US-backed plan for Haiti provides guidance but few details

The plan to help Haiti “remains incomplete,” a House Republican aide said. | Richard Pierrin/AFP via Getty Images

By Matt Berg, Politico, March 20, 2024

A long-awaited U.S.-backed proposal for rescuing Haiti from gang-led violence provides high-level guidance for a planned Kenyan security force — but few details about how it can actually succeed, according to a copy of the document obtained by POLITICO.

The 33-page document, which the State Department circulated to a number of lawmakers over the past week, gives details for how the so-called Multinational Security Mission to Haiti could operate, the makeup of forces, their mission and how they could work with local authorities to combat gangs.

“The international community is trying to step up to find a way to do this that makes the most sense,” a State Department official, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly, told POLITICO. “We’re really working toward a solution that can help to alleviate some of the suffering.”

The mission is “incredibly complicated to do, hasn’t been done before, and the situation on the ground is fluid and forever changing,” the official added.

But the plan is already getting hit with criticism. Five people who viewed the plan, including two congressional aides and advocates who have worked on Haiti for years, said it fell far short of what they were hoping for from State.

“Despite every briefing that they say they’ve given us, they failed to answer the most core questions that we’ve had,” said a House Republican aide, who like the four other people, was granted anonymity to speak about private discussions with the administration.

Those questions include how the United Nations fund that would reimburse Kenya would work and how the forces would help local police quell gangs. They also want an estimate of the maximum amount of time the forces would stay in Haiti.

That discontent means the plan is unlikely to unlock congressional funding for the force — some $40 million that Republicans have been blocking since December. They’re requesting more details about how the administration plans to ensure the Kenyan mission’s success.

The plan “remains incomplete,” the House Republican aide said.

Armed gangs have taken over Haiti since President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in 2021. Prime Minister Ariel Henry, the de facto leader, agreed to resign last week following pressure from the U.S. and other allies. Thousands of people have died in Haiti as a result of gang violence, and more than 362,000 people inside the country have been displaced, according to the United Nations.

While the U.S. and several other allies have refused to send troops to help stabilize the country, they have agreed to assist a multinational force backed by the United Nations. Kenya has tentatively agreed to lead the mission and contribute a 1000-person police force, saying it is waiting to evaluate an expected transitional council to lead the country. Benin has offered 2,000 of its troops.

The document, which a State Department official described as a multinational effort, provides “high-level guidance” for Kenyan forces, including guidelines for commanders prior to and during the mission, such as a command structure and the duties that each person underneath them would perform.

It says the main objective of the force will be to quell gang violence, bolster the Haitian National Police — which is widely distrusted due to corruption — and pave the way for Haitian elections. The plan also says the initial mandate for the mission should be nine months, with the option to extend if needed.

But the document provides few details on how these objectives would be achieved, including when the multinational force would arrive on the island, whether it would be engaged directly in combat with the gangs and how much money it would require.

But Republicans argue the administration is blaming them for delays when it could have pulled together a much more detailed and actionable plan by now.

“While we’ve seen a concept for the mission, we still haven’t seen any goals or metrics to determine progress,” said a Republican Senate aide.

The aide also said that the funding block is far from the only thing holding back the multinational force from getting to Haiti. The airport in Port-au-Prince is currently closed and surrounded by gangs, leaving no clear way for Kenyans to arrive, and there’s no base or logistics hub for the Kenyans to go to yet, the aide noted.

Even once Republicans release the funds, it could take weeks or months for Kenyan forces to arrive, according to three people who have spoken with the administration about the matter.

The U.S. has pledged a total of $300 million for Haiti, much of which will go toward providing tactical gear for the security force and building a base for operation in the country. It’s unclear how much of that has been spent so far. Canada, France and other allies have also contributed money to the mission.

A senior State Department official noted in a briefing last week that the $40 million in U.S. money that is being held up would go into a U.N. fund to reimburse Kenya for training, the terms of which are “still being debated.” It’s not clear if that structure needs to be worked out before the multinational force would deploy.

Democrats in both chambers have pushed back on the Republicans, arguing that the longer the funds are blocked, the longer it will take for Haiti to receive the help it desperately needs — whether the plan is airtight or not.

“This is simply now Republican failure to act” on what’s the best option for the embattled nation going forward, said Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The key, he said, will be oversight as the plan is put in place. “Oversight of the State Department’s plans for Haiti is as critical in this instance as it is for any other country,” he said.

Asked if the mission would be long-term, a third State Department official said, “I don’t think at any point have we envisioned that … I don’t think there’s a concrete answer as to how long this would last.”

Alexander Ward contributed to this report.


Posted April 22, 2024