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Emergency summit in Jamaica to address spiraling Haiti crisis

By AFP - Mar 12,2024 - Last updated at Mar 12,2024

KINGSTON, Jamaica — US, Canadian, French and Caribbean envoys were meeting on Monday in Jamaica to address the spiraling instability in Haiti, where gang violence has crippled the capital and forced foreign diplomats to evacuate over the weekend.

Armed groups, which already control much of Port-au-Prince as well as roads leading to the rest of the country, have unleashed havoc in recent days as they try to oust Prime Minister Ariel Henry.

In power since the 2021 assassination of president Jovenel Moise, Henry had been visiting Kenya, in search of support for a UN-backed security support mission, when the latest burst of violence broke out.

Unable to return to Haiti last week, he instead landed in the US territory of Puerto Rico, where he remained on Monday, according to a US official.

The CARICOM group of Caribbean nations has summoned its leaders as well as envoys from the United States, France, Canada and the United Nations to a meeting in Kingston, Jamaica to discuss the crisis.

The United States was sending its top diplomat, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who departed Washington for Kingston early Monday.

He was to discuss a proposal “developed in partnership with CARICOM and Haitian stakeholders to expedite a political transition in Haiti”, the State Department said.

Guyanese President Mohamed Irfaan Ali, the current CARICOM chair, said that talks to bring “stability and normalcy” to Haiti were ongoing, but that Haitian stakeholders “are not where they need to be”.

“Time is not on their side in agreeing to the way forward,” Ali warned in a video on social media.

AFP reporters saw bodies lying in Port-au-Prince streets and some 362,000 Haitians have been displaced from their homes, according to the International Organisation for Migration.


Diplomats flee 


The European Union said on Monday all of its diplomatic personnel had been evacuated from Haiti, a day after the United States announced it had airlifted non-essential US staff from its embassy.

The German foreign ministry meanwhile said its ambassador had departed on Sunday for the Dominican Republic “due to the very tense security situation in Haiti”.

On Saturday, dozens of residents sought safety in public buildings and at least in one case broke in to seek refuge, according to an AFP correspondent.

Police late Friday repelled gang attacks, including on the presidential palace, while several “bandits” were killed, Lionel Lazarre, of the Haitian police union, said.

The well-armed gangs recently have attacked critical infrastructure, including two prisons, allowing most of the 3,800 inmates to escape.

Along with some ordinary Haitians, the gangs are seeking the resignation of Henry, who was due to leave office in February but instead agreed to a power-sharing deal with the opposition until new elections are held.

Washington has asked Henry to enact urgent political reforms, but has stopped short of calling for his resignation.

The State Department said Monday that Blinken would discuss a proposal with CARICOM to “expedite a political transition in Haiti through the creation of a broad-based, independent presidential college”, without further details.


Meaningful negotiations 


The UN Security Council gave its green light in October for a multinational policing mission led by Kenya, but that deployment has been stalled by Kenyan courts.

The council reiterated its support for the mission on Monday, while calling in a statement for all Haitian stakeholders to “engage constructively in meaningful negotiations” towards fresh elections.

Port-au-Prince and the surrounding region is under a month-long state of emergency, while a nighttime curfew is in effect until Monday, though it is unlikely overstretched police can enforce it.

Haiti’s airport remained closed while the main port — key for food imports — reported looting and suspended services on Thursday.

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