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Rubio Questions Witness at Foreign Relations Subcommittee Hearing on Haiti

Jul 27, 2023 | Press Releases

Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations’ Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women’s Issues, Marco Rubio (R-FL) questioned a witness at a hearing on the international response for Haiti.

Witnesses: 

  • Mr. Brian Nichols, Assistant Secretary of State, Western Hemisphere Affairs
  • Ms. Marcela Escobari, USAID Assistant Administrator, Latin America and the Caribbean

Click here for video and read a transcript below.

RUBIO: I think we all would hope to see a Haiti that has a prosperous economy that provides opportunities and a functional government. But a precondition to both of those things being possible [is security]. You’re not going to drive investment in the country without security, and I don’t know how you hold elections given the current security situation. So security is first and foremost, and that’s a really tough one to deal with. [For] one, the argument for a multinational force, which is what the administration and others have been supportive of, is not unanimous among all political actors inside of Haiti, correct? There are many who are against that as a solution.

NICHOLS: I’ve spoken with scores of Haitians in Haiti and members of the diaspora. I would say that opinions toward a multinational force have evolved over time. And people that I talked to who were against that two years ago are now very supportive of that, or [they were supportive] 18 months ago, I should say. The guarantee that they want is that it will not be used as a way to maintain the Prime Minister in power indefinitely. And I think that we have ample assurances from him directly, to the Secretary of State and to other actors in the country, that he will not remain in power, and that his goal is to hold an election. We need to have that security, as you rightly state, to be able to do that.

RUBIO: The August 15th deadline is for the UN recommendation on what the steps forward are through the Security Council. Have the Chinese expressed opposition to an international force inside of Haiti to provide security?

NICHOLS: I want to be careful in characterizing another country’s position. But they’ve expressed concerns about how any future effort would be different from the effort that lasted for 13 years. They did support the resolution that passed earlier this month, and they’ve said they would like to see the text of the recommendations from the Secretary General and what a resolution says before presenting a final opinion.

RUBIO: Which countries have expressed an openness? The Kenyans, are they a potential partner or lead in a peacekeeping effort?

NICHOLS: They are. Secretary Robinson has just departed from Nairobi, and we’ve talked to them. They’re one of the leading contributors to UN peacekeeping and multinational operations around the world. But we’ve talked to many other countries as well. One of the things I think it’s important to to focus on is that while we may be asking a specific country to be the lead, we envision this as a multinational force with members from this hemisphere, from developed and developing countries, with different levels of of skill sets that they would bring to bear to the problem.

RUBIO: The reason why I ask about that is [that] the UN, the U.S., Canada, and others have come under criticism in the past for these efforts, for a lot of reasons, [for] whatever may have happened during that time, [for] other incidents that happened during those interventions for peacekeeping purposes. That’s made it more difficult to get the Canadians or the French or anybody to be excited about this. I’m glad to hear that some countries have expressed [interest]. What about in the Caribbean?

NICHOLS: CARICOM member states have stated publicly their willingness to participate in a multinational force. Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Bahamas have all publicly said that they would be willing to participate. Other countries in the Caribbean [have] as well. Interestingly, some of the smaller Caribbean countries do have Creole speakers, and that could be an important resource for a multinational force, for interpretation and translation.

RUBIO: So the issue here is not finding nations that potentially are willing to be contributors. The issue is finding a nation willing to say it will be the lead on command.

NICHOLS: Yes, sir. That has been the challenge that we face. We believe that we’re making progress in that area, and it’s vital to do so. I would note that any country that does take the lead I’m confident will enjoy support from other key peacekeeping contributors, as well as from the United States, from Canada, and from France.

RUBIO: My last question is on the security assistance we’re providing now, the training mission…. Is the training occurring in-country or out-of-country? Obviously, part of that involves retention. All of the security workforce there faces the same challenges that our local employees at the mission would confront. They have the same housing challenges, security challenges, and the like. It’s telling when you have a substantial percentage of those in the current security forces looking to leave the country. If you could describe a little bit more about how that program is functioning….

NICHOLS: Absolutely, sir. The Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement has 14 subject matter experts embedded within the Haitian National Police that are providing training and assistance within the police. Alongside that, there are United Nations political officers, two of them right now, who are providing training within the police. We work with the police to recruit, to vet, to train at the police academy in the Port au Prince area, as well as some other facilities, as well as programs to develop their anti-gang unit, their transnational criminal investigative unit, their sexual and gender-based violence unit, and the inspector general function, which is like their Office of Professional Responsibility, to ensure that bad actors are identified and removed from the police force. We’ve had conversations with the police around their growth plans and their maritime operations with the Haitian Coast Guard, which is associated with the police. We also provide assistance to maintain and equip Coast Guard vessels within Haiti. In addition to the United States, other countries provide assistance to the Haitian National Police. Mexico, France, Brazil, and Canada, just to name a few, have provided training both within Haiti and outside of Haiti to the police. I can continue if you’d like.

RUBIO: That was pretty comprehensive. I appreciate your answer.