The Biden administration is sending senior Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Homeland Security officials to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in response to a request from the Haitian government for security and investigative assistance after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Friday that the U.S. officials would "assess the situation and how we may be able to assist."
"The United States remains engaged in close consultations with our Haitian and international partners to support the Haitian people in the aftermath of the assassination of the president," she said.
Haiti is in turmoil since Moise was shot to death at his private residence early Wednesday. Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph says he is in charge. Haitian officials have requested help from the United States to maintain security and aid in the investigation to find those responsible for the assassination.
Bocchit Edmond, Haiti's ambassador to the U.S., sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken requesting sanctions against those implicated in the crime.
"We further request for the Biden administration to impose sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act on all perpetrators who are directly responsible or aided and abetted in the execution of the assassination of the president. We look forward to working with the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince as we seek truth and justice for the family of President Moise and the people of Haiti," the letter said.
Haiti will receive $75.5 million in U.S. assistance this year, Psaki said, for "democratic governance, health, education, agricultural development, strengthening of pre-election activities, strengthening peace and law enforcement." She said bolstering "law enforcement capacity" remained a key U.S. priority.
The Biden administration has earmarked $5 million for the Haitian National Police force, which is already receiving assistance from the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. The money will be used to quell gang violence.
Haiti's police force has been criticized in recent years for human rights abuses, corruption and mismanagement of resources.
On the immigration front, the White House press secretary said the United States had extended Temporary Protected Status for eligible Haitians living in the United States. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced that decision in May.
To help Haiti combat a COVID-19 surge that began last month, Psaki said, the U.S. plans to deliver coronavirus vaccines to Haiti "as early as next week." Haiti's airports were closed hours after the assassination as law enforcement sought to cut off escape routes for possible suspects. Psaki said the delivery of the vaccines would depend on the status of the airport.
Humanitarian aid in jeopardy
In remarks to reporters Friday, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric expressed concerns about the possible humanitarian implications the current crisis could have on the Haitian people.
"Our colleagues are telling us that following the assassination of the president, efforts to respond to the recent increase in COVID-19 cases in the country are being put at risk," Dujarric said. "The situation is also threatening efforts to provide humanitarian assistance, especially food and water, to people who have been internally displaced due to recent gang attacks."
Dujarric said humanitarian aid flights planned for Wednesday and Thursday were canceled.
Helen La Lime, the special representative of the U.N. secretary-general in Haiti, has been in contact with Haitian officials, the spokesperson told reporters, and is pushing for "an inclusive political compromise" to solve the political crisis and sustain stability.
Haitians gather in front of the U.S. Embassy amid rumors on radio and social media that the U.S. will be handing out exile and humanitarian visas, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, July 9, 2021, two days after President Jovenel Moise was assassinated.
Meanwhile in Tabarre, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, dozens of Haitians gathered in front of the U.S. Embassy to request political asylum.
"Whenever there's a catastrophe in Haiti, people always seek refuge at the embassy. People don't feel safe - that's why they're here," a man who did not give his name told VOA Creole. He said some people arrived Thursday night.
Asked if anyone from the embassy had come out to speak with the group, the man said no one had.
"If something happens, they will stay here, and if they have a chance to leave the country, they'll go," the man said.
White House Correspondent Patsy Widakuswara, U.N. Correspondent Margaret Besheer and Matiado Vilme in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, contributed to this report.