PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — The Haitian government has agreed to request aid from international troops as gangs and protesters cripple the country and supplies of water, fuel and basic commodities dwindle, according to a document released Friday.
The document, signed by Prime Minister Ariel Henry and 18 senior officials, says they are alarmed by “the risk of a major humanitarian crisis” which threatens the lives of many people.
It authorizes Henry to request from international partners “the immediate deployment of a specialized armed force, in sufficient quantity”, to stop the crisis across the country caused in part by the “criminal actions of armed gangs”.
“It is imperative to restart activities to avoid a complete suffocation of the national economy,” the document said.
It was unclear whether the request had been officially submitted, to whom it would be submitted and whether it would mean the activation of United Nations peacekeeping troops, whose mission ended five years ago after 11 troubled years in Haiti.
US State Department Deputy Spokesman Vedant Patel said earlier in the day that the United States was considering a request for a humanitarian corridor to restore fuel distribution in Haiti and would coordinate with the Haitian Prime Minister and other international partners to determine how best to provide additional support.
“We strongly condemn those who continue to block the distribution of fuel and other necessities to Haitian businesses,” he said.
Patel won’t address the question of where troops to enforce the corridor might come from, saying the review was still in its early stages.
The petition comes after Luis Almagro, secretary general of the Organization of American States, met on Thursday with officials including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Haitian Foreign Minister Jean Victor Généus to discuss the deterioration of the country’s situation.
Almagro tweeted late Thursday that Haiti “must request urgent assistance from the international community to help resolve security crises, determine the characteristics of an international security force.”
Many Haitians have rejected the idea of another international intervention, noting that UN peacekeepers have been accused of sexual assault and sparked a cholera epidemic more than a decade ago that killed nearly 10,000 people.
“I don’t think Haiti needs another intervention,” said Mathias Pierre, Haiti’s former minister of elections. “We’ve been through so much and nothing has been resolved… If we don’t do it as Haitians, in 10 years we will be in the same situation again.”
He called on the US government to help reduce the amount of ammunition and firearms flowing into Haiti and also to equip police so they have more weapons and the ability to handle gang intelligence.
He also expressed concern about the situation an international security force would encounter.
“It’s not an army they’re up against,” he said. “They are faced with gangs located in poor areas and using the population as shields to protect themselves.”
The Haiti National Police struggles to control gangs with its limited resources and chronic understaffing, with only some 12,800 active officers for a country of more than 11 million people.
The gangs have only grown in power since the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.
As Henry’s administration accepted the request for foreign troops, his office released a statement saying the prime minister had not resigned, dismissing what he called false reports circulating on social media that have prompted protests. hundreds of Haitians across the country celebrating in the streets late Thursday.
“These are pure and simple fabrication, intoxication strategies, orchestrated by ill-intentioned individuals, aimed at causing further unrest and confusion,” his office said.
Protesters and increasingly powerful gangs have helped plunge Haiti into unprecedented chaos, with the country paralyzed for nearly a month after gangs surrounded a major fuel terminal in the capital of Port-au- Prince, refusing to budge until Henry resigns.
As a result, crews were unable to distribute approximately 10 million gallons of diesel and gasoline and over 800,000 gallons of jet fuel stored on site.
Protesters have also blocked roads since Henry announced in early September that his administration could no longer afford fuel subsidies, leading to steep increases in the price of gasoline, diesel and kerosene.
The document signed by Henry and other officials said such actions had “catastrophic consequences”.
Gas stations are closed, hospitals have reduced essential services and businesses, including banks and grocery stores, have reduced their hours of operation.
On Wednesday, the Office of the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Haiti proposed a “humanitarian corridor” to provide fuel and aid to those in need. He noted that the country was also facing a new outbreak of cholera, with several deaths reported and dozens of patients treated.
“The most vulnerable people are the first to suffer from the lockdown,” the UN said.
At least 13 U.S. congressional leaders have demanded that U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration stop showing support for Henry and suspend all deportations “given the extreme physical safety risks and dire humanitarian situation.”
He called on the U.S. government to support “legitimate efforts to create a transitional Haitian government that respects the will of the Haitian people, and should make it clear to Henry that he will not support them as they block progress.”
Henry stressed that he had no interest in retaining power and planned to hold parliamentary elections as soon as the violence subsided.
Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico. Associated Press writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.
Danica Coto, Evens Sanon, The Associated Press