US withdraws visas for Haitian officials, send assistance

Senior US officials said Wednesday that the US government will withdraw visas for current and former officials in Haiti involved with gangs and other criminal organizations as well as providing security and humanitarian assistance to Haiti.

Officials spoke to reporters by phone on condition of anonymity as a US delegation was arriving in the Caribbean country, which has been paralyzed by gangs and anti-government protests and facing severe shortages of water, fuel and other essential supplies.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in a statement on Wednesday that the United States would increase “security assistance” to Haiti’s national police “to enhance their ability to confront gangs and re-establish a stable security environment.”

The US officials who showed reporters briefings declined to say which officials in Haiti would see their visas revoked or how many would be affected, adding only that the measure also applied to their immediate family members.

US officials also said the government is working with Mexico on a UN resolution that proposes specific sanctions and additional measures to address the many challenges Haiti faces.

Officials declined to say how the incoming aid would be distributed, though they noted that the US Coast Guard deployed a key cutter at the request of local officials. The agency said it had diverted a 270-foot (82-meter) cutter to patrol the waters near the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Officials also declined to say when and how security and humanitarian aid would be deployed, adding only that supplies such as bleach, water jugs and oral rehydration salts would be distributed amid the cholera outbreak.

As of Sunday, authorities in Haiti had reported 18 deaths and more than 260 suspected cases of cholera in and around Port-au-Prince.

“Cholera has arrived amid serious social and political turmoil,” said Dr. Carissa Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization, adding that the situation is complicating “humanitarian assistance efforts and outbreak response.”

Etienne warned on Wednesday that cases are likely to be much higher than what is being reported because they are concentrated in areas affected by the upsurge in street violence and gang activity.

Brian Nichols, the US assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, flew to Haiti on Wednesday for meetings with politicians and civil society leaders, including Prime Minister Ariel Henry and a prominent group that pushed to lead a two-year transition government and opposed Henry’s. petition for foreign forces.

Nichols, the deputy military commander of the Defense Department’s Southern Command, was accompanied by senior White House advisers and other officials.

The trip comes just days after Henry requested the immediate deployment of foreign forces to assist with security. Gangs surrounded a large fuel depot and protests against Henry added to the problems.

“The delegation will assess how the US government can continue to provide various forms of assistance and promote accountability for those responsible for criminal acts,” the US State Department said.

Since last year, the United States has provided Haiti more than $170 million in humanitarian aid and another $90 million to strengthen Haiti’s National Police. But the department remains understaffed and has limited resources, with only about a third of about 13,000 officers serving in a country of more than 11 million people where gangs have grown more powerful since the assassination of President Jovenel Moss in July 2021.

The United Nations Security Council is due to discuss Henry’s request later this month. In a letter sent to the council on Sunday and seen by the Associated Press, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres presented several options, including a rapid action force.

It was not clear whether the United Nations, individual countries, or both would send troops under such a plan.

A senior official said it was too early to talk only about the US security presence, adding that the government was looking at a number of options with the international community and should not be limited to soldiers on the ground.

One month has passed since one of Haiti’s most powerful gangs besieged a major gas station in the capital, Port-au-Prince, preventing the distribution of about 10 million gallons of gasoline and diesel and more than 800,000 gallons of kerosene stored on the site.

Additionally, protesters blocked streets in the capital and other major cities to demand Henry’s resignation. Prices have risen since the prime minister announced last month that his administration could no longer subsidize fuel.

On Monday, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said the US government wants to “be prudent and responsible as to what such a measure might look like.”

Associated Press writer Gisela Salomon in Miami contributed to this report.

Leave a Comment