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Former US diplomat says “normal” diplomacy in Haiti will not work

WASHINGTON, Sept 30, CMC –A former United States ambassador to Haiti says it is time to throw away the gloves and stop pretending that ‘normal” diplomacy will work in Haiti.

The former diplomat, Pamela A White, who served in Haiti from 1982-85, told the House Committee on Foreign Relations that while she had seen corruption and gang warfare and hundreds of burning tyres as well as demonstrations in the streets and violence against innocent civilians “I have never seen anything like the total breakdown of civility that is the current situation in Haiti.”.

Speaking on the theme “Haiti at the Crossroads: Civil Society Responses for a Haitian-led Solution,” she said in her 40 years serving as a diplomat around the world, “it is time to throw away the gloves and stop pretending that ‘normal” diplomacy will work in Haiti.

“As everyone knows who cares about the Haitian people, Haiti is a failed state. There is no legitimate government, no judiciary, no parliament, and a weak police force incapable of stopping the gangs that now rule over 60 per cent of the capital.

“There is no chance of planning elections under the current security crisis. There is absolutely zero doubt that Haitians are living in hellish conditions,” she said, adding that all social services were terminated months ago.

The former diplomat said that Port au Prince, the Haitian capital, has the highest number of kidnappings in the world.

“There are weekly beatings and body burnings. Children in orphanages are terrorised with bullets zooming over their heads with no care as to their safety. The Haitian National police (HNP) have fewer weapons, fewer members, and a lot less money with which to carry out operations than gangs do.”

She told the House Committee that on September 18, a well-respected employee of the telecommunications company, Digicel was found beaten to death in her car, a victim of a botched kidnapping attempt.

“Last week two respected Haitian journalists were gunned down in broad daylight. In August a former Senator and current director of Public Policy was shot and then burned to death in his car. According to the UN, 209 people were killed in a Port-au-Prince slum between July 8-17. A further 254 sustained gunshot wounds. About three thousand residents have been forced to flee.”

White said all the international players espouse again and again that increased security, private sector growth, improved education and health services are all needed.

She said while they are correct “why not admit that what is needed right now is not some complicated five-year plan to solve all of Haiti’s many, many challenges, but boots on the ground right now”.

She said last week, the UN pledged an additional US$10 million to a new security basket that it will manage with the United States government pledging three million dollars.

“I cannot for the life of me determine what could possibly be done with 13 million dollars that would begin to put a dent in the terrorism that is seen daily in Haiti,” she said, adding “before we can talk about anything else in Haiti, we need to address the security situation and don’t be fooled, it won’t be cheap”.

White said that while she is not saying that the police force in Haiti should be equal to the New York Police Department (NYPD) “there must be a force with trained professionals who can outgun the thugs.

“I personally don’t care if they are mercenaries or UN troops or former New York policemen – the killing has got to stop. Perhaps the private sector can be convinced to finally step up to the plate and instead of playing games with gangs, they pay troops to save Haiti, the very country that made the titans of the private sector incredibly wealthy.”

White said that even desperately needed humanitarian aid is under siege with gangs hijacking boats, planes and trucks that are attempting to deliver critical food and medical items to the most vulnerable.

She recalled that this week, two UN food warehouses were broken into and then burned and last week, the UN reported that an estimated 2,000 tons of food were lost following attacks.

She said the UN, Spain, France, Canada, and many others have ordered evacuation of all but essential staff.

“Even essential staff are on lock down for the most part. Most businesses are closed, and transport services are not running. Thousands are calling for Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s resignation. Criminal gangs are at the centre of Haiti’s problems and the lawlessness has led to a humanitarian nightmare.”

White acknowledged that Haiti is a “complicated’ place but argued that this should not serve as an excuse to not engage.

“The private sector, the politicians, the gang leaders, as well as members of the civil society operate in overlapping centres of interest and pots of money. The politicians which are funded by the private sector pay the gangs for influence and safety. The civil society attempts to cross all fields of influence to keep Haiti functioning, but they too are rendered powerless in the face of such daily violence,” she told the US legislators.

She said any number of negative events automatically sends shock waves across the nation, warning that if the Biden administration cannot figure out a way to first secure the streets and second to deliver at a minimum humanitarian aid, an estimated 1.3 million Haitians may die of hunger.

“Everyone has a different view of what political arrangement would best suit Haiti at the present time. If we are truly serious about letting the leadership be determined by Haitians themselves, then let’s ask the Haitian people.

“Some sort of referendum allowing people to vote for four possible scenarios going forward could be accomplished quickly without a lot of money. If a referendum is not practical amid such violence, organise a series of 30 town meetings. Let the people speak.”

She told the House that her bet is that the “current Prime Minister would not be their first choice to lead the country to a better place”.