As the United Nations General Assembly gets under way in New York, Haiti is set to command attention not just from the United States, which is co-hosting a high-level donor event on Friday, but its neighbor to the north, Canada.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be leading a discussion of a Haiti advisory group Wednesday on the sidelines of the massive world leaders’ summit in hopes of instilling a sense of urgency regarding the crisis-wrecked country and to discuss how the international community can help.
“We’re escalating our leadership and this is a signal that we take the situation very seriously and we’re following it very closely and that the international community needs to get together and support Haiti,” said Sébastien Carrière, Canada’s ambassador in Port- au-Prince.
A year after the still unsolved assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, Haiti still does not have a timetable for new general elections or an agreement between its warring political factions that could help get it there. Recent protests, ignited after a government announced an increase in the price of fuel at the pump, have brought the country to a violent standstill.
Some protesters, while decrying the higher cost of living and demanding the resignation of interim Prime Minister Ariel Henry, have looted charity and government warehouses, erected burning barricades to block roads and attacked banks, foreign embassies and the homes of government supporters and members of the private sector.
Even schools and hospitals have not been spared in the violence, which saw a respite Tuesday as Hurricane Fiona brushed through the country but battered the neighboring Dominican Republic.
In opening the General Assembly on Monday, UN Secretary General António Guterres spoke of the teeming turmoil around the world. He mentioned Haiti among 10 countries where “upheaval abounds.”
“In Haiti,” Guterres said, “gangs are destroying the very building blocks of society.”
His comments highlighting Haiti joined those of Dominican Republic President Luis Abinader. During a visit last week to Washington, Abinader raised his concerns about Haiti with Biden administration officials, including Vice President Kamala Harris. He also raised them with Trudeau ahead of the UN gathering.
Carrière said Wednesday’s meeting will be highly focused on the security situation in Haiti, which Canada has made a top priority as gangs extend and tighten their grip. He knows that one meeting will not solve the problem, but if the international community can focus on supporting the Haitian National Police to reestablish security, it’s a first step, he said.
“What’s going on out there — the looting, the violence — is terrible and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms,” Carrière said. “People have the right to peaceful protest… We hear the frustrations out there on the streets; over 5 million people according to the latest numbers don’t have anything to eat.”
While Wednesday’s meeting will not be about the civil unrest, the meeting is certainly timely given the ongoing political stalemate and security challenges.
“I expect political dialogue to come up; I expect the security situation to come up. The current crisis, of course. It’s very hard to ignore the news when you’re having a meeting,” Carrière said. “The aim is to have a high-level discussion on how to better accompany Haiti.”
For Canada, that priority is the Haitian police, which found itself stretched as gangs took to the streets last week and attempted to block fuel delivery at stations amid the chaos.
“It’s a very complicated and fluid security situation. I have the utmost respect for you [police] and the work they are doing,” Carrière said. “What’s missing is the political actors getting together and also doing the best they can to come to an inclusive agreement that doesn’t leave anybody behind and puts the country back on the right track.”
This year alone, Canada has provided $42 million Canadian dollars to support the Haitian police, including $10 million to a UN-controlled fund. The fund, however, is still millions of dollars short for money to equip the police and fund a container inspection project at the country’s seaports to be run by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
“All we want is for other countries to step up,” Carrière said.
That’s where Friday’s donor meeting comes in. Canada is co-hosting the meeting with the United States, and it will be heavily focused on raising contributions for the UN fund and the container project to tighten scrutiny at the country’s ports, which the interim government has made a priority.
Recent reforms at the ports to recapture at least $600 million in lost revenue have led to an increase in government income of about 20%, but it’s also fueling the protests. Those involved in a flourishing fuel black market as well as contraband and illegal arms imports are suspected of stoking the ongoing violence.
On Monday, the Biden administration’s top aide on Latin America and the Caribbean, Juan Gonzalez, said that economic interests are financing the violent civil unrest.
Carrière agrees with the assessment that some of the protests are being financed by economic interests. “I think one can’t dismiss the popular malcontent but one has to be mindful also of the powerful economic interests in this country.”
Haiti advocates said that while the security issues and the political crisis will understandably be the focus of the Haiti discussions at the General Assembly, Canada and others in the international community should also keep development assistance high on the agenda.
Analytical work undertaken at the Science of Implementation Initiative, which is the successor to Dr. Paul Farmer’s United Nations Office of the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General, found that donors have failed to deliver promised development aid to Haiti over the years and did not keep their promise about behaving differently in distributing that aid.
“The international community has consistently sidestepped public institutions in Haiti, effectively perpetuating the weakness of the one stakeholder that is both accountable to the Haitian people and responsible for the country’s development. After decades of weakening Haitian institutions, the current crisis should come as no surprise,” the group said.
The group urged donors to break “the business-as-usual approach and honor their commitments to the aid effectiveness agenda by accompanying their Haitian colleagues to meet the critical needs of their country.”