If the U.S. moves forward with a U.N.-proposed plan to send armed forces into Haiti, the Biden administration’s former envoy to Haiti warned, the result will be a predictable catastrophe.
Ambassador Dan Foote resigned last fall in protest of U.S. deportation policy, which continues to return planeloads of Haitian migrants to dangerous conditions without giving them a serious opportunity to apply for asylum. In his resignation letter, he also condemned the U.S. for its support of the extralegal, de facto Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who has been credibly linked to the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021, and has fired multiple prosecutors probing the crime.
In recent weeks, Haiti has erupted in protests against deteriorating economic conditions. In September, Henry cut fuel subsidies, sending costs flying and people into the streets. Gangs responded by blockading a key fuel terminal, and in early October, Henry called for international intervention. An outbreak of cholera, originally brought to the island by a U.N. “peacekeeping” operation in the 2000s, is worsening as the fuel shortage limits clean water supplies.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres responded to Henry’s call for intervention by encouraging an international armed force to deploy to Haiti. On Monday, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. representative to the United Nations, told the Security Council that the U.S. and Mexico would be proposing a resolution for a “carefully scoped non-U.N. mission led by a partner country with the deep and necessary experience required for such an effort to be effective.”
“Trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is insanity.”
Foote said Biden’s increasingly interventionist posture toward Haiti, which was evident even last year, was behind his decision to resign. “The deportations were the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Foote said. “But the major reason I resigned is because I saw U.S policy moving in exactly this direction, toward intervention, which is, as Einstein said — and I’ll paraphrase — trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is insanity. And in Haiti, each time the international community has intervened without Haitian and popular support, the situation is stabilized temporarily, and then it becomes much worse over time.”
An armed intervention would likely produce a short period of calm, he said, but would fall apart sooner or later. “It’s almost unfathomable that all Haitians are calling for a different solution, yet the U.S and the U.N and international [institutions] are blindly stumbling through with Ariel Henry,” he said.
Foote said that the Biden administration continues to support Henry in power because he has been amenable to accepting the deportations of migrants. “It’s gotta be because he has promised to be compliant,” he said, “but we’re going to have a civil uprising in Haiti similar to 1915, when we sent the Marines in for the first time and administered Haiti for almost 20 years. In 1915, Haiti was in a similar position, and they went up to the French Embassy at the time, or the legation, and they dragged the president — President [Jean Vilbrun Guillaume] Sam — out, and they tore him limb from limb on the streets. And I fear that you’re gonna see something similar with Ariel Henry or with a foreign force that’s sent in there to propagate his government and keep him in power.”
But the policy is circular and self-defeating, Foote argued. In exchange for the short-term political gain of alleviating the Haitian migration crisis at the U.S. border — a crisis driven by instability and deepening poverty — the deportations are only increasing instability, thereby exacerbating the migration crisis. Mexico, but also Brazil and other South and Central American nations, have seen the number of refugees from Haiti soar amid surging prices and a deteriorating security situation.
“It’s self-perpetuating,” he said. “We’re looking at the immigration consequences daily. Haitians want to leave Haiti. If we were there, we’d do the same thing. It is unlivable there. So you’re going to see continued increased immigration demand, including in unsafe boats and crossing very dangerous places like the Darién [Gap] in Panama, etc.”
“If Ariel Henry is involved in any government that holds elections, you might as well not even hold them because the people won’t accept them.”
At the root of the bias toward intervention is blatant racism, Foote said. “If they support U.N intervention, and we move forward with that, I’m heartbroken, frankly, because it’s not going to work,” he said. “It can restore stability temporarily, but it will not be sustainable. There’s no state in Haiti on which the people can hang their hat, and if the current illegitimate government holds elections, they won’t be acceptable by the Haitian people. If Ariel Henry is involved in any government that holds elections, you might as well not even hold them because the people won’t accept them, and we’ll continue to be in a place where they are governed by foreigners, basically. It goes back to our policy — unspoken U.S policy that’s been going on for 200-plus years, and I’ve heard this in hushed tones in the back quarters of the State Department: ‘What drives our Haiti policy is this unspoken belief that these dumb Black people can’t govern themselves.’”
Haitian civil society should have the opportunity to come up with their own solution, he said. “Let’s give the Haitians a chance to mess their own country up for once. I’ve seen us do it a number of times,” said Foote, adding that he was involved in the disastrous post-earthquake reconstruction effort. “I know how not to fix Haiti. We’ve done it numerous times. Give them a chance to fix themselves. What’s the worst they can do?”
“They can’t do any worse than the United States and the international community has done, and I guarantee you they’re going to do better because they know their country, and they’re gonna be bought into their own solutions — as opposed to being told what to do by white foreigners.”