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Haiti crisis looms large as Biden visits Canada’s Trudeau


MontrealCanada – For months, everyday life in Haiti’s capital has been marked by widespread violence and growing political instability since powerful armed gangs took control of the streets of Port-au-Prince.

The ongoing crisis is expected to feature prominently in talks this week between Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and US President Joe Biden, who will make his first official trip to Canada since taking office in early 2021.

Washington has been pressuring Ottawa to lead a multinational force in Haiti, and Biden is expected to seek an answer from Trudeau on whether Ottawa plans to take on the mission during his visit to the Canadian capital on Thursday and Friday.

But experts say Canada is not ready to lead such a deployment, instead supporting what it calls a “Haiti-led solution” to the country’s political crisis, while also introducing a sanctions regime and more aid to the Haitian National Police promotes.

Canada “will not be forced – even by a very strong, powerful neighbor like the US – to do something it does not want to do here,” said Stephen Baranyi, a professor of international development at the University of Ottawa and an expert on area of ​​Haiti.

He said Ottawa’s strategy is based on an assessment that Trudeau and other officials have publicly stated, “that past interventions have failed, that a new approach is needed, and that respect for and support for this Haitian idea must be central.” to stand. guided solutions”.

“That has been a sensible position, but we have to recognize that the dilemmas arising from that approach are becoming increasingly acute,” especially as the security situation in Port-au-Prince continues to deteriorate, Baranyi told Al Jazeera.

“The political process is long and so many people ask, ‘Well, until when can Haitians wait?'” he said.

‘Specialized Force’

Haiti’s interim prime minister, Ariel Henry, asked the international community in October for help deploying a “specialized force” to crack down on gangs and restore order in the country of 11 million.

At the time, a powerful gang coalition had maintained a weeks-long blockade of the main petrol terminal in Port-au-Prince, causing water and electricity shortages, closing health facilities and severely disrupting the city’s traffic.

Henry’s request received support from both the US and the United Nations, but also sparked angry protests. Some Haitians called for the resignation of the prime minister, who has faced a crisis of legitimacy since taking office following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July 2021.

Haitian civil society leaders also rejected the idea, warning that a history of foreign interventions and occupations, including by the US, has shown that such deployment poses “more problems than solutions”. Instead, they called on outside forces to stop the flow of arms into Haiti and bolster the police.

While the US has touted the need for an international force in Haiti, it has shown no desire to lead it. Following the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021, another intervention “just has political implications and baggage, if you will, for the White House,” said Georges Fauriol, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington. , DC.

For Canada, “there’s kind of a legitimate concern that this might be an open-ended kind of operation,” Fauriol told Al Jazeera. He noted that Haiti is not only struggling with the wave of gang violence, but is also facing high unemployment, internal displacement and a health crisis.

So while “the Haitian-led solution concept is good,” he said, Haitians have faced a challenge in reaching consensus.

Indeed, Haiti, largely without functioning government institutions, juggles competing visions of how to resolve the political deadlock. One is supported by Henry and the other by prominent opposition figures and civil society groups.

Fauriol said one way to help bridge the gap in Haiti could be for Canada and the US to agree to “appoint a trusted intermediary who would represent international views without pressuring the Haitians themselves, but would at least encourage a workable plan”. .

“Just kicking the can on the road won’t help,” he said.

Sanctions, other measures

As questions arise in Canada over the prospect of sending an armed force to Haiti before Biden arrives, Trudeau and his ministers have repeatedly strengthened their handling of the crisis.

“External intervention, as we have done in the past, has not worked to create long-term stability for Haiti,” the prime minister told reporters in mid-March, emphasizing the need to protect the Haitian police and other national institutions. strengthen.

In recent months, Ottawa has been supplying security equipment to police and imposing sanctions more than a dozen Haitian politicians and other “elites” accused of gang ties and deployed a military aircraft in the skies over Haiti to provide aerial surveillance and intelligence information.

The Canadian government also provided $100 million Canadian ($73 million) in aid to Haiti last year and has contributed $12.3 million Canadian ($9 million) so far in 2023, said Charlotte MacLeod, a spokesperson for the Canada chapter. Foreign Affairs.

When asked if Ottawa would lead a multinational force, MacLeod told Al Jazeera in an email: “Solutions must be made by and for Haitians at all times. Canada is leading international efforts to support Haiti, the Haitian people and a Haiti-led solution to the crisis.”

Canada’s top general has also cast doubt on the Canadian military’s ability to lead a mission to Haiti. “My concern is simply our capability,” Defense Chief Wayne Eyre said in a recent interview with Reuters news agency. “It would be a challenge.”

Fauriol said Biden’s talks with Trudeau this week are “critical” given the deteriorating security situation in Haiti. “If there’s no breakthrough at the Ottawa meeting, if you look at the calendar you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen next,” he said.

Baranyi said he believes a major breakthrough is unlikely, but that both sides will try to get the other closer to their respective goals. That means “the Americans will try to get Canada to speed up planning for a possible multi-national force,” while “Canada will try to get Washington to relax its sanctions.”

A bridge between the two positions, Baranyi said, would be to support Haitian dialogue that could lead to limited international intervention — “mostly police, time-bound (with) clear rules of engagement” — as well as a transitional political agreement that could establish a road to elections.

“Without a political agreement within Haiti (that is) fairly broad-based, … an international intervention will have no domestic legitimacy,” the professor said. “It also may not have domestic legitimacy in countries like Canada.”


Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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