New Haitian Leader Visits Washington Seeking Additional Support


Top Democrats in Congress met on Tuesday with Haiti’s newly installed prime minister, Garry Conille, and pledged to push for additional American assistance days after a U.S.-backed international police mission arrived on the Caribbean island to restore stability to a country that for months has been under siege by criminal gangs.

The Biden administration is planning to release $100 million for the mission, of which the United States is the largest financial backer, doing so over Republican opposition. But Mr. Conille told the Democrats on Tuesday that more money would be needed, and soon.

“This is a critical point,” Mr. Conille said in an interview on Tuesday afternoon following meetings with lawmakers and officials at international financial institutions, where he shared appreciation for the support that has already been committed and stressed the dire need for continued investment.

“I need to have the funding necessary to quickly implement basic infrastructure, repair basic infrastructure, and make sure that the services are available to people,” he said.

“The issues in Haiti are such huge issues and we are making sure that we know what his priorities are and how we can address security and also the economic needs and to make sure the funding is really present,” Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, Democrat of Florida and the only Haitian American member of Congress, said in an interview. “We’ve been wrestling here in Congress since October to make sure the funding is available, because we have a short window for success.”

Eight months after the United Nations authorized the use of international forces to be deployed to Haiti, the first wave of forces in the Multinational Security Support Mission, led by Kenya, arrived on June 25 to try to stamp out the violence and regain control of the country.

In Washington, the new prime minister and members of his cabinet also met with Biden administration officials including Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken. At each stop Mr. Conille, who briefly served as prime minister in 2011, detailed his plans to steer the country out of violence and corruption and to reestablish democratic norms. The transitional government, which was appointed by a council, aims to hold elections before its mandate expires on Feb. 7, 2026.

“They’re looking forward to creating a situation so they can turn it over to a new government, but they need help,” Representative Gregory W. Meeks of New York, the top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, said. “They need resources.”

Democrats in Congress have lobbied the Biden administration to do more to support the island nation of over 11 million people.

But funding efforts face a wall of opposition from senior Republicans in Congress who say the specific goals of the mission and ways of measuring success are unclear. They remain wary of pouring millions of dollars into a country controlled by gangs with a long history of political corruption.

“The Biden administration’s choice to override the hold I had placed on U.S. taxpayer funding for the ill-conceived Haiti M.S.S. is extremely disappointing,” Senator Jim Risch of Idaho, the senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement, using the acronym for the international police force. “I have very clearly expressed my serious and specific concerns about this mission since last September. My concerns exist in part because of the long history of failed international interventions in Haiti, which have wasted billions of dollars and left the Haitian people worse off.”

Along with Mr. Risch, Representative Michael McCaul, Republican of Texas and the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, condemned the deployment of Kenyan troops to Haiti, saying the move had left the African nation vulnerable to its own instability.

“On the same day 400 Kenyan police officers arrived in Haiti — the Kenyan Parliament was overrun by protesters,” the two Republicans said in a statement. “As a result, the Kenyan military was mobilized under suspect constitutional authority and used live ammunition to repel the protesters, killing more than 20 civilians. The administration must find a different solution to address Haiti’s insecurity.”

Recent clashes of violence and unrest centered in Port-au-Prince, the capital, were the latest disruption to civil order in a country that continues to be plagued by a series of crises.

Still recovering from a string of natural disasters, including catastrophic earthquakes in 2010 and 2021, Haitians have also faced food shortages, cholera outbreaks and limited access to basic medical care in some parts of the country.

Instability reached new heights in 2021 when President Jovenel Moïse, elected in 2016, was assassinated in his home. Since then, no elections have taken place and gang violence has taken hold. The United Nations has estimated that nearly 80 percent of Port-au-Prince is controlled by a coalition of gangs.

Mr. Meeks and Ms. Cherfilus-McCormick said they were optimistic that the international police mission would succeed in putting Haiti on the road to stability.

“One of the things that I think is important, at least for me, is that the prime minister is not someone that the United States propped up,” Mr. Meeks said.

If Mr. Conille can preside over the demise of the gangs and restore stability, “that’s going to cause a whole different atmosphere on the island,” he added.

Ms. Cherfilus-McCormick said she hoped a meaningful show of force against the violence would “incentivize Haitian people also to start participating” in the country’s transition toward a stable democracy and would draw citizens back to the country.

“If we can help Haitians stay in Haiti, if we can help them actually thrive and be able to leverage themselves, then that becomes another country that we can engage with,” she said.

“We only get one chance here,” Mr. Conille said, “and we cannot fail.”

Frances Robles contributed reporting.

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