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Haitians frustrated by lack of action from Kenyan-led mission

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — For Irvika François, navigating life in this gang-plagued city requires a series of precautions. The Haitian educator and feminist has moved her family. She never travels more than a mile from home.

Several hundred Kenyan police officers have deployed to this Caribbean nation, the first members of a U.N.-backed security mission to beat back the heavily armed paramilitaries that control 80 percent of the capital, allow new elections and give Haitians like François a chance to breathe.

The Kenyans, better armed and equipped than Haitian police, have joined their hosts on street patrols. The gangs, who warned they would resist the deployment, appear unperturbed. They’re still setting homes ablaze, attacking police stations and killing with impunity.

“I don’t feel the effect of the Kenyans’ presence,” François, whose cousin was kidnapped by a gang last year, said. “Nothing has changed in my life, and I don’t have increased confidence in my security. … I don’t understand why the Kenyans are here.”

It’s been nearly two years since former prime minister Ariel Henry first called for an international security force to help restore stability to this beleaguered Caribbean nation. During the long wait, gangs tightened their grip on the capital, busting open prisons, shutting down seaports, taking over fuel terminals and the international airport.

Now, less than three weeks after the first officers arrived, frustration is growing. Haitians say the deployment has had no discernible effect on security. Police officers say they haven’t been looped into a plan to restore order.

“Haitians have high expectations of the foreign force,” said Diego Da Rin, an analyst with the International Crisis Group. “They say that if … the mission doesn’t start conducting operations soon that lead to tangible changes and victories against the gangs, they might start to frown upon [its] presence.”


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Officials from Haiti, Kenya and the United States, which says it won’t send troops but is by far the mission’s largest financial backer, counter that it’s proceeding as it should.

Normil Rameau, the new head of the Haitian National Police, told reporters this week that he’s met with his Kenyan counterparts several times for “evaluation and planning.”

“There is neither a set day nor time for operations,” Rameau said. “The population may wake up one day to find that operations have taken place and bandits have been stopped or neutralized. For strategic reasons, we cannot reveal how this will happen.”

A Kenyan police officer here said the force is waiting for more equipment to arrive before beginning operations. He did not know when that would be.

“We’re ready,” said the officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. “We have more training than the gangs. We have the capacity to kick them out. We’re going to attack the gangs where they are hidden.”

Gangs killed at least 3,250 people in Haiti from January to May, the U.N. office here reports, up more than 30 percent from the previous five months. U.N. officials say gangs are reportedly paying people to stay in their communities so they can serve as human shields during police operations.

They say they have received reports of gangs trying to recruit children ahead of the foreigners’ arrival, allegedly “to leverage potential incidents against children involving mission personnel in order to undermine the presence of those personnel in Haiti.”

Haiti has had a long and difficult history of international interventions. The United States invaded in 1915 and occupied the nation for 19 years, establishing a system of forced labor, training the notoriously abusive gendarmerie and executing dissidents.

Most recently, a U.N. peacekeeping mission from 2004 to 2017 was marred by allegations of abuse and blamed for a cholera outbreak that killed more than 10,000 people. Haitians said the troops did little to maintain security; they branded them “turistas.”

The United States backed Henry’s October 2022 call for international help but had difficulty finding a country to lead it. The U.N. Security Council greenlit the mission last October, but planning, staffing and funding have been slow.

The mission could grow to roughly 2,500 members. Several countries from the Caribbean, Africa and Asia have pledged personnel, but it is unclear when they will send them to Haiti.

Kenyan officials have said the mission needs around $600 million, but international donors have contributed just $21 million. The U.N. office here said last month that the mission would be unable to complete a 12-month deployment without more money.

Haitian police are to lead operations against gangs with mission personnel providing support, officials have said. But several Haitian police officers said they remain confused about how that will work.

The officers, who spoke to The Post on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said the Kenyans are better armed and receiving a much higher salary while the Haitians are expected to shoulder most of the risk.

“We are going to be at the forefront, but with what weapons?” one Haitian police officer said. “Who will give the orders? How can we defend ourselves? We don’t know anything.”

“The Kenyans shouldn’t be patrolling the streets,” said another. “They should be attacking the gangs. They have the resources we lack, including firepower.”

Stanley Julien is among the several hundred thousand people who have fled their homes to escape the violence. He used to sell drinks near Haiti’s National Penitentiary but is now sheltering in a school. He hopes the police mission “will bring security and order.”

“I can’t say much about the Kenyans yet,” he said. “They haven’t taken any bold actions so far. The armed groups think it’s just a bluff.”

Meïka Decime, an economics student at the University of Port-au-Prince, runs a small business selling cocktails in the capital. But the security crisis makes it hard to deliver to many neighborhoods, she said, and sales have dropped 40 percent since December. Many of her teachers, meanwhile, have fled, and her classes have been canceled.

She’s withholding judgment on the international force, she said, while giving it “space and time” to do its work. She hopes it will foster long-lasting stability.

“I love my country and don’t want to leave,” Decime said. “I can’t imagine spending my life outside of Haiti.”

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