May 20, 2024

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is doubling its defense spending on a multinational force for Haiti, hoping to speed up the start of the mission as gangs threaten to topple the country’s government, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday.

U.S. officials told McClatchy that the administration is looking for ways to expedite the deployment of the Multinational Security Support mission, or MSS, as soon as possible, despite a congressional hold by Republican lawmakers on key State Department funding.

The new funding source, which is already approved, could help move the deployment along faster, two U.S. officials said. One senior administration official said the initial deployment would involve 400 trained and vetted Kenyan police officers — Nairobi committed to lead the mission back in October — and scaling up from there with additional forces.

“What we’ve seen in recent days, again, should remind us that the already challenging and difficult security situation has now deteriorated even further, and makes the multinational support mission even more important than ever,” Blinken said during a visit to Jamaica on Monday, after speaking with Haiti’s political and civic leaders by video conference about the path forward to a political transition and elections.

The emergency meeting in Jamaica was organized by the 15-member bloc of Caribbean nations known as CARICOM to discuss the crisis in Haiti. The U.S. asked CARICOM to take the lead on the Haitian crisis.

“I’m announcing today that the U.S. Department of Defense is doubling its approved support for the mission, from $100 million to $200 million, and that brings the total U.S. support to $300 million for this effort,” Blinken said.

“All of us know that only the Haitian people can — only the Haitian people should — determine their own future. Not anyone else,” he added. “But all of us here — CARICOM, the United States, our other partners — we can help.”

Diplomats in Jamaica are leaning toward the creation of a nine-member presidential panel to lead a political transition in Haiti, including representation from various political parties. Haitian political and civic leaders had submitted seven different proposals, but the meetings on Monday focused on arriving at a consensus. Blinken said the U.S. would support the establishment of a broad-based “presidential college” to run the country.

Last week, senior administration officials expressed concern the deployment of Kenyan forces might not happen until Republican leadership on the Senate and House foreign affairs committees release $40 million for the effort, telling McClatchy and the Miami Herald that the money was critical to providing the foreign forces with training equipment, personnel kits and uniforms.

Failure to release that funding could also undermine international support for the mission, including the financial commitments of other allies, officials said.

It is unclear what the new Pentagon funding will support. The Defense Department is preparing a base for the MSS mission near the international airport in Port-au-Prince, which has recently been attacked by gangs, forcing defense officials to reevaluate the security needs of the base.

During a break in the discussions in Jamaica with Haitian leaders, who participated over Zoom, Jamaica Prime Minister Andrew Holness reiterated his country’s commitment to the force. Jamaica is among the Caribbean nations that have offered to contribute forces to the security mission.

Jamaica “remains firmly committed to the Haitian cause as demonstrated to our regional responsibilities to the MSS mission,” Holness said.

“It is my hope that at the end of this meeting we would have already developed a clear and defined pathway forward and would have infused our planning for deployment of the agreed Multinational Security Support mission with the urgency and the vision it requires,” he added. “The people of Haiti need and deserve nothing less than the safety, freedom and prosperity that the first free Black Republic deserves.”

The United Nations Security Council, which endorsed the multinational mission last fall, also issued a joint statement Monday reiterating its support for the mission and calling for its deployment “as soon as possible.”

“The members of the Security Council reiterated their deep concern over the security and humanitarian situation and stressed the need to address the multidimensional crisis in Haiti,” the council said.

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©2024 Miami Herald. Visit miamiherald.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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