© 2024 KENW
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The U.N. imposes sanctions against Haiti's gang members


There was a rare moment of unity at the U.N. Security Council today when all 15 members voted to impose sanctions on armed gangs in Haiti. Gangs have brought the country to a standstill just as Haitians are trying to cope with an outbreak of cholera. But diplomats are still debating whether it's time for an international intervention, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.


JIMMY CHERIZIER: (Non-English language spoken).

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Jimmy Cherizier, who goes by the nickname Barbecue, is now on a U.N. sanctions list. All 15 Security Council members backed the resolution that singles him out and sets up a committee to add more names to a blacklist. U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield calls it a first step.

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We're sending a clear message to the bad actors that are holding Haiti hostage. The international community will not stand idly by while you wreck havoc on the Haitian people.

KELEMEN: Cherizier, who runs an alliance of gangs, has been blocking the main fuel depot in the capital, Port au Prince, and demanding the resignation of Haiti's prime minister. He's been on a U.S. sanctions list for the past couple of years, but that hasn't made much of a difference, according to Brian Concannon, who runs a nonprofit called the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.

BRIAN CONCANNON: There are politicians and wealthy businesspeople who are supporting the gangs and profiting from them and using them. And Haitians are saying, look. If you're going to do effective sanctions, you need to go up the ladder to include people that have some aura of respectability but are involved in crime.

KELEMEN: That thought is echoed by Robert Fatton, a professor at the University of Virginia. He says the gangs are a symptom of the crisis in Haiti, not the cause.

ROBERT FATTON: The gangs are in existence because some members of the political class and the economic class have nurtured them and also because of the extreme poverty that exists in Haiti. In other words, poor people have very few alternatives. They become bandits. It's one way of surviving in a desperate situation.

KELEMEN: He says Haitians need to come up with their solutions. The current government is calling for an armed intervention, but U.S. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield had to drop any reference to that in order to get today's sanctions resolution passed.

THOMAS-GREENFIEFD: We must build on these efforts to address another immediate challenge - to help restore security and alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Haiti.

KELEMEN: She and her Mexican counterpart are working on another Security Council resolution that would endorse what she calls a non-U.N. mission that would be limited in scope. U.S. officials are talking to countries in the region about how that might look. Concannon says past interventions have failed, and this could, too.

CONCANNON: An intervention in the current context is likely to be a deadly waste of money.

KELEMEN: It also requires more diplomatic legwork at the U.N. China's ambassador says the international community has to be prudent. And Russia's ambassador made clear that his country only backed today's resolution because it was narrowly focused and didn't mention calls for an international force. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE CURE'S "DEMISE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.