The Biden administration faces yet another complicated foreign policy crisis as political turmoil grips Haiti following the assassination of its president.
The assassination remains shrouded in mystery, and it is not known who committed or financed the murder.
Regional experts are concerned that the murder of the president, while extraordinary, is only part of Haiti’s current hardship that threatens a wider humanitarian crisis and a possible influx of refugees into neighboring countries, including the United States.
Haiti is also grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Atlantic hurricane season and a scourge of gang violence, all of which have been made worse by the country’s dysfunctional political system.
“It’s a powder keg that’s really ready to explode,” said Jenna Ben-Yehuda, CEO of the Truman National Security Project.
Haitian authorities announced on Sunday evening the arrest of Florida-based Haitian doctor Christian Emmanuel Sanon, 63, who they say is the main suspect.
More than a dozen Colombian nationals with military experience and two Haitian Americans have been arrested in connection with the deadly shooting against Haitian President Jovenel Moïse which occurred at his home outside Port-au-Prince in the early hours of July 7.
The Haitian government has requested US military support to secure the country’s critical infrastructure as well as United Nations (UN) security assistance. A US delegation made up of officials from various departments met with Haitian authorities and the country’s political leaders on Sunday to assess how the United States can help.
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“This is just the start of our conversations,” Psaki said. “We will remain in close contact with law enforcement, with people in Haiti, with a range of leaders in Haiti on how we can help and provide assistance in the future. ”
The White House has also urged political leaders in Haiti to work together to find a way forward for united leadership at a time when two prime ministers are claiming power.
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Speed is essential for the Biden administration, said Luis Moreno, a seasoned senior State Department official and former ambassador who served as deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Haiti between 2001 and 2004.
“They are in total chaos now, and it has the potential to go from total chaos to total anarchy. And that is what you are fighting against, ”he said.
Haiti’s interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph declared a “state of siege” for 15 days from last week, which resulted in the closure of its borders and the imposition of martial law.
If the security situation worsens to the point of overwhelming the Haitian National Police, pressure will increase on other nations to provide security assistance. If the United States does not send personnel on its own, there is a possibility that a multinational force will be sent by the UN for a period of time.
The Biden administration has made it clear that its main line of communication is with Joseph amid the confusion and controversy over the presidential line of succession. The country’s parliament has essentially disappeared for years due to electoral delays and corruption, and Haiti’s constitution has competing versions written in Creole and French.
Days before his assassination, Moïse announced that neurosurgeon and former Home Secretary Ariel Henry would replace Joseph.
While Henry said in remarks to the press that he considered himself the prime minister, regional observers say he made no move to oust Joseph from his position of power, a nod to the influence of the Biden administration.
“It seems he [Henry] was unwilling to engage in a confrontational and potentially dangerous struggle over this anyway, ”said Brian Concannon, human rights lawyer and founder and board member of the Institute for Justice and democracy in Haiti. “The fact that the United States comes out against him is probably going to be decisive for him. “
Over the weekend, U.S. officials from the Departments of Justice, State and Homeland Security and the National Security Council jointly met with Joseph and Henry as well as Joseph Lambert, chairman of what remains of the Senate of Haiti, which was nominated by a group of senators last week for president.
“What is clear from their trip is that there is a lack of clarity about the future of political leadership,” Psaki said Monday. “This is an important step which the Haitian people, the various Haitian leaders must work together to determine a common path to follow. ”
Wazim Mowla, deputy director of the Caribbean Initiative at the Adrienne Arsht Center for Latin America with the Atlantic Council, said Haiti presents an opportunity for Biden to put into practice his policy to embrace multilateralism in the country. resolution of global crises, involving regional actors such as CARICOM, the organization of heads of government of the Caribbean Community, and the Organization of American States.
“This is an opportunity for the Biden administration to exert a kind of leadership, but in a way that has been different in the past,” Mowla said.
“It’s no secret that the international community and even the United States have sometimes been passive when it comes to Haiti, but also disorganized. This struggle for political leadership that we see in Haiti right now presents a challenge for coordination among the United States, regional and international organizations, allies in the hemisphere, and most importantly the Haitian people and Haitian stakeholders.
The crisis in Haiti also comes at a time when Biden is trying to stay focused on his national agenda. He is due to give a speech on voting rights in Philadelphia on Tuesday as his administration tries to usher in a bipartisan infrastructure package through a tightly divided Congress and increase the use of coronavirus vaccinations in the United States. United
It’s also not the only foreign policy challenge Biden faces. In the same breath as he addressed the Haitian crisis on Monday, Biden offered his support to the Cuban people as protests against the island nation’s government escalated over the weekend.
The international community has sent billions in aid to Haiti over the past decade, but funds have done little to address the violence, poverty and political turmoil plaguing the country.
“There is a real reluctance to engage, although there may be an overriding humanitarian need to do so,” said Ben-Yehuda.