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Battling Haiti’s gangs — the mission no nation seems to want

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If U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was hoping to return to Washington with a Canadian commitment to take the lead in Haiti, he went home disappointed.

Rather than offer to lead a military mission to battle the gangs that have seized about two-thirds of the Haitian capital, Canada has agreed to dispatch a fact-finding mission that will assess what Canada might do in the future.

It’s clear to all involved that U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration — facing a difficult midterm election season with a cranky electorate that has soured on overseas wars — wants to pass the buck to a Canadian government that has no interest in embarking on such a perilous enterprise but doesn’t like giving Washington a flat refusal.

Which explains the “assessment team.”

The team’s mission, according to the announcement from Global Affairs, is “to consult with stakeholders on options to support Haitian people in resolving the humanitarian and security crises and how Canada can contribute to the international response.”

They’re the ones who put him there. So why don’t they come back and pick up their trash?– Former UN official Monique Clesca calls on Canada and the U.S. to nudge Ariel Henry from power

Its unstated mission is to buy time and fend off further U.S. pressure to wade into the Haitian quagmire.

The facts in Haiti are well known. It’s the solutions that nobody seems to have a handle on.

But events on the ground, and the reluctance of Ottawa and Washington to get more directly involved, may finally be forcing Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to adopt a position long favoured by the Haitian opposition — that Haiti’s current government is part of the problem.

It’s a position long resisted by Canada and the U.S., Haiti’s two primary donor nations, both of which have been accused of pulling the strings in the poorest country in the Western hemisphere for decades.

Hunger stalks the Haitian landscape

Since the assassination of President Jovenel Moise on July 7 last year, Haiti has fallen to its lowest point in living memory.

Hunger is beginning to kill. Dozens of inmates in Haitian prisons succumbed after prison authorities ran out of food. Acute malnutrition already threatened the lives of thousands of children, even before the gang blockades closed schools and markets.

 

 

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly speaks with Rosemary Barton Live about whether Canada intends to lead a security mission in Haiti, the latest with Ottawa’s backing for Ukraine, and how the federal government is supporting the recent protests and anti-regime movement in Iran.

As both Blinken and Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly have acknowledged, Haiti faces three interlocking crises: one humanitarian, one security-related and one political.

The humanitarian crisis is worsened by the security crisis. One example is the way cholera — which had finally been defeated in Haiti after a decade-long epidemic that took 10,000 lives — has surged back because the gang blockades are forcing people to drink contaminated water.

“Tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs due to this insecurity,” said Tom Adamson. He’s a Canadian who operates a mattress factory in the Haitian capital, where he’s lived since 1988.

His factory has been shut down for weeks but he is one of the few employers who continues to pay his furloughed workers. “We’ve just made a decision that this is the way we want to do things,” he told CBC News.

The lack of jobs in Haiti means that most Haitians have to try to make it in the informal sector, which in Port-au-Prince often means working as “marchands” reselling goods and produce in the streets.

“But right now they’re unable to,” said Adamson. “They they don’t have goods to sell because the goods from the provinces are not coming into Port-au-Prince, and the goods that are imported from outside of Haiti are blocked in the port.”

The marchands are eating through what little stock they have just to keep their families alive, said Adamson.

The link between the security crisis and the humanitarian crisis is obvious to all. Intimately linked to both is Haiti’s political crisis — but those connections are far murkier.

The government, led by de facto prime minister Ariel Henry, lacks both democratic legitimacy and popular acceptance. That makes it difficult to distinguish between its attempts to restore order and its attempts to suppress legitimate protest and dissent.

A girl with cholera symptoms is helped by her mother during her treatment at a clinic run by Doctors Without Borders in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on Oct. 27, 2022. (Ramon Espinosa/Associated Press)

Canadian officials have told CBC News they made it clear to the Henry government that the armoured vehicles Canada delivered to the Haitian National Police this month are to be used to break the blockades — not for crowd control.

“The purpose is to reinforce their capacity to finally get a grip on the the security situation and to deal with the problem of gangs dominating certain critical parts of Port-au-Prince,” Blinken said in Ottawa on Thursday.

So far, the vehicles have not been used for either purpose.

Politicians and gangsters in cahoots

There’s a reason why Haiti’s gangs have graduated from machetes to machine guns in recent years, while other sectors of Haitian society have stagnated or gone backwards: active collusion between gang leaders and members of Haiti’s ruling party and oligarchy.

“They’re proxies of the government,” said Monique Clesca, a former UN official and now a member of the Montana Group coalition of political parties and civil society organizations that has been negotiating with the Ariel Henry government for a transition to democracy.

“They’re proxies for Ariel Henry, just like they were proxies of Jovenel Moise, just like they were proxies of [former Haitian president] Michel Martelly. [The PHTK Party] has been in power for 11 years and the gangs have only gained in strength.”

Haiti’s ruling Parti Haïtien Tèt Kale (PHTK or “Bald Head Party”) has used gangs to commit gruesome massacres in poor neighbourhoods that have opposed its rule.

Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry has requested outside military intervention in his country’s security crisis. Haiti’s two main donor nations — Canada and the U.S. — are not enthusiastic about the idea. (Ralph Tedy Erol/Reuters)

“Government officials have sought to suppress anti-government organizing through bribery, and when that has failed, have enlisted gangs to carry out targeted attacks against anti-government strongholds active in the protests,” reported the International Human Rights Clinic of Harvard Law School. It explained how massacres in the districts of Bel-Air, La Saline and Cite Soleil showed collusion between the gangs, the Haitian National Police and the ruling party.

And although the government now appears to have lost control of the gangs it once sponsored, few Haitians believe it has lost its appetite to use them in the future.

“How is an intervention going to deal with a government that is working hand in hand with gangs, that is a criminal organization?” said Clesca.

Call for intervention ‘treasonous’

By requesting a foreign fighting force that neither Washington nor Ottawa seems willing to give, Ariel Henry has forced them to explore other options, and to confront the fact that his unelected government is itself an obstacle to a long-term solution in Haiti.

“The intervention is a short-term solution for something that is not a short-term issue, and the intervention is a response of an illegitimate government,” Clesca said.

“There is no way, no legitimacy, no acceptable scenario in which Ariel Henry could ask for a military intervention. And we believe that it is actually treasonous. It makes absolutely no sense to us that Anthony Blinken should be in Canada talking about an intervention in Haiti as if we were his backyard.

“Why is Antony Blinken talking to Canada and not talking to us? Why are Madame Joly and Mr. Trudeau talking to Antony Blinken rather than talking to us?”

Clesca said both Canada and the U.S. should concentrate their efforts on easing Henry out of power.

“What they should be doing is whispering in Ariel Henry’s ear to say, ‘Listen, we picked you and you were a loser. You have done nothing in the last 15 months, and we don’t want you anymore,'” she said.

“Because they’re the ones who put him there. So why don’t they come back and pick up their trash?”

Children sleep on the floor of a school turned into a makeshift shelter after they were forced to leave their homes in the Cite Soleil district due to clashes between armed gangs in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on July 23, 2022. (Odelyn Joseph/Associated Press)

Speaking alongside Blinken last week, Joly suggested that Canada is not interested in being part of a solution that merely serves to prop up Henry’s unelected government.

“It is also of equal importance to address the political crisis because there needs to be fair elections happening,” she said.

And Joly made it clear that Canada was not keen to play the role of Haiti’s saviour alone.

“We need to make sure that it is, yes, Canada and the U.S. collaborating with the Haitians, but also with many other countries,” she said. “At the end of the day, we need to make sure that there is strong legitimacy for this approach.”

So while many countries are talking about how to help Haiti, they all seem keen for someone else to take the lead. And not one government has offered a single soldier to do battle with the gangs.

Foreign powers, Haitian opposition converging

Despite all of the anger and mistrust between the Haitian opposition on the one hand and the U.S. and Canadian governments on the other, their messages actually seem to be increasingly in sync these days.

Both sides now agree that the political situation is unsustainable. Neither side is keen on military intervention.

The Haitian opposition recognizes that it will need foreign help to reverse the country’s slide into anarchy.

“Clearly we do have huge, humongous security issues,” said Clesca. “Just as we are in a constitutional crisis, we are in a judiciary crisis, we are in an executive crisis, we are in a police crisis. Yes, Haiti is in massive crisis mode.

“We have said we would need technical assistance, we need financial assistance, we would need equipment.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speak at the Canadian Government Guest House ahead of a working lunch on Oct. 27, 2022 in Ottawa. (Blair Gable/Pool/The Associated Press)

That vision dovetails far more neatly with what the U.S. and Canada are willing to give than Ariel Henry’s request for Canadian soldiers and U.S. Marines to do his fighting for him.

“It is extremely important that we get this right, that we support the Haitian people in this difficult moment. But it’s important to do it in the right way,” Trudeau said Friday.

“Before we establish any sort of mission, we need to see a clear plan of action, a level of support by the Haitian people and the Haitian government and opposition parties and a consensus about how.”

Request may backfire

For Trudeau, an armed intervention would not only be fraught with physical danger for Canadian soldiers in Haiti — it could also lead to political problems at home. The New Democrats who now prop up his minority government would oppose it.

“The Haitian people are asking for Canada to not provide that military intervention,” NDP foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson told CBC News. “At this point, what we’re asking for is that the people of Haiti lead in the democratic reform of their country.”

Given that fact-finding missions often find the facts that those who send them wish to hear, it seems likely that Canada’s team on the ground in Haiti will report back that it’s best to leave the actual fighting to Haitians — with Canadians strictly in a supporting role.

And Joly’s comments this week suggest there may be a renewed focus on negotiating a political transition.

Haitian police officers, bureaucrats and legislators all know that their salaries depend in large part on foreign donors — they don’t want to serve a leader who can’t secure foreign support. That’s why former Haitian prime minister Claude Joseph abandoned office as soon as the foreign embassies issued a two-paragraph statement supporting his rival Ariel Henry.

Today, it’s Ariel Henry who faces the growing impatience of his former backers. He may have hoped that his unpopular request for foreign intervention would save him. It may turn out to be his undoing.

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Pilot dead after ultralight plane crash northwest of Fredericton

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FREDERICTON – The pilot of an ultralight plane died after the aircraft crashed in a cornfield about 25 kilometres northwest of Fredericton.

Ken Hodgson, fire chief of Keswick Valley Fire Department, says his team received a call at 11:33 a.m. about a crash in Burtts Corner, N.B., along Route 104, which links the province to Nova Scotia.

Hodgson says there were no other casualties.

Ambulance New Brunswick, the coroner’s office and RCMP also responded to the crash.

In a news release, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada says it deployed a team of investigators to an “aircraft accident near Fredericton.”

But the agency did not immediately respond to questions asking for details about the crash.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 19, 2024.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.



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B.C. Interior residents get ready to go as erupting wildfire threatens

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It’s the first time The Inn at Spences Bridge has been empty since April.

Dorothy Boragno, who owns the inn with her husband Michael Findlay, said Friday they watched thick smoke across the Thompson River from the out-of-control Shetland Creek wildfire that has already forced others to evacuate.

“We’ve been through fires before, so we know what happens, and if they get close, usually we get firemen to stay at our hotel, so we’re not too worried yet. But it does bring back bad memories,” said Boragno.

The Shetland Creek fire in the southern Interior more than doubled in size from Thursday to Friday, due to what the B.C. Wildfire Service said was “significant overnight growth” and more accurate mapping.

Its rapid spread was part of an eruption of wildfire activity across B.C., with more than 270 burning as of Friday afternoon, most caused by recent lightning storms, then fuelled by hot, dry weather and winds.

The Shetland Creek fire is now listed at 132 square kilometres in size, up from 57 square kilometres, and has prompted evacuation orders and alerts in the communities of Spences Bridge, Ashcroft and part of Cache Creek, east of Kamloops.

The BC Wildfire Service says the fire advanced about six kilometres in a northwest direction parallel to Highway 1 Thursday night.

It is considered the only “wildfire of note” in B.C., meaning it is highly visible or poses a potential threat to public safety or infrastructure.

The wildfire service says 71 firefighters and six helicopters are battling the blaze in addition to structure protection personnel, heavy equipment operators, and an incident management team.

The Thompson-Nicola Regional District expanded an evacuation order in front of the fire on Thursday evening to cover about 85 properties in the Venables Valley area, while the Cook’s Ferry Indian Band has issued orders for several reserves along the Thompson River.

Hundreds of other properties are subject to an evacuation alert, with the district telling them to be ready to leave on short notice.

The Village of Cache Creek on Friday issued an evacuation alert because of the fire out of an “abundance of caution.” The alert includes the Cache Creek Regional Airport and nine other properties, but the main sections of the village are not yet on alert.

The Village of Ashcroft is also under an evacuation alert and Mayor Barbara Roden said Friday that the fire’s aggressive behaviour is “very concerning.”

“So, residents are very on edge. They have been ever since this fire started and it was clear that it was going to be heading in this direction,” she said. “It’s been thick smoke here for the last few days even though the fire is still several kilometres away, there’s ash falling on everything here in Ashcroft.”

The nearby Ashcroft Indian Band, which is also on evacuation alert, posted a notice on Facebook Friday, saying band leaders understand that “everyone is on edge with the Shetland Creek Fire burning nearby.”

The statement said they are in constant contact with the BC Wildfire Service, getting updates when available and they appreciate everyone’s co-operation in conserving water they have in the reservoirs to “use in a worst-case scenario.”

“In the meantime, we have our maintenance and fire mitigation crews out in the community adding more fireguards around the south and east side. As an additional piece to our regular fire mitigation practices, they are clearing debris and flammable fuels from around power poles and hydrants and we have a water tank on a trailer with hoses ready to go.”

Boragno said they are also ready to get out, with a cat cage and a bag of “special stuff” ready next to the door.

She said it was touching to see the whole town pull together with people helping each other out, because no one likes going through this.

“It brings back huge trauma for people who lost their homes and stuff,” said Boragno.

Cliff Chapman with the BC Wildfire Service said Thursday the province appeared to be “on the precipice of a very challenging 72 hours” with hot weather, dry lightning and strong winds in the forecast.

Environment Canada on Friday issued a series of severe thunderstorm watches across much of the B.C. Interior, and a severe thunderstorm warning for the Stuart-Nechako region in the north.

The storms mostly overlap the almost 30 areas that are also under heat warnings, and while they may bring hail and rain, they also bring lightning and winds that trigger and fuel fires. The heat warnings span most of the southern Interior and stretch up through central B.C. into the northeast, along with inland sections of the north and central coasts.

The weather office says much of the Interior is expected to see temperatures in the 30s over the coming days, along with overnight lows in the mid-teens.

For Roden the forecast offers little hope for relief with temperatures topping 40 degrees, but she’s hopeful that people will remain calm and ready to leave if it comes to that.

“So, you’ve got the smoke, you’ve got the ash, you’ve got the heat,” she said. “All these factors coming together are making people very edgy, very nervous. They’re remembering fires past and, and it’s the uncertainty.”

Roden said the village had fires in 2017 and 2021 “on our doorstep.”

“Part of my job as mayor is to try to ensure that people don’t panic,” she added. “I cannot think of any situation that has ever been improved by people panicking.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 19, 2024.

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Newfoundland town on edge as crews search for missing vessel with seven people aboard

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NEW-WES-VALLEY, N.L. – Anxiety gripped a Newfoundland fishing community Friday as a massive search was underway for a missing vessel carrying seven harvesters that hadn’t been heard from in two days.

Mike Tiller, mayor of New-Wes-Valley, N.L., said local fishers were heading out in their private boats to join the search, while people on land gathered together to wait for word about the missing vessel.

The town cancelled its nine-day Crab Festival, set to begin Saturday, out of respect for the families of the missing fishers, he said.

“Our community doesn’t have much to celebrate until we know the outcome of this,” Tiller said in an interview. “If it’s a positive outcome, and seven of those fishermen show up at the wharf, I think it’ll be the biggest celebration we’ve ever had. But right now, celebrating is not on the agenda for anybody.”

The Elite Navigator fishing boat was reported overdue to the Canadian Coast Guard on Thursday afternoon, said Lt.-Cmdr. Len Hickey, with the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Halifax. The vessel’s responder last transmitted a signal at around 8:30 p.m. Wednesday night.

The 15-metre-long boat was carrying seven crew members, five of whom are from New-Wes-Valley, Tiller said. The other two are from coastal towns nearby. New-Wes-Valley is an amalgamation of several small fishing communities along Newfoundland’s northeast coast and home to about 2,000 people.

Four coast guard vessels, a Cormorant helicopter, a Hercules aircraft and a plane from PAL Airlines were searching for the missing boat Friday, along with a fleet of local fishers. A thick bank of fog hampered their efforts on Thursday night, but conditions were clearer on Friday, Hickey said.

“I know they’re considering draft charts as well, just in case the vessel just lost propulsion,” he added.

Coastal communities across Newfoundland and Labrador are knit together by the fishing industry, and by the grief of losing community members to one of the deadliest professions in the country.

“Every community that has been hit by something like this relives it again when they know it’s going on in another part of the province,” Tiller said. “They know the anxiety that’s being felt, they know the worst can happen. And everybody is hoping that this is just a lost fishing vessel.”

Premier Andrew Furey expressed his concern for the missing harvesters and their friends and family in a post to social media Friday morning.

“We will be there to support the community during this challenging time as we hope for a positive outcome,” Furey wrote on X. “Thank you to all those involved in the search effort.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 19, 2024.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Halifax erroneously reported that the boat was last heard from on Thursday night. In fact, it was last heard from on Wednesday night.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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