The Haitian government plans to seek assistance from foreign police forces, officials have said, as the Caribbean country struggles to respond to escalating gang violence.
Citing an unnamed government official, The Associated Press news agency reported on Friday that the government would request the aid of international forces, but a formal, written request had not yet been submitted.
The Miami Herald newspaper first reported on the decision earlier in the day.
Violence in the capital Port-au-Prince has soared in recent months, with armed gangs battling for control of key roads and neighbourhoods. A weeks-long gang blockade of Haiti’s main fuel port has also paralysed much of the nation, spurring acute shortages.
According to a decree circulating online, the Haitian government on Thursday authorised Prime Minister Ariel Henry to ask “Haiti’s international partners” to help with the “immediate deployment of a specialised armed force” to address the growing security crisis.
Al Jazeera’s Mariana Sanchez, reporting from an Organization of American States (OAS) summit in Lima, Peru on Friday, said Haitian Foreign Minister Jean Victor Geneus made a plea at the meeting for international police support, explaining that the economic situation in his country was “catastrophic”.
The foreign minister said gangs exerted their power through the control of a fuel terminal which had caused “great havoc,” Sanchez said.
“It’s affecting the distribution of drinking water, not only that, of transportation, and the functioning of hospitals… So, he formally asked for assistance for an international police force. Not a military force, but a police force,” she said.
Questions were asked about the proposed international police force by summit participants, including who would lead it and whether the United Nations would participate, Sanchez added.
United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the summit Washington was committed to restoring security in Haiti, while Canada’s Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said the proposed future police force must be led by Haitians, Sanchez added.
The OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro called on Haiti to “request urgent support from international community to help solve security crisis and determine characteristics of the international security force,” in a tweet on Thursday.
On Friday, UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the Haitian government has not officially asked the international body for security assistance.
“That being said, we remain extremely concerned about the security situation in Haiti, the impact it’s having on the Haitian people, on our ability to do our work, especially in the humanitarian sphere,” Dujarric told reporters.
One of the poorest countries in the world, Haiti has been suffering from periodic natural disasters and a longstanding political crisis made worse by the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July last year.
Many Haitians have demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Henry, whose government is serving in an interim capacity after he indefinitely delayed an election previously scheduled for November 2021 due to the rising political instability.
Protests and riots have broken out around Haiti since the government announced last month that it will cut fuel subsidies.
But many Haitians do not back the prospect of foreign forces in their country.
“I don’t think Haiti needs another intervention,” Mathias Pierre, Haiti’s former elections minister, told AP. “We have been through so many, and nothing has been solved… If we don’t do it as Haitians, 10 years forward, we’re going to be in the same situation again.”
UN peacekeeping forces served in Haiti between 2004 and 2017 with the mission of strengthening and stabilising government institutions.
But their mandate was not renewed after a tenure marred by allegations of sexual abuse, as well as the peacekeepers’ connection to a 2010 cholera outbreak that killed almost 10,000 people.
That outbreak was linked to a sewage leak from a UN peacekeeping base, spurring condemnation and sowing public distrust in the international body. The UN apologised in 2016 for its role in the epidemic.
The country is also in the midst of a new outbreak of cholera, more than three years after the last case had been reported in 2019.
In a joint statement on Friday, 19 OAS countries expressed solidarity with Haiti and stressed the need for “promoting solutions developed by and for Haitians”.
“We affirm our commitment to help Haitians overcome the complex security challenges facing the country and call on the international community to provide robust security assistance, including strengthening the Haitian National Police,” said the statement, shared by the Canadian foreign ministry.