As Law and Order Falls Apart in Haiti, American Aid Hangs in Balance

A spokeswoman for the House Foreign Affairs Committee tells the Sun she is ‘unconvinced’ that international aid will help Haitians as gangs take over the capital.

AP/Odelyn Joseph
A lifeless body lies against the curb as pedestrians walk past at Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Monday, March 11, 2024. AP/Odelyn Joseph

President Biden’s pledge of hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to Haiti is hitting obstacles in Congress, with some lawmakers expressing concern that further aid to the embattled country could land in the wrong hands and entangle America in an indefinite conflict. 

America is pledging $300 million toward a United Nations multinational mission, announced last year, that would involve 1,000 Kenyan police officers deploying to Haiti to try to quell the chaos caused by gangs. In a meeting with Haitian stakeholders in Jamaica on Monday, Secretary Blinken said this support is double what the Department of Defense had previously committed.

Yet a multinational force to Haiti cannot be deployed unless senior Republicans in Congress lift their longstanding hold on the release of key American funds. The House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, Congressman Mike McCaul, and a Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member, Senator Risch, are battling with the Department of State as more than a year’s worth of efforts to establish a security mission with international partners hangs in jeopardy. 

This dispute comes amid a growing debate in the GOP over the question of how much America should help Ukraine, Israel, Free China, and, now, Haiti, too. Lawmakers are being forced to contend with the political violence erupting on an island just 838 miles away from Florida, as state authorities are bracing for a wave of refugees arriving at America’s coastline. 

“If we help solve Haiti’s problems, we will not have the refugees here,” a former U.S. ambassador to Haiti, Raymond Joseph, tells the Sun. The top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Gregory Meeks, echoes this sense of urgency. “If we don’t release the money so that the Kenyans can come in and do what they need to do,” he told reporters Tuesday, “they are increasing the chance of the further migration problem to the United States.”

Amid deteriorating conditions in Haiti, pressure is intensifying on the Foreign Affairs Committee to release the full $50 million in aid to Haiti that the Biden administration has made available from America’s initial pledge of $200 million. The committee is concerned that the involvement of international troops in Haiti could make the situation there worse, sources close to the committee tell the Sun. 

“We want to make sure to shape this mission responsibly so that it addresses and is responsive to the problems in Port-au-Prince and Haiti at large,” a Foreign Affairs Committee spokeswoman, Leslie Shedd, tells the Sun. “At this stage, we remain unconvinced.”

The Biden administration has yet to clarify how and when the task force will disperse the aid in question as gangs take hold of Port-au-Prince and could potentially seize any weapons that could later be sent by Congress with the aim of helping defend Haitian citizens. Not a penny of the $10 million released to the administration by the committee in December has gone out the door, according to sources close to the committee.

Concerns also surround the potential cultural challenges of sending a Kenyan-led task force to stabilize a country where they may face language barriers. That task force is already facing setbacks from the Kenyan government, which on Tuesday said it will pause the deployment of troops and re-evaluate once a new Haitian government is in place. Haitian stakeholders are working toward establishing a transitional governing body to replace the outgoing prime minister, Ariel Henry, who resigned earlier this week.

“This is a hemispheric priority to stabilize Haiti, and we have a keen interest in doing so,” Ms. Shedd says. “Getting this wrong could exacerbate the migration crisis.”

Committee members argue that years of foreign aid have made little impact on the longstanding political chaos in Haiti. “Given the long history of U.S. involvement in Haiti with few successful results,” Messrs. Risch and McCaul said in a joint statement Tuesday, “the administration owes Congress a lot more details in a more timely manner before it gets more funding.”

The United Nations has had some successes in its humanitarian efforts in Haiti. The World Food Programme has delivered some 75,000 meals to Haitians displaced by the recent violence, the spokesman for the secretary-general, Stéphane Dujarric, said Wednesday. Yet future aid operations depend on commitments from America, which is the largest donor to the United Nations.

“And as we continue to need funding to be able to support the people of Haiti with basic needs, Humanitarian Appeal tragically remains only 2.6 percent funded,” Mr. Dujarric said on Wednesday. “We have $17.7 million in the bank and we need $674 million for this year.”

The stalling of foreign aid to Haiti comes as no surprise to Mr. Joseph. He points to a longstanding neglect of the issues plaguing Port-au-Prince, while billions of dollars have been sent to Kyiv and Tel Aviv for their war efforts. “Haiti, 800 miles away, is a human tragedy that I cannot explain,” Mr. Joseph says. “And the government of the United States, so close by, doesn’t seem to care that much.”

Mr. Joseph is doubtful there will be any change in American policy toward Haiti regardless of who is elected president in November. As a senator in 1994, Mr. Biden said, “if Haiti just quietly sunk into the Caribbean, or rose up 300 feet, it wouldn’t matter a whole lot in terms of our interests.” President Trump, in 2018, told a group of senators that Haiti and African nations were “s—hole countries.” 

Mr. Joseph argues that this sense of indifference, at best, or resentment, at worst, is deep-rooted. “We are paying for the tenacity of its ancestors,” he says. Haiti, a former French colony, was the first country in the world to defeat slavery in 1804, inspiring abolitionist and independence movements in the United States, South America, and Africa. 

“Our ancestors disrupted the economic system of the day, which rested on the backs of Black slaves,” Mr. Joseph says. “The slave masters and their descendants have not forgiven Haiti for doing that. And that’s what Haiti is paying till today, where the white world does not forget what the Haitians did.”

The New York Sun

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