Still No Commercial Flights To Haiti As Contractors Prepare For Arrival Of International Force.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons. The first American AIrlines flight arrives in Haiti after the devastating earthquake of 2010.
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If anyone expected commercial flights to recommence at Toussaint L’Ouverture airport in Haiti in May, they were wrong, because the airlines still don’t think the airport is safe enough.

The only flights that have arrived at the now sparsely used airfield are American military planes bringing in civilian contractors to prepare bases for the imminent multinational force that Haiti and the world hopes will be able to take over control from armed street gangs that have made the country ungovernable.

On May 2, Haitian media reported that armed gangs opened fire on the airport landing strip, causing panic in the area. Staff members at Haiti’s main international airport were not present in large numbers that day, which was supposed to mark the resumption of operations with the first American Airlines flight in two months.

Commercial airlines had suspended their flights to Haiti, particularly to Port-au-Prince, the capital city, since March 3 due to gang attacks attempting to take control of Toussaint Louverture International Airport. Without forceful law enforcement intervention, the gangs would have had complete control of the area.

If they are going to resume flights in and out of Haiti, airlines demanded the demolition of homes near  the airport for security reasons. These houses were apparently being used as hideouts by armed gangs attempting to storm the international airport. Following the demolition, the police placed a line of shipping containers to prevent the gangs from getting close to the airport.

American Airlines announced they would resume flights to Port-au-Prince on May 2, while JetBlue planned to relaunch on May 15. Spirit Airlines has not yet announced a date. This was welcome news for those waiting two months for air travel from Haiti to foreign countries to resume. However, the first announced flight did not take place.

Since the suspension of flights, only five planes have landed at the Haitian capital airport.

One was a cargo plane carrying materials and equipment purchased by the Haitian government for the national police. The other four were military planes, the latest of which arrived on May 3, carrying contractors tasked to prepare the logistics for the arrival of the highly expected MSS.

Todd D. Robinson, U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, stated, “We don’t want to send them into a situation where they’re not securely housed and have a place to sleep, plan and do all of that.” However, no details have been provided about where the MSS will be based at or the number of people who will be part of the mission.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration is pursuing strategies to enable the deployment. On April 12, it approved a $60 million military aid package to support the Haitian National Police (PNH) and the Kenya-led MSS expected in Haiti.

An official has yet to be announced for deploying the non-UN multinational mission. However, the first Kenyan police groups could arrive at the end of May, coinciding with Kenyan President William Ruto’s visit to the United States.

A number of Caribbean states including Jamaica and the Bahamas are also expected to contribute a number of police or troops, but Kenya has committed by far the largest potential contingent.

Two dates to remember are May 23, reported by American news outlet Politico, and May 26, confirmed by Bahamian Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Michel, who added on the local newspaper Tribune242 that his country was sending 150 Defense Force officers to the MSS.

Despite progress on the political level with the Presidential Transitional Council (TPC) taking over power, the security situation remains worrying. The PHN remains unable to protect the population from the assaults of gangs and the new Prime Minister has been keeping a low profile, perhaps for security reasons.

The latest attack in Port-au-Prince was by the Bel-Air gang against residents of the populated Solino neighborhood. Late on the night of May 1, residents were forced to flee their homes again to escape the bullets of the Bel-Air gang, “101 Zombies”, led by gang leader known as Kempès. There is no official report on this assault in Solino. The police have not communicated anything, and no one knows the reason behind this new attack.

Schools remain closed while other activities are trying to resume cautiously. The situation could deteriorate at any time, especially since Colombian President Gustavo Petro announced that more than a million munitions, explosives, grenades and missiles were missing from the military bases of Tolemaida and La Guajira. According to Petro, these war materials could have been sold to gang groups in Haiti.

Haiti is just seven hours by speedboat from the La Guajira base, one of the places from which the weapons were stolen.

Sources: Haitian Times, VOA, BBC.
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