U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly promised Thursday that the two countries will do something about the deteriorating situation in Haiti — a country in a state of anarchy as it grapples with marauding gangs, food and fuel shortages and a resurgence of cholera.
What exactly the two countries have planned for the poorest country in the Western hemisphere wasn’t revealed today — but it could include some sort of intervention by police and military personnel.
Haiti’s current leaders have called for foreign support to restore a semblance of stability to the chaotic country.
Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry has said he wants a “specialized armed force” to assist Haitian police in countering anti-government gangs.
Speaking to reporters at a press conference after meeting Joly in Ottawa, Blinken said the U.S. and its allies are assembling a coalition of willing nations to provide “contributions of personnel and equipment for a potential mission” to the island nation.
WATCH | U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken sits down with Power & Politics for an exclusive interview
Blinken said any such intervention would be “very limited in scope, limited in time” and focused on propping up the Haitian national police, a body that has struggled to keep criminal gangs at bay in recent months.
“The purpose is to reinforce their capacity to finally get a grip on the security situation,” Blinken said of Haiti’s police.
The country has been effectively leaderless for more than 15 months after the last president, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated.
Gangs have seized control of key infrastructure, blocking the flow of essential goods — including food.
According to the United Nations, nearly half of Haiti’s 11 million people face acute hunger and 1.8 million are at risk of a food emergency. In Cité Soleil, a sprawling slum in the capital of Port-au-Prince, roughly 19,000 people face a food “catastrophe,” the UN said.
Criminal gangs have taken advantage of the power vacuum to seize control of some parts of the country, worsening an already-acute situation in a country that has faced multiple crises over the past decade.
The Miami Herald has reported that the U.S. is struggling to get a military force deployed because of widespread reluctance among potential contributing countries. Canada is one of those reluctant countries, the newspaper said, but it is still seen as the most likely to lead a rapid deployment.
Bloomberg and the Herald both report that the U.S. is also reluctant about a troop deployment.
Neither Blinken nor Joly would confirm Thursday the U.S. has asked Canada to take a leadership role in a potential international stabilization force.
Blinken said the current situation is “unsustainable” and Canada and the U.S. will “rally international support to help the Haitian people find a way forward.”
Joly said Canada will be involved in some capacity. She said Canada already has sent roughly $40 million and armoured vehicles to the Haitian police, a force Canada helped train and develop over decades of close cooperation.
“More than ever, Haiti needs us. Of course we will play a role,” she said.
Joly said Canada will be “conducting an assessment mission” in Haiti in the coming weeks.
According to Global Affairs Canada, a Canadian government delegation is on the ground now carrying out consultations with regional partners, the United Nations, the Caribbean Community — the intergovernmental group of 15 countries from the region — and others.
While Canada will assist, Joly said, any move to wrest control of the country away from the gangs and restore the flow of goods must be done “by and for Haitians.”
“We believe that solutions are better if they’re taken by them,” she said of the Haitian people. “We’re having a conversation with the U.S. on the issue. Canada will always be there to support Haiti.”
As the two countries negotiate the form a stabilization force might take, Canada and the U.S. are backing a UN-led effort to sanction Haitian gang leaders — including former police officer Jimmy Chérizier, also known as “Barbecue,” one of Haiti’s most infamous gang leaders.
Chérizier is best known for establishing the “G9 and Family” (G9 an fanmi – G9), a criminal federation of nine of the strongest gangs in Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince.
Blinken’s two-day trip to Canada follows Joly’s recent visit to Washington, D.C.
As they did during that September meeting, the country’s top diplomats discussed the situation in Iran — where activists are demanding an end to the oppressive regime — the West’s posture in the Indo-Pacific region after Chinese President Xi Jinping recently consolidated power, and how best to deal with an increasingly erratic Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Blinken also met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland. He visited a community centre in Ottawa that supports Ukrainian refugees who have fled violence in their home country.
Blinken praised Canada’s role in supporting Ukraine and the Ukrainian people, highlighting Canada’s substantial financial commitment to the country and its effort to resettle 100,000 refugees.
“It’s quite remarkable,” Blinken said.
Blinken on Russia, Iran
Meanwhile, in an exclusive interview with CBC’s Power & Politics, Blinken said U.S. President Joe Biden has no plans to meet with Putin on the sidelines of the upcoming G20 meeting in Bali, Indonesia.
“What we’ve seen is Russia and President Putin have no interest in any kind of meaningful diplomacy,” Blinken said.
When pressed to state whether Russia should be removed from the G20 altogether, the top U.S. diplomat said it’s not a decision for the U.S. alone to make.
“Countries have to decide the nature of their relationship with Russia,” he said, while conceding Russia is a bad actor advancing a “horrific campaign” against Ukraine.
“It’s hard to see Russia playing an appropriately positive role,” Blinken said.
WATCH: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says Biden won’t meet with Putin
As for Iran, Blinken told Power & Politics that U.S. efforts to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), more commonly known as the “Iran nuclear deal,” have been put on pause while Iran violently suppresses protest in its country.
“It’s not moving forward,” he said.
Instead, he said, the U.S. is focused on supporting the “incredibly courageous” women who have taken to the streets to protest the regime.
He said the U.S. is also trying to shut down Iranian drone factories that have been pumping out equipment to sell to Russia as part of its campaign against Ukraine.
“We’re looking at ways to disrupt them,” he said.
On Friday, Blinken will travel to Montreal with Joly and visit a lithium-recycling facility, among other possible stops.
Lithium is one of the key components in electric vehicle batteries. Canada has emerged as a key supplier of this and other critical minerals at a time when automakers are ramping up production of electric cars and trucks.