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    Wednesday, May 22, 2024

    How the U.S. can best help Haiti

    Haiti’s crisis of violence in the absence of a duly elected president has persisted for more than two years now, since the assassination of President Jovenel Moise. The Caribbean nation needs a legitimately elected government to rein in the violence that has killed thousands. But Haiti also needs security even to hold such elections.The situation has been a deadly Catch-22.

    This week, however, Haiti took a step closer to resolving the impasse with a proposal for a nine-member council that would prepare a presidential election by early 2026. The transitional leaders who reached the accord sent it to the regional body of Caribbean nations, CARICOM, to convey to Prime Minister Ariel Henry. The prime minister has not returned to the island since resigning under pressure in March, effective upon the formation of an interim government. Henry was unable to control rival, politically-connected gangs.

    Anxiously watching are many in eastern Connecticut, which has strong ties to Haiti. Besides a sizable number of Haitians who have come here to live, two organizations based in Norwich have been supporting health, education, jobs and other humanitarian aid in Haiti for decades: the Haitian Health Foundation and the Norwich Catholic diocese’s Haitian ministries.

    Their team members told Day Staff Writer Claire Bessette in March about the unprecedented threats and deprivations employees and communities have faced. Since then it has grown worse, with flights to besieged airports canceled and the ability to deliver food and supplies curtailed. The Associated Press reported that the gangs’ violence continues to escalate in the capital, Port-Au-Prince, even with the announcement that their leaders had agreed to the proposal for a new government.

    To go from chaos to order will take time, which makes the February 2026 deadline for elections seem reasonable. The interim is likely to be a struggle.

    With its history of earthquakes, massive storms and epidemics, Haiti has continually depended on significant international aid. Right now, besides the assistance of CARICOM and a pending commitment from Kenya to send 1,000 police officers to help restore order, Haiti needs money. The United States, historically its biggest financial supporter, has another $40 million budgeted but it is being held up by Republicans in the House of Representatives.

    Ironically, although the United States has been the major provider of humanitarian aid to Haiti, it is also the source for the very weapons being used by the gangs to terrorize the country. Death and kidnap squads carry arms trafficked from South Florida to Haiti.

    Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, and several colleagues recently introduced a bill to curb illegal export of firearms, the Caribbean Arms Trafficking Causes Harm (CATCH) Act, using provisions of the 2022 Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.

    In awareness of rampant arms trafficking from American states to Caribbean nations, the original law provides for a coordinator for Caribbean firearms prosecutions. The new bill would advance the authority of that office by ordering reports on actions taken under the law.

    Even if the CATCH Act never passes, its introduction signals that the United States has already acknowledged it must deal with the illegal arms scourge at its American source.

    The Senate recently approved an ambassador to Haiti, Dennis Hankins, so the pieces are falling into place for U.S. assistance. If and when the House passes the appropriation for Haiti, aid will flow again and nongovernmental organizations such as those based in Norwich should be safer and better equipped to resume normal operations.

    In a recent Senate subcommittee budget hearing, Murphy said he has asked Haitian- American leaders in Connecticut what role the U.S. should play in Haiti as the country starts to build its future, and that they have very different ideas. He asked USAID Administrator Samantha Powers to comment. Powers said American aid must be a “three-legged stool;” it must “be about security, humanitarian welfare, and governance.”

    Stemming the violence is the first step. The United States should start by cutting off the flow of arms and ammunition to the gangs and follow up by making sure the aid will sustain people so they can vote in free and fair elections.

    The Day editorial board meets with political, business and community leaders to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Timothy Dwyer, Executive Editor Izaskun E. Larraneta, Owen Poole, copy editor, and Lisa McGinley, retired deputy managing editor. The board operates independently from The Day newsroom.

    Comment threads are monitored for 48 hours after publication and then closed.