An American Diplomat’s Stinging Rebuke of America’s Haiti Policy

Why Daniel Foote’s resignation as U.S. special envoy is such a big deal.

Daniel Foote, who resigned on September 22 as the U.S. special envoy to Haiti, has suddenly become an overnight hero there, as his stepping down was accompanied by a blistering critique of American policy toward the country. Mainstream press accounts so far are focusing on his sharp criticism of the U.S. decision to deport thousands of Haitian migrants at the Mexican border, which he called “inhumane” and “counterproductive.”

But Foote’s indictment, in a five-paragraph letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, goes far beyond his criticism of the deportations. In bold, undiplomatic language, he accuses U.S. policy makers of interfering in Haiti’s political life and contributing to an ongoing humanitarian disaster. He uses stinging expressions like “puppeteering”; he points out that just last week, “the U.S. and other [Western] 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 he blames the State Department for touting Henry instead of listening to “another broader, earlier accord [for political transition] shepherded by civil society.” Foote also says he tried to raise objections to American policy, but that his recommendations were “ignored and dismissed.”

Foote’s critique of U.S. manipulation is precisely what thousands of Haitian pro-democracy marchers emblazoned on their placards earlier this year, before rising gang violence made mass demonstrations too dangerous. He concludes that years of U.S. political meddling in Haiti have “consistently produced catastrophic results.”

In his missive, he goes on to all but name current and former American diplomats who have been in charge of the Haiti portfolio. Over the past decade, Haitians have consistently accused the U.S. of installing and propping up undemocratic governments. Finally, here is an actual U.S. diplomat who says they were right.

Monique Clesca is a prominent pro-democracy civic leader, and a member of the Commission for a Haitian Solution to the Crisis, the broad-based civil society group that Foote endorsed. She welcomed his statement with enthusiasm and urged the State Department to recall U.S. Ambassador Michele Sison immediately. (Clesca and other Haitians also want the United Nations to remove its special representative, the American Helen La Lime, whom they also blame for propping up the current undemocratic regime.)

The resignation letter stung the State Department enough for it to issue an immediate response. Spokesperson Ned Price said that Foote’s claim that “his proposals were ignored is simply false.” Price also whined that Foote had “failed to take advantage of ample opportunity to raise concerns about migration [at the Mexican border] during his tenure and chose to resign instead.”

Of course, we can’t know exactly what happened behind the closed doors of American government and diplomacy. We can only hear competing accounts. But the State Department seems intent on making Foote’s resignation about Foote, rather than about the points he raises about America’s Haiti policies.

For instance, Foote explains in his letter why the U.S. deportations are inhumane:

The people of Haiti, mired in poverty, hostage to the terror, kidnappings, robberies and massacres of armed gangs and suffering under a corrupt government with gang alliances, simply cannot support the forced infusion of thousands of returned migrants lacking food, shelter, and money without additional, avoidable human tragedy. The collapsed state is unable to provide security or basic services, and more refugees will fuel further desperation and crime.

The State Department should be more focused on addressing these concerns. What’s more, Foote adds, the deportations will fail in their purported aim—to end the flow of migrants toward the United States: “Surging migration to our borders will only grow as we add to Haiti’s unacceptable misery.”

Foote’s fiery resignation ends a 23-year foreign service career, which included a posting as ambassador to Zambia. He left his Haiti assignment after only two months.

Meanwhile, the deportation flights from the U.S.-Mexican border to Haiti have already returned 1,400 people, and the number of daily flights is due to increase. Price’s defensive statement responding to Foote tried clumsily to provide some reassurance: “Haitians who are deported are given a meal, a hygiene kit and $100 when they land at the international airport in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital.” Ultimately, though, the message is clear: Not much, if anything, will change.

In contrast to this tin-eared State Department insensitivity, Daniel Foote’s letter rises to eloquence: “What our Haitian friends really want, and need, is the opportunity to chart their own course, without international puppeteering and favored candidates but with genuine support for that course. I do not believe that Haiti can enjoy stability until her citizens have the dignity of truly choosing their own leaders fairly and acceptably.”

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James North

James North has reported from Latin America, Africa and Asia for 46 years. He lives in New York City.