Miami Herald (Sunday)

White House battles Republican­s in Congress over funding for police force to help Haiti

- BY JACQUELINE CHARLES AND MICHAEL WILNER jcharles@miamiheral­ mwilner@mcclatchyd­ Jacqueline Charles: 305-376-2616, @jacquiecha­rles Michael Wilner: 202-383-6083, @mawilner

Kenya’s top leaders, hard at work trying to figure out how to get around a court ruling blocking a decision to send a thousand-strong force of police officers to help gang-ridden Haiti, think they may have a solution as early as next week.

But they will then face another hurdle: Who’s going to pay for all this?

The Kenyan force is supposed to be part of multinatio­nal effort, approved by the United Nations, to assist Haiti, but the question of how to pay for it has yet to be resolved.

The Biden administra­tion, which was behind the effort in the U.N. to bring a group of nations together to help Haiti, is planning to pick up a large chunk of the tab, which is expected to run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. But the administra­tion is facing skepticism from Republican leadership in Congress, further complicati­ng a mission that has struggled to take shape for over a year as gang-related killings and kidnapping­s escalate in Haiti.

The U.S. has pledged up to $200 million to fund the Multinatio­nal Security Support mission, which is meant to be led by Kenyan police with contributi­ons from Jamaica, The Bahamas and other Caribbean and African nations. Of that amount, the administra­tion made an initial request for $50 million from Congress. Lawmakers partially released $10 million and then the administra­tion countered by asking for $17 million to begin the process, according to sources familiar with the effort.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member James Risch (R-ID) have pressed for more details on the nature of the mission, putting a hold on the release of any additional U.S. funding until they get more informatio­n.

“The administra­tion has yet to deliver on specific commitment­s it promised to Congress as part of the review process,” said Leslie Shedd, a spokeswoma­n for the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Risch’s staff did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Florida Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who serves as chairman of the House Appropriat­ions subcommitt­ee with responsibi­lity for foreign aid, said lawmakers need more informatio­n from the Biden administra­tion, including their Plan B should Kenya be unable to lead the armed mission into Haiti.

“What I can say is there are legitimate concerns regarding the viability of the multinatio­nal force plan; particular­ly considerin­g the recent Kenyan court ruling prohibitin­g the participat­ion of Kenyan police. The Biden Administra­tion needs to explain its contingenc­y plan should Kenya no longer be assisting,” DiazBalart said. “I’m not ruling out a multinatio­nal force, but at this point there simply needs to be more informatio­n, along with further explanatio­n to how much of a cost burden the Biden administra­tion wants to assume. Haiti’s instabilit­y has repercussi­ons beyond its borders to neighborin­g countries like the Dominican Republic, and of course the United States.”

The U.S. funding is seen in Nairobi as an initial investment that should lead to additional contributi­ons from partners around the world. But Kenya’s ambassador to the

U.N., Martin Kimani, said last week that the money has not been forthcomin­g and there remains “a substantia­l resource gap.” He did not single out the United States.

“Securing the widest possible support base is essential for making the mission truly multinatio­nal,” he told the U.N. Security Council.

The fight over funding is just the latest setback to the Haiti mission. Last week, Kenya’s High Court said that Nairobi could not deploy police officers outside of the country without a bilateral agreement with Port-au-Prince establishi­ng a police-sharing agreement. The government said it would appeal the decision.

Speaking to a Reuters reporter on Tuesday, Kenyan President William Ruto said his government is working on addressing the court’s concerns “so that the mission can go ahead as soon as next week, if all the paperwork is done between Kenya and Haiti.”

In November, Ruto’s Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki told parliament that the mission was expected to cost $600 million for the first year, but that Kenya would not be footing the bill — and without some upfront funding, the officers would not be deployed.

“Kenya will not allow its troops to exit the Country for Haiti until all the required resources, including equipment and finances, are mobilised and availed,” he wrote on the social media site X, formerly Twitter, on Nov. 9. “No taxpayers’ money will be spent to deploy the 1,000 National Police Service Officers as part of the Multi-National. The cost of deployment will be borne by United Nations member states through voluntary contributi­on.”

The U.N. has establishe­d a Trust Fund to raise $237.55 million in donor contributi­ons that Kenya said it needs for the deployment, plus equipment. It’s unclear how much has been volunteere­d other than a $3.26 million contributi­on France recently announced.

Following the Nairobi court decision, Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, said, “We need urgent action, we need urgent funding, and we hope that member states will continue to do their part and then some.”

Asked for an update on the status of U.S. funding for the force, a spokespers­on at the White House National Security Council said the United States is “committed” to supporting the mission, which was officially approved by the Security Council in an October vote.

On Thursday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Musalia Mudavadi, Kenya’s Prime Cabinet Secretary and Cabinet Secretary for Foreign and Diaspora. Though unclear if the dire situation in Haiti and the security mission were discussed, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters the administra­tion remains “hopeful” that the force will materializ­e.

“We continue to work with internatio­nal partners, both Kenya and other internatio­nal partners, about funding for that multinatio­nal police force and want to see it implemente­d as soon as possible,” he said.

The administra­tion is closely watching developmen­ts out of Kenya regarding the fate of the force, John Kirby, coordinato­r for Strategic Communicat­ions at the National Security Council, told reporters the day before the Kenyan minister’s visit.

“We still believe that that kind of multinatio­nal security presence in Haiti is important. We’d still like to see it move forward,” Kirby said. “We’re obviously watching closely what happens in Kenya, but it’s really for the Kenyans to speak to.

“Regardless of how this comes out, it won’t change our central position that we believe some sort of multinatio­nal security force presence on the ground is important for the people of Haiti,” Kirby added. “They still are suffering the violence of these criminal gangs and thugs and organizati­ons that are just literally making life almost impossible for the people of Haiti. So we still believe that’s important.”

 ?? LOEY FELIPE UN Photo/Handout via Xinhua/Sipa USA ?? Representa­tives vote on a draft resolution during a UN Security Council meeting at the UN headquarte­rs in New York, on Oct. 19, 2023. The UN Security Council on Thursday renewed the sanctions regime on Haiti, which includes an arms embargo, travel ban and assets freeze measures.
LOEY FELIPE UN Photo/Handout via Xinhua/Sipa USA Representa­tives vote on a draft resolution during a UN Security Council meeting at the UN headquarte­rs in New York, on Oct. 19, 2023. The UN Security Council on Thursday renewed the sanctions regime on Haiti, which includes an arms embargo, travel ban and assets freeze measures.

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