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Veteran U.S. diplomat on rebuilding Haiti's security: 'We have to bring our A game'

 Assistant Secretary of State for international law enforcement Todd Robinson speaking in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, this week.
Matias Delacroix
Assistant Secretary of State for international law enforcement Todd Robinson speaking in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, this week.

After visiting Haiti, the assistant Secretary of State for international law enforcement says he's committed to helping police 'take back' the gang-ravaged country.

Most Haiti experts agree the country can’t recover — or hold critical new presidential and parliamentary elections — until its powerful gangs are reined in. A Biden administration point person, tasked with helping Haitian law enforcement regroup and restore order, acknowledges that effort "will be a real challenge" but one the U.S. has to tackle.

As Haiti’s government collapses, violent street gangs are estimated to control half the capital, Port-au-Prince, and large parts of the rest of the country. The United States is now urging Americans not to travel there.

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Todd Robinson, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), visited Haiti this week to pledge the U.S.'s help. On his way back to Washington D.C., he told WLRN in Miami that helping Haiti rebuild its moribund public security is one of the U.S.’s biggest hemispheric challenges now.

“We have to bring our A game on this, and the Haitians too," said Robinson. "It's going to take significant investment on the part of the United States and the international community."

INL, Robinson insisted, "has committed to help the Haitian National Police stand up a force...to take back their country.”

The U.S. has spent more than $300 million over the past decade to help bolster Haitian law enforcement. It just injected $15 million more, including armored vehicles INL sent this week. But Robinson, a veteran U.S. diplomat who was ambassador to Guatemala under President Obama, stressed the U.S. has no plans to send troops to help restore order, as some have requested.

“We’ve tried interventions in the past and we are where we are," he said. "It’s up to Haitians to figure it out — to really take responsibility for their future.”

Haiti is reeling after the July assassination of authoritarian President Jovenel Moïse and a major earthquake in August. Gangs have currently hijacked distribution of desperately needed fuel in Haiti — demanding the resignation of interim Prime Minister Ariel Henry — and they've recently stepped up an often deadly wave of ransom kidnapping.

Sixteen Americans and one Canadian, all belonging to an Ohio-based Christian missionary group, are still being held by a Haitian gang that abducted them last month outside Port-au-Prince. Robinson said U.S. officials are there helping to negotiate their release.

Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
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