Haiti PM Vows To Take Control Of Haitian Territory, But Money And Resources Are Limited.

Photo Greg Gebhardt Creative Commons. Highly painted buses are a feature of street life in the city of Port au Prince.
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Haitian Prime Minister Gary Conille has sworn to take back control of the anarchic Caribbean nation, with the help of Kenyan and other multinational police forces.

“We will reclaim control of the country, house by house, neighborhood by neighborhood, city by city,” Conille said Wednesday as his new police chief, Rameau Normil, stood at his side along with the head of the Kenya-led armed security force at a press conference.

Conille’s statement has raised expectations that the foreign forces, working with Haitian police, will quickly  dismantle Haitian gangs. It seems to be only a matter of time before a major confrontation between the criminal gangs now controlling more than 80% of the capital city of  Port-au-Prince, and the long-awaited United Nations-backed mission.

But just hours after his warning, members of the 400 Mawozo gang hit back by setting fire to an already abandoned town hall in the town of Croix-des-Bouquets, a sprawling suburb east of the Kenyans’ base on the grounds of the Port-au-Prince international airport.

The confusing picture on the ground in Haiti shows how high the stakes are in the fight to wrest control of Haiti back from an estimated 200 to 300 armed gangs, but how months into the insurrection that helped force the ouster of the previous government, no one knows how the mission will unfold.

As some of the specialized Kenyan officers took to the streets for the first time Friday, accompanying Haitian SWAT members on a patrol of the capital’s gang-decimated downtown, many questions remain, such as are the reinforcements really enough to turn the tide and stabilize a nation that has been in almost continuous turmoil since its revolution more than two hundred years ago.

“It’s a very heavy lift, there’s no question,” Keith Mines, vice president of the Latin America program at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington said of the task ahead. “Tentatively, I want to hope for the best but it’s a real razor’s edge that they are walking on.”

For now, there are just 200 Kenyan police in country with another, larger, wave expected in less than two weeks.

No timetable has been published for the deployment of other contingents like Jamaica from the Caribbean and other African nations like Benin, which have also volunteered to send trained men.

Kenya has estimated that the mission, which was approved by the U.N. Security Council back in October for a year, will cost $600 million.

But a trust fund, administered by the U.N., has only amassed $21 million, which seems like small beer in contrast to the actual amount required to pull off such a massive restabilization progam.

So far, the Biden administration is by far the largest financial contributor, providing over $300 million for armored vehicles, training reimbursement and construction of the base, visited by Conille visited after months of daily automatic gunfire and threats by gang leaders to block the foreign deployment.

Funding isn’t the mission’s only problem.

Though the forces are slated to grow to 2,500, the current base can only accommodate up to about 450 people, according to those in the know, which raises questions about how many foreign troops will actually be on the ground at one time.

The capacity constraints, the limited resources and the number of foreign troops now being allowed to participate because of the lack of money, make for a very challenging situation, said Mines. Still, there is some positive momentum, he said, citing Conille’s ongoing public outreach efforts.

“It’s just a question of whether it’s all going to add up and be enough, and if they can avoid a catastrophe, ‘a Black hawk down’ incident against the Kenyans that leaves them reeling or the opposite where they go in and shoot up some civilians,” Mines said.

Those involved in the planning of the Multinational Security Support mission have provided few details on how the foreign troops, working with Haitian police, are supposed to achieve their main objective: getting authorities to finally be able to hold long-overdue elections so that a new president and parliament can take office by February 2026.

Even the mission’s rules of engagement, required by the U.N. Security Council, have yet to be made public. But that’s not the only plan Haitians say they have yet to see.

“Kenya has arrived, a new police chief has been installed,” human rights activist Marie Yolène Gilles said referring to the transitional government’s decision to fire the previous police chief and name a new one just days before the deployment. “But we haven’t yet sensed anything has changed.”

Like many Haitians, feeling trapped by gangs’ control of roads and entire neighborhoods in the capital and neighboring areas, people are worried about what might come next.

“When you ask bandits to lay down their guns, it is too simplistic,” said Gilles, who runs the Fondasyon Je Klere/Eyes Wide Open Foundation. “A bandit always remains a bandit because when the bandits attack the population, they do so with rigor; they burn, they rape, they kidnap, they kill, they torch.”

“The gangs,” she added, citing the Croix-des-Bouquets attack, “are still active. There are still areas that are off limits and to quote the former minister of justice, ‘remain lost territories.’ ”

Sources: BBC, Miami Herald, VOA.

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