US budget fights threaten Haiti security mission

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Funding for a Kenyan-led multinational police force in Haiti could be an unintended victim of partisan budget fights on Capitol Hill, as Republicans resist Biden administration demands for an additional $40 million for a deployment to the Caribbean nation overrun by gang violence.

Port-au-Prince has devolved into chaos, with Prime Minister Ariel Henry resigning this week and the U.S. government urging Americans to leave the country.

The U.S. has already committed $300 million to the Kenyan-led security force. The Biden administration has requested that Congress release an additional $50 million for the effort, but just $10 million of the request was passed in December.

Now, Democrats are urging the House and Senate foreign relations committees to follow through with the remaining funds, while the top Republicans on the panels question the spending and its transparency.

“The human suffering and devolving crisis in Haiti is tragic. Yet, after years of discussions, repeated requests for information, and providing partial funding to help them plan, the administration only this afternoon sent us a rough plan to address this crisis,” Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said in a joint statement Tuesday. 

“Whether it’s ‘credible and implementable’ remains to be seen,” they continued. “Given the long history of U.S. involvement in Haiti with few successful results, the administration owes Congress a lot more details in a more timely manner before it gets more funding.”

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) painted the security funding as dire in a letter to Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) on Wednesday, saying it’s needed in order to respond to “both a human rights emergency and a pressing threat to security and stability across the Western Hemisphere.”

“Months have passed since Secretary [of State] Antony Blinken notified Chairman Michael McCaul of his intent to support the [security] effort,” Jeffries wrote. “The situation on the ground in Haiti has rapidly deteriorated while House Republicans have refused to deliver the resources necessary to carry out this mission. Now is the time to release the full $50 million in security support.”

Henry remains unable to return to Haiti due to violence at the country’s largest airport, stuck in Puerto Rico after a trip to Kenya to officially establish the police mission.

He has been a core proponent of the Kenyan security force, which was organized by the United Nations Security Council last year, but has faced bureaucratic and legal hurdles since.

A House Foreign Affairs Committee aide told The Hill that both the House and Senate panels are skeptical over the additional $40 million request, claiming the State Department has not been transparent about how the money will be spent, and how exactly it will be used to fix the country’s instability.

The aide said the committee is most concerned with preventing an open-ended presence in Haiti funded by the U.S. government, in addition to questions over logistics and effectiveness.

The National Security Council (NSC) rejected McCaul’s claims of poor transparency in a statement to The Hill.

“The Administration has worked closely with congressional partners to expedite U.S. support for the MSS [Multinational Security Support] mission to Haiti, and we have fully and frequently briefed Congress on all aspects related to the MSS mission,” an NSC spokesperson said. 

“Given the positive momentum following the Haitian-led meeting to establish a transitional presidential council, we urge Congress to partner with us and lift the holds on funding for the MSS; the people of Haiti cannot wait,” they continued.

The State Department added that the Biden administration has held 68 briefings for members of Congress about the security force.

U.S. financial allocation to the security mission was increased on Monday from $200 million to $300 million, with the new funding coming from the State Department. Blinken also announced an additional $33 million in humanitarian aid for the country.

A senior State Department official told reporters Tuesday that its $100 million portion will be used to directly compensate Kenya for its contributions via a yet-to-be established U.N. trust. The remaining $200 million provided by the Department of Defense will be used to fund on-the-ground spending, including building facilities and paying salaries, he said.

The NSC spokesperson, however, emphasized that the $40 million being held up by Congress is still essential to the mission.

Beyond funding, however, it remains unclear if the 400 Kenyan law enforcement officers that have been trained will even be allowed to leave their home country, as the effort faces questions over legal authority in Kenya. 

If the forces are authorized to be deployed, getting them to Haiti raises its own problems. With the airport closed to international flights for weeks due to violence in the area, simply getting the manpower and equipment to the Caribbean nation brings its own challenges.

The mounting questions between authority, logistics and funding have raised some doubts over if the massive undertaking will go ahead at all.

“It might be blocked in Kenyan courts. It might be blocked in the U.S. House of Representatives, and it appears to me that they need an appropriation for this to go forward,” said Brian Concannon, executive director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti.

Despite delays, the State Department said it has no concerns over the security plan.

“In our conversations with Kenyan officials, both sides have stressed the importance of moving to deploy as quickly as practicable,” the State official said. “We remain confident that the mission will go forward, and in all the conversations Kenyan officials have said that they intend to go forward.”

Rafael Bernal contributed.

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