By Robertson Henry, Associated Press, June 16, 2023
Humanitarian aid to Haiti will need to take into account the influence of heavily armed gangs who control large parts of the country, the president of a regional bloc said ahead of planned talks with the European Union next month.
"If anybody wants to deliver humanitarian assistance to Haiti, they have to come to terms with the gangs," Ralph Gonsalves, prime minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and current president of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), said in an interview.
He did not give more details on how the gangs should be addressed.
Gonsalves will travel to Brussels for an EU-CELAC summit on July 17-18, expected to cover the volatile security situation in Haiti, where powerful gangs are driving a crisis that has displaced over 160,000 people, according to United Nations estimates.
Local activists are among those who have fled the violence while international aid organizations such as Médecins Sans Frontières have shut down operations saying they cannot guarantee the safety of their patients or staff.
"There are gang leaders who are also political operatives, who control important communities," said Gonsalves, warning that "you have to be careful you don't set about to engage with gangs in Haiti and provide some legitimacy to them."
Gonsalves said people with ties to gangs were likely present at talks between representatives of Haiti's civil society and government in Jamaica this week, at which Prime Minister Ariel Henry pledged to broaden the country's transition council to make the government more inclusive.
Henry has since October called for an international force to help police restore security and establish conditions for long-awaited elections, but no country has offered to lead such a force.
Meanwhile, Gonsalves said, Haitian migration is threatening security in neighboring Caribbean countries.
Gonsalves said his country could help Haiti run eventual elections, and once stability is established, countries would need to coordinate a "Marshall Plan" of foreign aid.
This would involve serious talks about reparations from France, Gonsalves said.
Haiti spent over a century paying France a costly "debt" as plantation owners demanded payment for property - including slaves - lost in the Haitian Revolution, often described as the world's first and only successful slave rebellion.
Reporting by Robertson Henry in Kingstown Writing by Sarah Morland Editing by Matthew Lewis
Posted June 24, 2023