Former U.S. Envoy Argues Haiti Needs Haitian-Led Solutions, Not Washington-Imposed Ones
Oct. 9, 2021 (EIRNS)—Former State Department Special Envoy for Haiti Daniel Foote, who resigned on Sept. 22 in opposition to the Biden Administration’s mass deportation of Haitian migrants from Del Rio, Texas, gave an interview on Oct. 7 to members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, chaired by Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY). Foote made no opening statement but answered questions posed to him by committee members. His several incisive remarks about the State Department’s failed approach to Haiti, included the fact that he, as Special Envoy, was never even informed of the administration’s decision to begin mass deportations of Haitian migrants from Del Rio, Texas. “I was astounded,” he said. “I thought I was the Special Envoy, so maybe when we’re making policy decisions, someone would come to me and say ‘Is this good? Is this bad?’ But it didn’t happen.” He learned about the deportations from news reports, and said that the inhumane way in which the Haitians were deported, some shackled or tied up, was “against international law.” Foote said he wasn’t opposed to deportation when justified, but people need to be properly processed. Sending Haitians back into a horrendous security situation, with no means to survive, has the makings of a “human tragedy,” he warned.
It was clear from his remarks that Foote had locked horns with the State Department bureaucracy, with which he had major policy differences, and realized soon into his stint as Special Envoy that “there was a disagreement on policy and on the role of the U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince” that was inevitably headed for a “collision.” It was a mistake, he said, for the State Department and the so-called Core Group of Western ambassadors and the UN to publicly back Prime Minister Ariel Henry immediately after the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and ignore the large coalition of civil society groups demanding a “Haitian-led” solution to the nation’s problems. He was insistent that Henry, who is suspected of involvement in Moïse’s assassination, not remain as the head of government. Pointing out that Henry could not survive “for a minute” without U.S. backing, he warned that “It’s critical that civil society has a voice in this new government ... so I hope that our administration will stop imposing Ariel Henry on the Haitian people.”
A career foreign service officer who served as Assistant Secretary of State at the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs and was posted to Afghanistan and Colombia as a specialist in counter-narcotics, Foote offered specific recommendations on how to begin to address Haiti’s dangerous security situation which he said “is everyday life in Port-au-Prince.” So, he continued, it’s illusory to think that elections could be held sometime soon, as the U.S. and other Western governments are demanding. “The gangs run Port-au-Prince. It is in their control, it is in their hands; they are better equipped and better armed than the police. They control the main highways and transit routes not only across Port-au-Prince but across the country and they are now moving out of the slum areas,” he said.
As a first step, he proposed setting up an elite anti-gang task force of the Haitian National Police “with several components including commandos, communicators, intelligence.” Task force members will have to be trained, vetted, polygraphed, outfitted and provided with lethal aid; and the command of the National Police will have to be similarly upgraded. In fact, he went on, the “State Department’s narcotics and law enforcement wing is already moving ahead with the security part of the training.” He pointed to the New York Police Department’s 2010 program under Police Commissioner Ray Kelly that trained the Haitian Police and helped turn it into a viable force of 14,000 by 2012, when Foote left Haiti after being posted there. But in subsequent years, he said, the police force became politicized, and “political appointees” named under Moïse “have developed ties with the gangs.”
Foote made the astute observation that Haiti’s lack of “economic viability”—development—is what makes gangs attractive for “disenfranchised, military-aged males,” who otherwise “have nothing to do. In fact, it’s not like you even have a choice; it’s either you join a gang or you don’t have an income in many cases.” But, he pointed out, “the gangs are not trained insurgents, so when you have real security officials going in there, [the gangs] will melt away much easier than the Taliban or the FARC in Colombia, because a lot of them are kids ... and they’re not trained.” He was not specifically asked about, nor did he make a comment on the role of the drug trade in Haiti although it is his area of expertise.