SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The U.S. government will pull visas belonging to current and former Haitian government officials involved with gangs and other criminal organizations as well as provide security and humanitarian assistance to Haiti, senior U.S. officials said Wednesday.
The officials spoke to reporters by telephone on condition of anonymity as a U.S. delegation was arriving in the Caribbean country that has been paralyzed by gangs and antigovernment protests and is facing severe shortages of water, fuel and other basic supplies.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Wednesday that the U.S. will increase “security assistance” to Haiti’s National Police “to strengthen their capacity to counter gangs and reestablish a stable security environment.”
The U.S. officials who briefed reporters declined to name which Haitian officials would see their visas revoked or how many would be affected, adding only that the measure also applies to their immediate family members.
The U.S. officials also said the government is working with Mexico on a U.N. resolution proposing specific sanctions and additional measures to address the many challenges Haiti faces.
The officials declined to say how the upcoming aid would be distributed, although they noted that the U.S. Coast Guard deployed a major cutter at the request of local officials. The agency said it diverted a 270-foot (82-meter) cutter to patrol waters near the capital of Port-au-Prince.
Officials also declined to say when, how and what kind of security and humanitarian assistance will be deployed, adding only that supplies such as bleach, water jugs and oral rehydration salts will be distributed amid the cholera outbreak.
As of Sunday, authorities in Haiti had reported 18 deaths and more than 260 suspected cases of cholera in Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas.
“Cholera has arrived amid serious ongoing social and political unrest,” said Dr. Carissa Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization, adding that the situation complicates “efforts to provide humanitarian assistance and to respond the outbreak.”
Etienne warned on Wednesday that cases are likely significantly higher than what’s being reported because they are concentrated in areas affected by escalating street violence and gang activity.
Brian Nichols, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, flew to Haiti on Wednesday for meetings with politicians and civil society leaders, including Prime Minister Ariel Henry and a prominent group that has pushed to lead a two-year transitional government and opposed Henry’s petition for foreign troops.
Nichols was accompanied by the military deputy commander of the Defense Department’s Southern Command, White House senior advisers and other officials.
The trip comes just days after Henry requested the immediate deployment of foreign troops to help with security. Gangs have blockaded a major fuel depot and protests against Henry have added to the problems.
“The delegation will assess how the U.S. government can continue to provide various forms of assistance and promote accountability for those responsible for criminal acts,” the U.S. State Department said.
Since last year, the U.S. has provided Haiti with more than $170 million in humanitarian assistance and another $90 million to strengthen Haiti’s National Police. But the department remains understaffed and has limited resources, with only about a third of some 13,000 officers operational in a country of more than 11 million people where gangs have grown more powerful since President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in July 2021.
The United Nations’ Security Council is scheduled to discuss Henry’s request later this month. In a letter sent to the council Sunday that was viewed by The Associated Press, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres offered several options, including a rapid action force.
It was not clear whether the U.N. or individual countries or both would send troops under such a plan.
One senior official said it was premature to talk solely about a U.S. security presence, adding that the government was exploring a number of options with the international community and that it doesn’t have to be limited to boots on the ground.
One month has passed since one of Haiti’s most powerful gangs surrounded a key fuel terminal in the capital of Port-au-Prince, preventing the distribution of some 10 million gallons of gasoline and diesel and more than 800,000 gallons of kerosene stored on site.
In addition, protesters have blocked streets in the capital and other major cities to demand Henry’s resignation. Prices have soared since the prime minister last month announced that his administration could no longer afford to subsidize fuel.
On Monday, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said that the U.S. government wants “to be prudent and responsible in terms of what any such action might look like.”
Associated Press writer Gisela Salomón in Miami contributed to this report.
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