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US Senate confirms Biden nominee Hankins to be ambassador to Haiti

Haiti's National Penitentiary on fire, in Port-au-Prince

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to confirm career diplomat Dennis Hankins as ambassador to Haiti, filling the key diplomatic post in the troubled Caribbean country for the first time in nearly 2-1/2 years.

The Senate backed Hankins, who previously has been ambassador to Mali and Guinea, by an overwhelming 89 to 1 vote.

Hankins goes to Port-au-Prince, as Haiti, struggling to resolve years of political and social crisis, grapples with escalating violence by powerful armed groups that has caused thousands to flee their homes.

The country's unelected prime minister, Ariel Henry, said on Monday he would resign once a transitional council takes over. Henry traveled to Kenya last month to secure Nairobi's leadership of a long-delayed security mission to secure the capital.

The last U.S. ambassador to Haiti, Michele Sison, left the position in October 2021.

Biden nominated Hankins to fill the position in May 2023.

Before the vote, Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said it was essential to confirm Hankins quickly, given the dire humanitarian situation in Haiti. "We are on the verge of having a failed state, roughly 800 miles from our shores," Cardin said.

The Biden administration has struggled to retain staff and faced criticism over its policies regarding Haiti in recent years.

In 2021, the U.S. special envoy for Haiti Daniel Foote, a career diplomat, resigned in a letter that blasted the Biden administration for deporting hundreds of migrants back to the island from a camp on the U.S.-Mexican border that comprised mostly of Haitian families seeking asylum.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Aurora Ellis)