Ex-special envoy: Biden’s approach to Haiti a ‘recipe for disaster’

A former special envoy in the Biden administration is warning that the president’s approach to Haiti could further destabilize the already fragile Caribbean nation.

Under Biden, the U.S. has expelled more than 14,000 Haitians since September while avoiding any major policy announcements regarding the country.

While top State Department and White House officials have visited the country to shore up political stability, the policy of expulsions led to the resignation of Special Envoy for Haiti Daniel Foote in September.

“Desperate people without anything being reintroduced into a city with tens of thousands of displaced people already from the gangs — recipe for disaster,” Foote told The Hill Monday, referring to Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince.

In the past year, Haiti has gone through a devastating earthquake, a constitutional crisis, the assassination of a sitting president, an attempt on the acting prime minister’s life and the forced return of scores of Haitians from the U.S.

In September, around 15,000 Haitians amassed under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas, after crossing the Rio Grande.

The political scandal that ensued prompted the Biden administration to slap a “Title 42” designation on Haitians at the border, allowing the feds to quickly expel Haitians under the guise of sanitary protections related to the pandemic.

Those expulsions have continued in the form of near-daily flights to Haiti — 131 since the Del Rio incident, according to statistics distributed by the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti.

Foote, whose assignment was to advise the State Department on peace and stability in Haiti, found out about the repatriations while watching the news. He announced his resignation shortly thereafter, frustrated both by the destabilizing effect of the repatriations and by his inability to sway the Biden administration’s policies on Haiti’s evolving political landscape.

In July, Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated amid a constitutional crisis partly of his own creation, shortly after appointing Ariel Henry as the incoming prime minister.

After a short interlude under then-acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph, Henry became the new acting leader with the support of the so-called core group, a group of foreign diplomats including the U.S. ambassador.

U.S. support for Henry irked many Haiti observers, including Foote, who saw in the move reflections of past instances of failed American diplomacy in the country.

“It became clear to me that the United States was just going to back Ariel Henry unless he died or something. That they were just behind him and they had put all their chips behind him,” Foote said.

“And so I was like, you know what, I am not going to change this from the inside. Nobody’s listening. The only way — and probably even this won’t change it — but I can keep the dream alive. The only way I can keep alive is if I just go nuclear. You know, make the world see what’s going on,” he added.

Foote in October testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, telling legislators that Haitian civil society groups are ready to rebuild Haiti’s political institutions, but that Haitians are unlikely to accept a path forward that includes Henry.

Given Haiti’s constitutional vacuum, the country’s political future depends on broad accords between civil society and political actors to create a path forward to rebuild basic political institutions.

Foote and many other Haiti observers view what’s known as the Montana Accord as a viable path forward, although not without obstacles.

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Rafael Bernal