Haiti requests US security forces to guard infrastructure amid turmoil
The Biden administration has received a request from Haiti to provide U.S. security forces to the Caribbean nation to guard critical infrastructure, according to two congressional sources, as the country grapples with an unpredictable security situation following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse earlier this week.
The federal government did not comment on specifics of the assistance it is providing to Haiti, but said that the U.S. is responding to requests from Haitian police for investigative and security assistance, with senior FBI and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials being dispatched to the country.
“In response to the Haitian government’s request for security and investigative assistance, we will be sending senior FBI and DHS officials to Port-Au-Prince as soon as possible to assess the situation and how we may be able to assist,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Friday.
“We’re providing resources in terms of women and man power, but also financial resources is part of what our objective is as well,” she added.
A congressional source told The Hill that the request for U.S. forces was “a bit generically mentioned.”
“It’s kind of been framed in this bucket of U.S. security assistance where in reality the Haitian government made a request for U.S. troops,” the source said. “The scope of the mission was in terms of protection of some critical facilities but there was no number of duration attached to it.”
A second congressional source said there is confusion over the specific request, and that the French word for “troops” can also refer to police, which could be fulfilled by law enforcement.
The request could encompass U.S. troops guarding Haiti’s air and seaports as well as its gasoline reserves, according to The New York Times, which first reported the potential for U.S. troops on the ground.
The FBI said in a statement to The Hill that “the Haitian government requested assistance today from U.S. law enforcement with the investigation into President Moise’s assassination. The FBI is currently engaging with the U.S. Embassy in Haiti and our law enforcement partners to determine how we can best support this effort.”
The request for outside security forces is already raising concern among human rights groups and advocates for Haiti.
“I don’t think that we need outside forces to come in and provide ‘security’ to Haiti, we know and we have the history of the U.N. forces and the aftermath of all of those,” said Guerline Jozef, co-founder and executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, a coalition of nonprofit groups.
Jozef was referring to United Nations peacekeepers who introduced a cholera epidemic in the country following the 2010 earthquake.
Further, an academic investigation in 2019 also found that international peacekeepers fathered and abandoned hundreds of children in the impoverished country.
“So we understand that there is a need for collaborations with the Haitian people, so that they can be safe and protected. However, we do not believe that there should be outside forces,” Jozef added.
A third congressional source said the request from Haiti for U.S. boots on the ground also “really stuck out, as a particularly surprising and meaningful request given the colonial history of the two countries.”
The U.S. occupied Haiti for nearly two decades in the early 20th century following the assassination of the Haitian president in 1915 — a painful history between the two countries that resulted in the deaths of at least 15,000 Haitians who resisted the occupation.
Following Moïse’s assassination on Wednesday, Haitian interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph has instituted a “state of siege” akin to martial law in the poverty-stricken country. Haitian security forces have rounded up dozens of individuals, including two Americans of Haitian descent, suspected of carrying out the shocking early morning assassination of Moïse at his home.
House lawmakers on Friday received a first-hand account of the unpredictable security situation on the streets of Port-au-Prince, as a call with U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Michele Sison, from the embassy, was interrupted by alarms in the background warning staff to shelter in place, according to two congressional sources.
A congressional aide familiar with the call said alarms in the embassy could be heard in the background warning in English and French for individuals to “take cover” and “stay away from the windows.” The warning implored that the alarm “was not a drill.”
The other congressional source said the “duck and cover” alert was in response to a large gathering of Haitians outside the embassy, but did not constitute a cause for alarm.
“They’re not aggressive, that’s what the embassy was telling us,” the source said, adding the alarms are a routine response if large crowds are gathered at points of entry.
State Department deputy spokesperson Jalina Porter would not get into specifics of the security situation on the ground while briefing reporters on Friday, but said that the safety and security of State Department personnel in Haiti and other places abroad “is among one of our top priorities.”
“But with that said we won’t comment from here on the operational security that is co-currently going on, the situation on the ground is still imminent, for that reason I can’t get into specifics from here,” she said.
The U.S. embassy has encouraged American citizens in Haiti to avail themselves of opportunities to leave the country amid the unpredictable security situation.
At least 19 people have been arrested for alleged connections to the assassination, including two Americans of Haitian descent and 17 Colombians, Haiti’s National Police said in an update posted to Facebook. At least six more people are being sought, the police said.
Colombian police said the suspects in the assassination were allegedly hired by four companies, The Associated Press reported, but did not release the names of the companies as they were still being verified.
The two identified Americans are James Solages and Joseph Vincent, who are reportedly naturalized U.S. citizens from Haiti.
Haiti’s Investigative Judge Clément Noël told the French-language newspaper Le Nouvelliste that the two men were acting as translators and that the attackers only planned to arrest Moïse, the AP reported.
Porter, of the State Department, said the U.S. is aware of the Americans’ arrest, but did not comment for privacy considerations, referring questions on the investigation to Haitian authorities.
She reiterated that Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in contact with the acting prime minister amid confusion over the line of succession.
Moïse, before his death, had appointed neurosurgeon and former interior minister Ariel Henry as the next prime minister, but a swearing-in ceremony has yet to take place.
“The secretary has been engaged and has been in contact with Acting [Prime] Minister Joseph. We have other officials who are also actively engaged with appropriate Haitian officials at this time and we’ve been ready to support them however appropriately is needed,” Porter said.
The Biden administration announced in January that it has provided $75.5 million to Haiti that covers a wide range of issues, including democratic governance, health, education, agricultural development and strengthening of pre-election activities.
The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International narcotics and law enforcement affairs provides assistance directly to Haitian national police.
Psaki also said on Friday that the U.S. is providing $5 million to strengthen the Haitian national police capacity to work with communities to resist gangs.
The Haitian president’s assassination is deepening crises in Haiti, already the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country, which has suffered political deadlock over the past few years, a more than decadelong humanitarian crisis exacerbated by COVID-19 and is overrun by gang violence.
Rafael Bernal contributed.