US Military Evacuates US Embassy Personnel in Haiti, Adds Security Forces
US Military Evacuates US Embassy Personnel in Haiti, Adds Security Forces

By Jack Phillips

The U.S. military has evacuated some of its embassy personnel from Haiti and will bolster security around the U.S. Embassy there amid escalating violence.

“This airlift of personnel into and out of the embassy is consistent with our standard practice for embassy security augmentation worldwide, and no Haitians were on board the military aircraft,” the U.S. Southern Command said in a statement on March 10.

“Our Embassy remains focused on advancing U.S. government efforts to support the Haitian people, including mobilizing support for the Haitian National Police, expediting the deployment of the United Nations-authorized Multinational Security Support mission, and accelerating a peaceful transition of power via free and fair elections.”

Haiti declared a state of emergency last week as fighting escalated while Prime Minister Ariel Henry was in Nairobi, Kenya, seeking a deal for a long-delayed U.N.-backed security mission. Kenya announced last year that it would lead the force, but months of domestic legal wrangling have effectively placed the mission on hold.

The U.S. State Department said Secretary of State Antony Blinken had spoken with Kenyan President William Ruto about the Haiti situation and the men underscored their commitment to a multinational security mission to restore order in the country, which has been racked by gang violence since the 2021 assassination of former President Jovenel Moise.

Local media reported that a dayslong gunfight had erupted between gangs and police near Haiti’s largest prison before about 4,000 male inmates successfully escaped the facility. The state of emergency was declared after the escapes.

Jimmy Chérizier, a former police officer known as “Barbecue” who now is in charge of many of the gangs, confirmed responsibility, adding that his ultimate goal is to prevent Mr. Henry from returning to Haiti. Mr. Henry departed for Kenya nearly two weeks ago, according to reports.

“With our guns and with the Haitian people, we will free the country,” Mr. Chérizier said, according to reports.

Some former diplomats have been critical of the Biden administration’s handling of the unfolding crisis. One former ambassador was critical of the administration’s support for Mr. Henry.

“They messed it up deeply,” James Foley, a former U.S. ambassador to Haiti, told The Associated Press several days ago, referring to the current administration. “They rode this horse to their doom. It’s the fruit of the choices we made.”

But he and others have noted that Haiti has had serious problems for decades and possibly longer amid poverty, corruption, lawlessness, and natural disasters.

“It’s an occupational hazard with Haiti,” Mr. Foley said. “It’s just too hard, too complicated, too insoluble.”

A man enters the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on March 10, 2024. (Odelyn Joseph/AP Photo)

Cruises Still Going

Meanwhile, Royal Caribbean, according to a cruise-mapping website, was still allowing cruise ships to make visits to Labadee, located about 130 miles north of Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince, as of late last week. Several of its ships are scheduled to make stops in Labadee throughout this week.

A spokesman for the cruise operator told CNN that the firm is monitoring the situation in Haiti, and Royal Caribbean isn’t planning to cancel or delay any of its cruises at this time.

“The safety of our guests and crew is our top priority. Our global security teams are closely monitoring the situation in the area. At all times, we remind guests to remain aware of their surroundings while ashore and follow all State Department guidelines. Should any changes be required, guests will be notified directly,” he said late last week.

Cruise Critic Editor-in-Chief Colleen McDaniel told the broadcaster that the company has an “insulated private destination, located on the northern coast of Haiti.”

“As a cruise line private destination, Labadee is only accessible to cruise ship guests, and the experience is completely owned and run by the cruise line, using the destination to serve as an extension of the onboard experience,” she told CNN.

A man drives past a burning barricade during a protest against Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s government and insecurity, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on March 1, 2024. (Ralph Tedy Erol/Reuters)

But Ms. McDaniel advised cruisegoers to monitor advisories for any country before departing on a trip.

Notably, Haiti has been under the State Department’s highest travel advisory, or “Level 4 – Do Not Travel,“ because of the spiraling situation in the country. The agency noted that ”kidnapping is widespread” in Haiti and suggested that U.S. citizens should have departed the country months ago.

“Do not travel to Haiti due to kidnapping, crime, civil unrest, and poor health care infrastructure,” it stated in July 2023, adding that “U.S. citizens in Haiti should depart as soon as possible by commercial or other privately available transportation options, in light of the current security situation and infrastructure challenges.

“Violent crime, often involving the use of firearms, such as armed robbery, car jackings, and kidnappings for ransom that include U.S. citizens are common. Mob killings against presumed criminals have been on the rise since late April. Travelers are sometimes followed and violently attacked and robbed shortly after leaving the Port-au-Prince international airport.”

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