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Reviews | How the United States can help Haiti emerge from its government crisis

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Haiti is in the throes of one of the most serious emergencies in its recent crisis-prone history, a situation increasingly likely to wash up on American shores in the form of desperate migrants. His government, which is an integral part of the problem, last month called for international military intervention, and United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres agreed that “armed action” is urgently needed. In response, the United States, Canada and other key powers have procrastinated — even as the Biden administration is reported was preparing to welcome waves of Haitian refugees to the US military base in Guantánamo Bay. The situation is untenable.

With no boots on the ground, there are few good ways to stop a humanitarian and security collapse in Haiti that has crippled fuel supplies, endangered fresh water and food supplies, sparked a cholera epidemic and intensified what the United Nations has called “emergency” hunger threatens nearly a fifth of the country’s 11.5 million people. Yet even without deploying police or soldiers, the Biden administration and its key allies have options to act more forcefully and should act quickly.

The most immediate priority is to break a interior blockade by armed gangsters who for nearly two months cordoned off the country’s main fuel supply depot in Port-au-Prince, the capital. The cut, allegedly in protest at fuel price increases due to cuts in government subsidies, had dramatic consequences – closures of petrol stations, schools, hospitals and shops, as well as severe shortages of food and medicine. The United States and Canada have shipped armored cars and other supplies to help the Haitian police break the blockade, but these deliveries were insufficient.

Washington could also use diplomatic force with Haitian authorities to encourage sustained negotiations between the unelected government of Prime Minister Ariel Henry and a broad opposition association of Haitian civic and nonprofit groups, known as the Montana Agreement. Groups correctly Argue that Mr. Henry’s administration is illegitimate and inefficient. (Mr. Henry himself was involved in last year’s unsolved assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.)

The Accord, named after a hotel in Port-au-Prince, proposed a transition period leading to elections, now impossible given the nation’s pandemonium. While the groups lack the means to organize elections, let alone confront the gangs, they enjoy at least a modicum of popular support, which the current government lacks. They deserve a role in determining Haiti’s future; Washington could give them that.

Simultaneously, the United States should extend the Temporary Protected Status, ready to expire in February, for tens of thousands of Haitians already living and working legally in the United States, protecting them from the prospect of deportation to a nation plagued by pandemic.

Without armed intervention, eventual relief will not be easy to come by in a country that has dissolved into chaotic violence and flowery dysfunction. However, to acquiesce in the status quo, as the Biden administration has done since the assassination of Moïse, is to be morally complicit in an ongoing humanitarian tragedy. Washington cannot continue to pretend to resolve the crisis in Haiti. It can and should use its considerable influence to alleviate the suffering of millions of people in the poorest country in the hemisphere.

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