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“Anarchy & Chaos”: U.S. Special Envoy for Haiti Who Resigned Protesting U.S. Meddling & Deportations

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Haiti is being gripped by escalating violence and turmoil as armed groups battle for control in the streets. Last week, unelected Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry announced he would resign, after a coalition of armed groups opposing the de facto leader declared an uprising. Negotiations to establish a transitional presidential council are being led by the U.S.-backed Caribbean political alliance CARICOM as a refugee crisis brews, with the Biden administration floating the idea of housing Haitian asylum seekers in Guantánamo Bay. We speak to Dan Foote, who resigned from his post as U.S. special envoy for Haiti in September 2021 over the Biden administration’s “inhumane” treatment of Haitian asylum seekers and U.S. interference in Haitian politics. “We’re holding Haiti hostage through this CARICOM political process,” says Foote, who says Haitian sovereignty must be respected in order to break the cycle of intervention, unrest and violence. “Everybody has an answer for Haiti. Unfortunately, historically, none of those answers have worked.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

In Haiti, at least 12 people have been killed as armed groups attacked Pétion-Ville, an upscale area in the capital Port-au-Prince Monday. Amid the worsening violence and turmoil, Haiti’s power company announced four substations have been destroyed, leaving swaths of the capital without electricity.

Last week, unelected Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry announced he’ll resign, after a coalition of armed groups opposing the de facto leader declared an uprising. Haitian stakeholders and leaders of CARICOM, the Caribbean Community, are still in negotiations to establish a transitional presidential council in Haiti.

This comes as a U.S. government-chartered flight carrying over 30 U.S. citizens, Haitian Americans, landed Sunday in Miami. Meanwhile, a boat carrying 25 migrants from Haiti was intercepted by Florida officials and turned over to the Coast Guard for deportation. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has deployed soldiers from the National Guard to block Haitians from reaching Florida. The Biden administration is also reportedly considering housing any influx of Haitians to Guantánamo Bay.

For more, we’re joined by Ambassador Dan Foote. He is the former U.S. special envoy for Haiti, resigned from his post in September 2021 citing the Biden administration’s “inhumane” treatment of Haitian asylum seekers and U.S. meddling in Haitian politics, joining us now from Buffalo, New York.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Ambassador Foote.

DAN FOOTE: Good morning, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what’s happening right now in Haiti?

DAN FOOTE: Yeah, it’s complete anarchy and chaos. Haiti has been broken since the assassination of the president 32 months ago. But by anointing Ariel Henry, the United States and the international community put a hated party back in power in Haiti, the party that the Haitians consider responsible for where they are right now. And as a result, 32 months has gone by. Haiti has eroded by a magnitude of five or 10 times in that period. And it’s just chaos on the street. And currently we’re holding Haiti hostage through this CARICOM political process. We wasted going on three weeks now since this current crisis started. I think that’s a signal that the Haitian people probably don’t want the CARICOM solution.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to a clip of former U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Pamela White speaking to Fox News over the weekend.

PAMELA WHITE: I talked to Guy Philippe yesterday. And I know that he’s sort of put as being one of the bad boys, but, in my opinion, he’s someone that can help with the situation. I believe we should be dealing with him. We dealt with the Duvaliers for 20-plus years. We can certainly deal with Guy Philippe. He’s charismatic. He’s bright. He’s articulate. And he has many, many people that are following him, and I think he can be part of the solution. I think that even Barbecue, Jimmy C., can be part of the solution. I don’t think that a thousand Kenyan troops, for the tune of $237 million, are going to turn the situation around in Haiti.

And my last really important point is this new seven-person council, transition council — I don’t know transition to what, because they’re in a total failed state in Haiti. But in any case, if one of the people that are appointed on that seven-person council are the elite, the names that we have heard, the political elite, the private sector elite, even one, the people that have mansions in the hills of Port-au-Prince, Pétion-Ville and above, the people who have mansions in Florida and send their kids to Ivy League schools, those people, if there’s even one, it’s going to fail.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s former U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Pamela White, from 2012 to 2015, speaking to Fox News. This is quite amazing that she’s talking about Guy Philippe, Guy Philippe who was one of the leaders of the coup that overthrew the democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, supported by the George W. Bush — supported by the Bush administration. And then you had the fact that he served years in jail, in a U.S. jail, for drug trafficking, just released in November. It reminds us of JOH, of Juan Orlando Hernández, who was just convicted of drug trafficking, the former U.S.-supported president of Honduras. And she is saying he should be considered — he did come out of prison and say he wants to be the president of Haiti. Is this possible that the U.S. is pushing for him to be a part of the solution?

DAN FOOTE: There’s certainly some ironic timing going on. I don’t think the U.S. is that foolish, but they’ve made a lot of poor judgment errors in Haiti in the past three years, so anything is possible. They just released Guy Philippe a matter of months ago after he completed a seven-year stint in federal prison for money laundering. They couldn’t get him on drug trafficking, or he would have done 30 years. And they sent him back there.

Now, Guy Philippe has a little bit of a constituency in Haiti. He is not an unknown. But the Haitians are not looking to be governed by criminals. And the Haitian people have to make these decisions. This is a great example of Americans, foreigners, non-Black Haitians — everybody has an answer for Haiti. Unfortunately, historically, none of those answers have worked. And throwing gangbangers into the middle of this is not going to work. There’s a voice, to a certain extent, that the gangs have gained in the past 30 months. And they’re going to have to cooperate in a Haitian dialogue. And I think they will. But the Haitian people have no room for criminals in their leadership in the future. They’ve had criminal leaders with impunity because of their backing from the international community for the past many years, generations.

AMY GOODMAN: Ambassador Foote, what about people who are fleeing Haiti? Explain why you quit in 2021.

DAN FOOTE: Two reasons. The main reason was the anointment and support of Ariel Henry. It was clear to me that was not going to work. And at the time the U.S. was propping him up, there was a parallel discussion going on in Haiti, civil society and opposition political parties looking to come together with a consensus political agreement. And that was, in my opinion — and still is — the way forward for Haiti.

Then you had the terrible situation in Del Rio, Texas, where you had CBP guys whipping Haitian refugees up there. And that was the straw that broke the camel’s back for my resignation.

AMY GOODMAN: You talked about the “inhumane” treatment of the Biden administration in returning, deporting Haitians into a very dangerous situation.

DAN FOOTE: I did. Let’s look at this. We, for years, have told all Americans, “Don’t travel to Haiti. It’s too dangerous. If the balloon goes up, we might not be able to help you.” And we’re seeing right now that that’s going on. You have over a thousand Americans trying to get out of Haiti right now, and the U.S. government is not assisting them at all.

Everyone in Haiti is going to look to leave that island, as you and I would right now if we were there. It’s not livable. And famine and violence and a complete breakdown of society is something that any cogent human being would try to flee. The idea that we can just use Guantánamo as a staging area is kind of crazy. We’ve done it before. Haiti is a failed state. It can’t support the people that live there right now. We have taken all of our people and gotten them out. What kind of humanity exists when we’re then picking up desperate Haitians and forcing them back into this catastrophe?

AMY GOODMAN: The idea of Haiti, the history of the U.S. being repeated in Haiti. The U.S. put Haitians with HIV at Guantánamo until the outcry was so great and lawsuits they were dealing with was too much, and that ended. But the idea of putting them back into this prison camp? If you can talk about what it means that this is an election year for President Biden? And Haitians fleeing the violence of Haiti, going to Florida, is also a repeat of history: U.S. involvement leading to Haitian refugees, they land in Florida, and Democrats are afraid of Florida flipping. What do you think should happen? You have the senator of Massachusetts, the congressmember from Massachusetts, as well, Ayanna Pressley, demanding that Haitians not be deported, as late as last week, and yet we see returns, for example, forcing the return of Haitian migrants at sea.

DAN FOOTE: So, first of all, let me touch on this. Haitians right now are kind of beside themselves. They’re like, “The U.S. kind of used to be our friend and our partner. Why are they doing this to us?” And the fact that we are trying to impose another flawed government on the Haitian people and ask them all to stay there and not going anywhere is unfathomable to these poor people. They’ve asked me, “What’s next? Are you going to build a cage around Haiti?”

So, let’s turn to immigration. The Biden administration, in '21, after the assassination, treated Haiti not as hemispheric and global leaders, but as somebody just trying to sweep something under the rug for domestic politics and hoping that it wouldn't blow up. And now their worst nightmare has occurred here a few months before the elections. And as Haitians and I have been predicting the whole time, it has now completely come unspooled. And the Biden administration is flailing.

The idea that you can scoop up every Haitian that’s fleeing Haiti on these unseaworthy boats is a dangerous concept. I’m concerned for our own Coast Guard folks. Boarding and seizing and taking migrants into custody is a very dangerous thing, particularly in the seas between Haiti and Florida, which are quite rough. And you’re going to — you’re taking a lot of risk on our own security officials in doing this.

But at the end of the day, what are we accomplishing in doing this, other than telling Haitians not to come here? Our economy was on the verge of a terrible recession a year ago. That never occurred, and nobody has ever asked why. If you look and ask economists, it’s because the huge migrant influx has prevented that, because we need that labor. And the fact that we can just keep out desperate people from Haiti is a concept, but not a reality. You can close the border, as the Biden administration has talked about doing, but I live right across from the border with Canada, and there’s no way that we can stop people from coming across our enormous borders if we try.

AMY GOODMAN: Ambassador Dan Foote, I want to thank you for being with us, former U.S. special envoy for Haiti, resigned his post —

DAN FOOTE: My pleasure.

AMY GOODMAN: — in 2021 over what he called the Biden administration’s “inhumane” treatment of Haitian asylum seekers.

Next up, as Donald Trump once again escalates attacks on migrants, talking about them as “animals,” we’ll see a film that, to say the least, changes the narrative. It is called unseen, profiling a blind, undocumented social work student named Pedro. Back in 20 seconds.


AMY GOODMAN: “Round and Around,” a new song by Julie Yeeun Kim, featured in unseen, a new film that we’ll talk about next.

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