The Biden administration dispatched a high-level delegation to Port-au-Prince Wednesday following the Haitian prime minister’s and UN secretary-general’s requests for assistance to address the nation’s humanitarian and security crises.
A US senior administration official said that the US officials, led by Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols, would discuss the request put forward by Prime Minister Ariel Henry last week for international support as the nation grapples with a cholera outbreak, shortages of food and fuel, widespread protests, and unchecked gang violence.
On Sunday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on the international community “to consider as of matter of urgency the request by the Haitian Government for the immediate deployment of an international specialized armed force.”
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Wednesday the US is reviewing that request, although the US official said Wednesday it is “premature to talk about a US security presence” inside of Haiti.
“Right now we are exploring a number of options with the international community,” they said. “It doesn’t have to be limited to boots on the ground, so to speak.”
Instead, Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday announced the US is “working to increase and deploy in the coming days security assistance to the Haitian National Police to strengthen their capacity to counter gangs and re-establish a stable security environment under the rule of law.”
The US is also sending a major Coast Guard cutter vessel to patrol the waters around Port-au-Prince at the request of the Haitian government, the US official said, and is looking to expedite further humanitarian assistance to the nation as it faces the cholera outbreak.
“Right now, our staff are on the ground in Haiti, working alongside Haitian health workers and NGOs to respond to the cholera outbreak and deliver care to those who need it,” Blinken said in a statement.
At the same time, the administration announced the US is unveiling a new visa restriction policy aimed at “Haitian officials and former government officials and other individuals involved in the operation of street gangs and other Haitian criminal organizations that have threatened the livelihoods of the Haitian people and are blocking life-saving humanitarian support.”
“At this time, the Department is identifying an initial group of individuals and their immediate family members who may be subject to visa restrictions under this policy,” Blinken said.
“Our intent in imposing these visa restrictions is to demonstrate that there are consequences for those instigating violence and unrest in the country, while we continue to support the citizens, organizations, and public servants in Haiti who are committed to generating hope and opportunity for a better future in their nation,” he said.
The US and Mexico have also co-drafted a UN resolution “proposing specific sanctions measures to enable the international community to address the many challenges facing the people of Haiti,” Blinken said, noting that they “introduced this resolution last week and are negotiating with other UN Security Council members ahead of a vote.”
While in the Haitian capital, the US high-level delegation, comprised of SOUTHCOM’s military deputy commander Lt. Gen. Andrew Croft “as well as senior advisors and personnel from the White House, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Joint Staff, and the Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs,” will meet with the prime minister, “the Montana Group, private sector leaders, and broader civil society groups,” the State Department said in a media note.
“The delegation will urge political actors to rise above their differences and chart a Haitian vision for improved security and a return to democratic order,” it said.
The Montana Group, Haiti’s main opposition group, issued a statement rejecting foreign military intervention in Haiti on Wednesday.
Denouncing Henry’s request for foreign military assistance, the opposition group said, “The people have solutions. A Haitian solution for Haitians, in international solidarity.”
The Montana Group, a civil society coalition advocating for a transitional government, went on to say that Haitians want “neither military occupation nor gang terror” and that “gangs and cholera are the fruitful twins in the bowels of occupation.”
“The international community knows very well that the solution to gangs is not foreign military occupation, but to block arms trafficking, to arrest businessmen who provide money and ammunition for gangs to terrorize the population,” the Montana Group added. The opposition leaders urged the US and international community to “think hard and twice” before complying with the request for military assistance.
CNN’s Etant Dupain, Hira Humayun, Sahar Akbarzai and Caitlin Hu contributed to this report.