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U.S. Military Will End Formal Operations In Haiti By June, Official Says

The U.S. military will end its formal earthquake relief mission in Haiti on June 1, but some assistance will continue after that, Lieutenant General Ken Keen said on Monday, Reuters reports.

“I anticipate us being able to close down the Joint Task force. That does not mean that U.S. Southern Command will not continue to have an enduring military presence,” he said during a briefing at the Pentagon. “Keen pointed to some 500 members of the Louisiana National Guard who will arrive before June 1 and remain in the country through September to provide humanitarian assistance,” the news service writes (Stewart, 4/19).

“Keen ended his three-month assignment as U.S. commander in Haiti on Sunday, handing over command to a slightly lower-ranking officer,” VOA News reports. “The change reflects the reduction in the number of U.S. troops involved in the relief operation that peaked at 22,000 in February, most of them on several Navy ships. Now the ships are gone and just 2,200 troops remain on land,” according to the news service.

“I would not say that the earthquake relief ends on any certain date because, I think, for the people of Haiti who are certainly in the displaced homeless that are in these camps, the impact of the earthquake will linger for years on their lives,” Keen said. “And the international community, as well as our own government’s, response to it is providing a critical need for them today and will continue to provide that” (Pessin, 4/19).

In Haiti, the outgoing parliament “has approved the creation of a commission co-chaired by former U.S. President Bill Clinton to oversee billions in post-quake reconstruction aid, the Ministry of Communications said Friday,” the Associated Press reports. The legislation now goes to President Rene Preval for final approval.

“The vote was widely sought by international donors who want a high degree of foreign control over an estimated $5.3 billion pledged for 2010-11 at a March 31 United Nations conference. … The vote extends Haiti’s post-earthquake state of emergency for 18 months, leaving the billions delivered in that time to be overseen by the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission led by Clinton, who is the U.N. special envoy to Haiti, and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive. Preval will have veto power over the commission’s decisions,” according to the news service (Katz, 4/17).

In related news, IRIN looks at how the earthquake in Haiti is affecting the U.S. aid policy. According to the news service, 33 representatives from development and aid organizations recently sent a letter to congressional leaders calling for “greater flexibility in how we deliver food aid, by permitting local or regional purchase of emergency food aid for Haiti, and the use of emergency non-food assistance, including vouchers, cash transfers, or safety-net programmes” (4/19). The letter said: “There’s no rea­son that Hait­ian farm­ers shouldn’t feed Haiti again in the future. And U.S. food assis­tance can play a pos­i­tive role, rather than con­tribut­ing to the grow­ing import depen­dence and declin­ing rural sec­tor. But to play a more con­struc­tive role, U.S. food assis­tance must be flexible” (4/12). 

There are indications that U.S. food aid policy might be changing, IRIN reports. Neil Watkins, director of policy and campaigns at ActionAid USA, “noted a small pilot programme in the 2007 Farm Bill that earmarked funds for the local and regional purchase of emergency food aid, and to a provision in a 2008 appropriations bill that allowed for similar procurements,” IRIN writes. Watkins said, “Both of these actions are precedent-setting.”

The article also reports on comments by Bill Clinton about developing Haiti’s agricultural capacity (4/19).

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