US naval base at Guantanamo Bay prepared for Haitians fleeing gang violence, SOUTHCOM general says

An aerial view of Bulkeley Hall at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Bulkeley Hall is the naval station headquarters and administration building. Guantanamo Bay is a logistical hub for U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Army, and allied vessels and aviation platforms operating in the Caribbean region of the U.S. 4th Fleet. (Bill Mesta/U.S. Navy)
 

By Svetlana Shkolnikova, Stars & Stripes, March 14, 2024

The U.S. military has prepared its naval station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for a possible influx of Haitian migrants even as gang violence in the country has subsided in recent days, a top operational commander said Thursday.

Army Gen. Laura Richardson, who leads U.S. Southern Command, told senators that her staff has prepped for the worst in case the crisis in Haiti leads to mass migration. Southern Command oversees military activities in Central and South America as well as the Caribbean.

“Everything is refreshed — the equipment, everything is ready to go,” she said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. “As we work through all our contingency plans, I assure you that U.S. SOUTHCOM and the Department of Defense are ready to go.”

The Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba is located about 200 miles from Haiti and has a center to process migrants that is separate from the facility that holds terrorist suspects. The White House is reportedly discussing whether to expand capacity at the migrant center.

Several lawmakers expressed concern this week that droves of Haitians will attempt to flee the country after armed gangs launched widespread attacks on government structures, businesses and homes. Most of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, is under gang control and flights are suspended. “[Florida families] are worried about how this instability in the region — to not only include Haiti but all of [the] SOUTHCOM theater — could possibly stoke a mass migration event in my state,” said Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla.

An aerial view of Bulkeley Hall at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Bulkeley Hall is the naval station headquarters and administration building. Guantanamo Bay is a logistical hub for U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Army, and allied vessels and aviation platforms operating in the Caribbean region of the U.S. 4th Fleet. (Bill Mesta/U.S. Navy) More than 300,000 Haitians have been displaced since gangs overran the capital on Feb. 29 and unleashed chaos, according to the United Nations.

The U.S. on Wednesday deployed a Marine Fleet-Anti-terrorism Security Team, or FAST, to secure its embassy in Port-au-Prince and flew Marines into the country over the weekend to rescue nonessential diplomatic staff.

Other American civilians, including a Marine Corps veteran, remain trapped in the Caribbean nation. Richardson said gang violence has been “tamped down somewhat” in the past couple of days as international negotiations over new political leadership for Haiti continue.

The country’s minister, Ariel Henry, agreed to step down earlier this week. “The political solution seems to be working and hopefully that continues on a positive path but if not, we have the contingency plans ready to respond from U.S. SOUTHCOM,” Richardson said.

Those plans include a possible evacuation of U.S. citizens in Haiti, she said. Several lawmakers this week criticized the government for not ordering a rescue mission for all Americans in the country. Rep. Cory Mills, R-Fla., said he personally orchestrated a helicopter rescue of ten people working at a Haitian orphanage, including eight Americans.

“If Americans are abroad and in trouble, I will continue to come to their aid,” Mills, an Army combat veteran, said in a social media post on Wednesday. A State Department spokesperson said the government is providing information to U.S. citizens in Haiti through alerts and its websites. U.S. embassies overseas have rough estimates of how many Americans are in their countries but cannot track exact numbers. Americans have been advised against traveling to Haiti since March 5, 2020, according to the spokesperson.
 

 

Posted March 23, 2024