, Holness publicly announced Jamaica’s willingness to assist Haiti by deploying soldiers to be part of a multinational force.
The support, endorsed by the country’s opposition in a rare show of unity on an international issue, was followed a month later by a visit to Port-au-Prince as Holness led a small delegation on behalf of CARICOM, of which Haiti is a member.
The purpose of the trip was to gain a better understanding of the security crisis and to see if Caribbean leaders could help Haiti’s warring political factions come together.
Since the July 7 assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, Haitians have been at odds over how to govern the country in lieu of elections or any elected officials.
The international community has called on Prime Minister Ariel Henry to broaden a December political agreement that sets up a transitional council to assist him in taking the country to elections.
Civil society groups, which have endorsed their own plan known as the Montana Accord, want Henry out and say they have their own road map for addressing the crisis.
During the news conference after their meeting, Guterres said Jamaica was “the first country that immediately expressed its readiness to be part of” the multinational force.
He added that Jamaica “is involved in a very important political process trying to bring together the different stakeholders to find their way out of this political crisis.”
“I want to express my full support to the initiatives of Jamaica and CARICOM. And I want to once again, ask the international community to understand that an effective solidarity with Haiti is not only a matter of generosity, it is essentially a matter of enlightened self-interest,” Guterres said.
“Because the present situation in Haiti reflects a threat to the security of the whole region and further afield,” he added. (dpa/NAN)