‘We are extremely concerned for the people of Haiti,’ says Jamaica’s PM as he offers help

By Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald, Jan. 31, 2023

Jamaica Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced Tuesday that his Caribbean nation would be willing to deploy soldiers and police officers to Haiti as part of a multinational force to assist the crisis-stricken country.

Holness made the statement during a sitting of his nation’s parliament. Jamaica’s military is one of the more experienced in the Caribbean region when it comes to taking on violent gangs, and it regularly runs anti-gang raids alongside the police.

“Jamaica and Haiti are neighbors enjoying longstanding good relations and partnerships,” Holness said. “Jamaica would be willing to participate in a multinational security assistance deployment to Haiti under the appropriate jurisdictional parameters to support a reasonable level of stability and peace which would be necessary for any inclusive democratic process to take root.”

Holness said that both Jamaica’s military and police forces — the Jamaica Defense Force and Jamaica Constabulary Force — have been alerted and have started to plan for the possibility of deployment to Haiti.

In October, interim Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry issued a plea for help to the international community, asking if it could deploy forces to help Haiti’s beleaguered national police. But despite support for such a deployment from the United States and the United Nations secretary-general, there have been no takers.

The Biden administration had hoped that Canada would take the lead. However, after several assessment trips and discussions, Ottawa has not said if it is willing, but recent comments by its ambassador to the U.N. have indicated hesitancy.

El Salvador offers anti-gang experts

On Monday, El Salvador’s Vice President Félix Ulloa told the Miami Herald in an exclusive interview that while his Central American nation is not in a position to send troops, President Nayib Bukele is willing to send an assessment team of security and anti-gang experts to help Haiti and any international forces figure out how best to wage a gang war.

El Salvador has seen its homicide rate drop drastically and has jailed tens of thousands of gang members under Bukele’s administration. The country, however, has done so mostly through the use of state of emergency declarations as well as a deployment of its military forces.

Unlike El Salvador and Jamaica, Haiti doesn’t have a military to speak of, and its police, despite being well-trained, are ill-equipped and outgunned. At least 78 police officers have been killed in the country over the past 18 months, including 14 this month.

On Tuesday, three officers were laid to rest during an emotional funeral service at the National Police Academy. The officers, along with a fourth, who is presumed dead although his body hasn’t been recovered, were killed during a gang ambush.

The deaths, along with those of seven other police last week in a rural village in the Artibonite Valley, have sparked anger and protests within the force. Rank-and-file officers have taken to the streets in protests that have turned violent.

Speech to Jamaica’s parliament

In Jamaica on Tuesday, Holness opened his speech by mentioning the recent murders of policemen, telling members of parliament that kidnappings are also rampant. Jamaica, through a statement by the 15-member Caribbean Community known as Caricom, condemned the recent rounds of violence, he said.

“Today, I reiterate that condemnation and extend our condolences to the families of the fallen officers,” he said.

In addition to the ongoing security challenges, Holness noted that nearly 5 million people face acute hunger across Haiti and that cases of deadly cholera continue to “pose grave difficulties for their public health system.”

“There are several emergency-level crises now in Haiti,” he said. “Thousands of Haitian children, especially those living in gang-affected areas have yet to restart their school year and there are increasing reports of minors being recruited to serve in gangs. We are extremely concerned for the people of Haiti and their multifaceted impact of this situation on their development.”

Holness said Jamaica is willing to assist Haiti, a fellow member of Caricom, how best it can. The country has been engaged in several meetings with Canada and U.S. State Department officials about the crisis, and he emphasized that Jamaica is willing to host discussions among Haiti’s warring political factions and civil society leaders in hopes of finding a broad consensus on the path forward.

Opposition spokesman Anthony Hylton said late Tuesday that while his People’s National Party does not always agree with the government’s foreign policy decisions, helping Haiti is one it fully supports.

“The stability of Haiti is very important to Jamaica’s own national security,” Hylton said during an interview on Nationwide Radio in Kingston. “It’s timely and I believe it’s the correct course of action. It has the opposition’s full support.”

Hopes accord will succeed

Like others in the international community, Holness said his government is placing its hopes in the signing of a Dec. 21, 2022, political accord between Henry and some members of Haiti’s political and civil society leadership that establishes a High Transitional Council aimed at leading the country to inclusive and transparent democratic elections.

“The developments of the past week, however, demonstrate that progress on the path toward the restoration of democratic institutions and the rule of law remains highly fragile,” Holness said.

“It is our real hope that Haiti will overcome her challenges and embark on a path toward stability and long-lasting peace and sustainable development for her land and people with the full backing of the international community,” he concluded.


Posted Feb. 5, 2023