UNITED NATIONS – The Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in Haiti, Helen La Lime, has called on the United Nations Security Council to act urgently to support the CARICOM nation, as the gang, economic, and fuel supply crises there “intersect in altogether new and frightening ways”.
Her call comes even as political stakeholders are still struggling to find common ground and define a path to elections against this backdrop.
“An economic crisis, a gang crisis, and a political crisis have converged into a humanitarian catastrophe. We must not lose hope, but rather combine our efforts to find a pathway to a better tomorrow,” said La Lime, speaking from the capital, Port-au-Prince.
She said a Haitian-led political solution is the first necessary step to address the current crisis. “To support Haitians in their effort towards a better future, this Council must take urgent action.”
La Lime said that over the past several weeks, three crises have begun to intersect in altogether new and frightening ways in Haiti.
“A gang crisis continues to violently disrupt daily life, driving more than 20,000 people from their homes. An economic crisis has the country in a stranglehold, with Haitians facing soaring food prices, and fuel often available only on the black market. And as these trials play out, and Haitians exercise their legitimate right to protest, political stakeholders are still struggling to find common ground and define a path to elections.”
La Lime said that throughout this crisis, “I have maintained my good offices efforts with all sectors of Haitian society and encouraged all to engage in a broad, open and constructive dialogue.
“While so-far inconclusive efforts have led to a perceived stalemate, national stakeholders have begun to re-engage with a renewed sense of urgency. In the past weeks, Government representatives, political groups, and civil society organizations launched new consultations on ways to forge a wider consensus on a path towards elections.”
She said it is also encouraging to see private sector leaders starting to come together pledging to meet their respective fiscal and legal responsibilities.
“Sustained increases in revenues, and progress on issues such as subsidies and customs revenue, will be the clearest sign that this commitment is being met by all sides,” she said, adding that the current unrest has put a major focus on the Haitian National Police (HNP).
“The HNP has truly been put to the test. The hard work demonstrated to remove roadblocks and restore some semblance of freedom of movement for the population has elicited a degree of trust in their capacities. While some barricades are quickly re-erected, the institution’s response has demonstrated how far they have come. However, whole neighborhoods remain unpoliced; and the chronic situation at the Varreux fuel terminal threatens to highlight the very real limits of the national force,” she added.
The economic crisis has caused food prices to soar, while fuel is often available only on the black market. Protests broke out in Haiti after Prime Minister Dr. Ariel Henry announced on September 11 that the government will reduce some US$400 million in fuel subsidies in efforts to increase revenue for social programmes.
By the following day, barricades had been erected throughout the country, prompting a nationwide shutdown, with the situation persisting in the capital for a full five days. One of the largest gang alliances also blocked the main fuel terminal there on 12 September. The siege lasted for over a week, despite concerted operations by the police over the weekend.
Senior Adviser for Special Political Affairs of the United States Mission to the United Nations, Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, said Washington certainly recognizes the ability to gather and protest is fundamental in any democracy.
“That said, we strongly condemn acts of violence, looting, and destruction that have recently occurred in Haiti. We were dismayed by the looting that took place at a WFP (World Food Program) warehouse in Gonaives on September 15, resulting in the loss of over one million US dollars of food supplies, and the looting of WFP and IOM supplies…
“We call on all Haitians to express their views in a peaceful manner, one that protects humanitarian actors, respects law enforcement, and allows unfettered access to food, water, and medical care for Haitians.
“We all know that security in Haiti has worsened over the past year as criminal gangs continue to ravage parts of the country, leading to many killings and kidnappings. We are concerned with the significant deterioration in the independence and operational ability of the judiciary and the apparent evidence of widespread impunity reserved for elite members of the Haitian population,” The US diplomat said.
He said the struggles continue to remind of the importance of providing support to the HNP, adding “we are firmly committed to efforts to strengthen the HNP’s capacity to counter gangs, including community-based efforts to deter gang recruitment, the deployment of additional anti-gang subject matter experts, and support to build the HNP’s anti-gang strategic planning, organizational, and operational capacities. And we will procure more equipment for the HNP, like protective gear and new vehicles”
He said over the past 18 months, the United States has provided more than US$80 million in assistance to the HNP, adding “just last week, we provided emergency supplies to help the HNP maintain its operations in the face of violent unrest.
“Given the seriousness of the situation, we will continue to expedite our security assistance to Haiti. We are about to start vetting the first 100 candidates of our SWAT training program. We expect training will be well underway by later this fall.
“We see this as a key component of our joint efforts – of the efforts of all of us – to support Haiti-led solutions. The international community must continue its support to turn the tide of Haiti’s extremely serious security environment before it is too late,” the US diplomat added.
The insecurity has also severely curtailed humanitarian access and made it “very difficult and dangerous” to deliver, according to Valerie N. Guarnieri, WFP Deputy Executive Director.
“We expect food security to further deteriorate this year, surpassing the record high of 4.5 million people estimated to face crisis or worse levels of acute food insecurity, including 1.3 million people in emergency,” she said.
The gangs strangling the capitol are blocking access to fuel supplies and key logistics hubs, including ports and airports, as well as road access to other areas of the country. Protesters have also ransacked and looted humanitarian warehouses, with WFP losing one-third of its food stocks in just one week. UN agencies and partners estimate they have lost an estimated six million US dollars during such attacks, which come at the peak of the hurricane season.
Guarnieri stressed that WFP and other aid agencies intend to stay and deliver in Haiti despite the challenges, but will need greater assistance.
“Simply put, we’re not in a position to support all of those that need our help due to the general lawlessness and operational environment. Therefore, we’re looking forward to increased support from the Member States, from you, to further facilitate humanitarian access as well as protection of humanitarian actors, personnel and assets,” she said.
Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC), Ghada Fathi Waly, said the armed groups not only compromise stability and security, they also hamper efforts towards peace and lasting development.
Haiti is particularly vulnerable to the illicit traffic in commodities, particularly drugs, firearms and ammunition due to its 1,500 kilometers of coastline and land border with the Dominican Republic.
Waly said UNODC is supporting border management and is working to map out transnational criminal activities in Haiti, as well as their regional impact. They are also assisting the authorities in building capacity to inspect containers at strategic points such as ports and border crossings.
“These efforts should ensure that customs revenue be effectively sent to activities to support border modernization and border management,” she said.