Finally, the machine is breaking down. For 10 years (and many more), the United States has been directing and controlling a destructive and corrupt political steamroller in Haiti that the embassy in Port-au-Prince has dared to call electoral democracy.
For years, sad little people like me have been pointing out that “electoral democracy” is the Americans’ dishonest, or perhaps ironic, term for choosing their own Haitian presidents according to strange criteria that are hard to understand but certainly have nothing to do with the well-being of the Haitian people or the security and stability of the country.
But all this talk and writing over the years by the sad little people didn’t amount to much more than a whisper until President Joe Biden made the mistake—or perhaps the brilliant move—of sending Daniel Foote, an honest man and a storied State Department diplomat, as special envoy to Haiti two weeks after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse on July 7. Within State, Foote’s is a résumé without reproach.
On Wednesday, Foote resigned from his Haitian posting—only a little more than two months after he was appointed. His bluntly honest resignation letter is like a spanner thrown into the corruption machine that has been Haitian politics since Bill Clinton, a special envoy under Obama, and Hillary Clinton, Obama’s secretary of state, together anointed Michel Martelly president in 2011, after a chaotic and tarnished election that took place in the rubble of the 2010 earthquake. In spite of Foote’s long career at State, don’t be surprised to see the department begin an immediate takedown of his character and alleged policy ideas. Foote has challenged the traditional line of the embassy in Port-au-Prince, and State is already responding with a series of unconscionable lies and distortions.
Meanwhile, Haitians themselves have gone over Foote’s page-and-a-quarter letter enough times to qualify it for Talmudic standing. The exegeses of its sentences and word choices have been rabbinical. No French critical theorist can have spent as much time or energy deconstructing a text as has the Haitian political class, holding the Foote letter under its historic and political magnifying glass, with a key to all mythologies at hand. An excited Haitian friend read it to me over the phone from a European capital yesterday afternoon, stopping every three or four words to decode Foote’s vocabulary.
Foote is no frightened minor whistleblower. He knows that what he says will go boom, and indeed, this friend said, “the letter is like a bomb.”
There is a sense of a kind of mental and emotional dancing in the streets in Haiti right now—even though you can’t actually dance in streets where gangs encouraged by the last two presidents are so violent that you can’t even walk through your neighborhood without risking rape, kidnapping, and worse. But there’s a feeling that, for all the recent disasters, the wall of corruption may be about to split asunder and could make way for a bit of stability, good governance, and perhaps even some real democracy for once. There’s a sense that two of the country’s most reviled diplomats, US Ambassador Michele Sison and United Nations Special Representative for Haiti Helen La Lime, who have both supported the success of the party founded by Martelly—whose members have reportedly been responsible for several astounding thefts from Haitian public funds, among other governmental lapses and general negligence—could be on their way out.
It can’t have been easy for Foote to walk into today’s Haitian mess, although he was briefly posted to Haiti as deputy chief of mission years ago. Sison has been running the show for about three years, and now here was a special envoy on her turf with new ideas. It looked like a reproach, and that is what it has turned out to be.
“Our policy approach to Haiti remains deeply flawed,” Foote wrote in his letter, “and my recommendations have been ignored and dismissed, when not edited to project a narrative different from my own.” This whole sentence, as parsed for me gleefully by many Haitians, is directed at Ambassador Sison and the embassy itself, which has long been a scourge to democracy-minded Haitians. “Why no coups in Washington?” goes the long-standing joke in Haiti. The answer? “Because there’s no U.S. Embassy there.”
Foote gives as the ostensible reason for his resignation the United States’ “inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees and illegal immigrants to Haiti, a country where American officials are confined to secure compounds because of the danger posed by armed gangs in control of daily life.” He knows about those gated compounds in Port-au-Prince because that’s where he was confined. In order to talk to the highly organized and politically astute Commission for a Haitian Solution to the Crisis, which may well end up being the Haitian solution to the crisis, Foote had to meet quietly and unofficially with people he already knew among its leaders. The embassy has reportedly so far refused to speak with commission officials, having chosen instead to support a group hastily cobbled together under the aegis of de facto Prime Minister Ariel Henry, a former minister in Martelly’s cabinet.
Foote’s letter is a real vindication for those of us who have for so long been appalled by US policies in Haiti. To have a respected US official speak out as he has done is valuable beyond measure. There have been very few instances of free and fair presidential elections in Haiti since the fall of Duvalier, but there have been plenty of presidents. I’ll just let Foote conclude:
Last week, the U.S. and other embassies in Port-au-Prince issued another public statement of support for the unelected, de facto Prime Minister Dr. Ariel Henry as interim leader of Haiti, and have continued to tout his “political agreement” over another broader, earlier accord shepherded by civil society [the Commission, referred to above]. The hubris that makes us believe we should pick the winner—again—is impressive. This cycle of international political interventions in Haiti has produced catastrophic results. More negative impacts to Haiti will have calamitous consequences not only in Haiti, but in the U.S. and our neighbors in the hemisphere.
Former ambassador to Haiti Pam White, who has been vocal in her criticisms of the past few years’ policies in Haiti, called Foote courageous. “Every single one of the reasons he gave [for resigning],” she said, “I’ve been talking about for months.”
Already, Black groups in the United States have taken note of what’s going on in Haiti—finally. Whoopi Goldberg on The View, along with her cohort there, brilliantly took down the racist US roundup of the refugees and migrants at the border, and Haitians are now talking with Black Lives Matter in an effort to build coalitions. Because for the United States, while some Black lives matter, others clearly don’t.