U.S. looks to galvanize support for Kenya-led armed mission to Haiti among G20 ministers

The deployment of an armed security mission to a crisis-stricken Haiti will be discussed this week on the sidelines of a gathering of foreign ministers from the world’s 20 richest nations in Rio de Janeiro.

The two-day gathering opened on Wednesday in Brazil, where U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in a two-hour meeting with President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in the capital of Brasilia, asked for help with Haiti. Brazil led the last United Nations peacekeeping mission to Haiti, and Haitians and others have been watching to see if the South American nation will once more volunteer to help.

Lula has said the problems in Haiti stretch beyond security, and so far he and other South American leaders have been reluctant to volunteer police or military personnel for a non-U.N. multinational security support mission for Haiti to be led by Kenya. Nevertheless, Brazil is joining the U.N. and the United States in hosting a high-level discussion on Thursday on the margins of the G20 ministerial meeting. It is being called “Rising to the Challenge on Haiti,” and the goal is to galvanize support for both the Multinational Security Support mission and the dire humanitarian situation.

In October, the U.N. Security Council approved the Multinational Security Support mission, nearly a year after Haiti requested the international community’s help. But the effort has been stalled by a legal challenge in Kenya, where the High Court in Nairobi ruled that the country’s offer to send 1,000 of its police officers to help Haiti’s beleaguered national police put down gangs is unconstitutional.

Kenyan President William Ruto has said his government is appealing the ruling. He also is working with Haitian officials to address the court’s concerns. Last week, some of those issues were addressed during a three-day meeting in Washington where officials from the U.S., Haiti and Kenya dealth with the parameters of the force and decided on its structure.

Despite the progress, challenges remain, especially in terms of funding and equipment. The Biden administration has pledged $200 million, but Republican lawmakers in Congress are expressing skepticism about the mission and have been reluctant to approve disbursements to help the mission get off the ground.

A senior Biden administration official said that the latest estimate from the Office of Management and Budget has put the mission’s price tag at between $515 million and $600 million for two years. But the precise cost depend on final operational plans and the needs on the ground.

In addition to funds, the security mission also needs equipment and perhaps more personnel. For now, the mission is expected to have 2,500 officers fielded from Kenya, Jamaica, The Bahamas and other Caribbean and African nations.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said that in the meeting with Lula, Blinken recognized Brazil’s long-standing support for the people of Haiti and reiterated the urgent need for international assistance to improve the security situation in the Caribbean country. Blinken, the State Department said, has also invited partners to address the humanitarian crisis .

The ongoing upsurge in violence in Haiti has forced more than 300,000 Haitians from their homes and continues to hinder the delivery of food and other aide by humanitarian agencies. Last week, the U.N.’s World Food Program pleaded for access for humanitarian agencies, citing the fact that 44% of Haitians currently face acute hunger.

Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, said U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed will represent the global agency at G-20, which is also expected to prioritize discussions around ongoing geopolitical tensions and the urgency of energy transition, building on social inclusion, eradicating hunger, and advancing sustainable development goals.

At the Haiti discussions, Mohammed will underscore the urgent need to provide security and other support for Haiti to help it deal with a worsening crisis of violence and instability. She will also stress the importance of predictable and sufficient financial contributions for the multinational security force, Dujarric said.