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Dominican Republic denies Canada consulted on Haitian aid office

Foreign Minister Roberto Alvarez has cast doubt on a proposal for a Canadian-led aid bureau on Dominican territory.

The Dominican Republic has pushed back on a proposal for a Canadian-led “joint security coordination cell” in its territory, as part of an effort to address the crises unfolding in its neighbour, Haiti.

Dominican Foreign Minister Roberto Alvarez denounced the prospect of hosting the Canadian bureau in the country, which was pitched as a site from which to coordinate international aid and offer support to Haiti’s police.

“The Dominican Government confirms that it has not discussed, agreed or granted any authorisation for the installation in our territory of an office to coordinate support for the Haitian National Police, as indicated by information from the Canadian media,” Alvarez said in a tweet that was re-posted by the country’s Ministry of External Relations.

His words come in response to an announcement from Canada’s Foreign Minister Melanie Joly, made during a Thursday ministerial meeting.

“This cell will enhance international efforts in security assistance, working closely with the Haitian National Police and the United Nations to foster a sustainable environment for long-term peace and security in Haiti,” Joly wrote afterwards on social media.

The “joint security coordination cell” was part of a package of support Canada revealed on Thursday, including $13m in aid for development and anti-crime efforts.

Joly also underscored her country’s commitment to a “Haitian-led solution to the crisis”, likely anticipating criticism of foreign intervention in the Caribbean nation.

Haiti has been contending with a series of setbacks in recent years, from natural disasters to political disarray and gang violence.

The country currently has no democratically elected federal leaders after the country’s last senators saw their terms expire in January. Acting President Ariel Henry was selected to serve as prime minister by former President Jovenel Moise, shortly before his assassination in 2021.As Haitian democracy faltered with no firmly scheduled elections in sight, gangs seized power in some areas. In December, the United Nations reported that 60 percent of the capital city Port-au-Prince had fallen under gang control.

That lawlessness — bolstered by systemic corruption — has led to a spike in violence. The UN estimates that, between January 1 and March 15 of this year, a total of 531 people have been killed, 300 wounded and 277 kidnapped in gang-related attacks.

The surge in gang violence has also led to food insecurity and other public safety concerns. A resurgence of cholera — not seen in the country for three years — coincided with a gang-led port blockade in October that limited fuel distribution, shuttering hospitals and public works.

Relations between Haiti and its neighbour, the Dominican Republic, have long been tense, and some fear Haiti’s current instability could spill across the border. Though they share an island, the two countries are often seen as divided along economic, cultural and racial lines.

The majority of people in the Spanish-speaking Dominican Republic identify as mixed race, whereas Haiti’s population is predominantly Black and speaks Creole or French.

Their shared 392-kilometre (244-mile) border has historically been a site for the countries’ tensions to play out — and with the ongoing turmoil in Haiti, the Dominican Republic has started to build a border wall to keep out would-be migrants and asylum seekers.The Dominican Republic has also recently stepped up its deportation of Haitians — and those who allegedly look like they may be from Haiti, spurring accusations of xenophobia and racism.

Haiti’s acting President Henry has called on the international community to authorise the “immediate deployment of a specialised armed force” to help subdue the country’s gangs and restore peace.

But countries like Canada and the US have been reluctant to lead an international force to Haiti, and many Haitians have criticised the prospect of foreign intervention as well.

In a statement on Friday, Homero Figueroa, spokesperson for Dominican President Luis Abinader, acknowledged those concerns, reiterating that his government had not agreed to any joint initiative with Canada.

“For historical reasons, the Dominican Republic cannot participate in any initiative that commits it to carry out direct actions in Haiti,” he said.

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