US special envoy to Haiti resigns over Del Rio scandal and blasts White House as ‘inhumane’

‘The hubris that makes us believe we should pick the winner – again – is impressive,’ Daniel Foote writes as he slams international interference in Haitian politics

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Thursday 23 September 2021 17:28 BST
Related video: Thousands Of Haitians Fleeing To The US To Survive
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The US special envoy to Haiti, Daniel Foote, has resigned after less than two months in the job, arguing that he can’t stay amid the Biden administration’s “inhumane” deportation policies.

“I will not be associated with 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,” Mr Foote said in his resignation letter on Wednesday.

Haitians have been fleeing political turmoil following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse on 7 July and natural disasters such as the earthquake on 14 August that caused widespread devastation.

“He sought a broader mandate and oversight responsibilities, which we did not think was appropriate or prudent at the time. He shortly thereafter submitted his resignation,” a senior State Department official said according to The Miami Herald.

Mr Foote was appointed to the job in July after Mr Moïse’s assassination. He served as the ambassador to Zambia under President Donald Trump from 2017 to 2020.

Haitians are also fighting the issues of armed gangs and a low Covid-19 vaccination rate. On 21 September, only 0.2 per cent of the population had been fully vaccinated, compared to 32.4 per cent globally and 55.6 per cent in the US.

Mr Foote said in his resignation letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken that he was leaving his job “with deep disappointment and apologies to those seeking crucial changes”.

“Our policy approach to Haiti remains deeply flawed, and my recommendations have been ignored and dismissed, when not edited to project a narrative different from my own,” he added in the scathing letter.

In a statement to The Independent, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that “all proposals ... were fully considered in a rigorous and transparent policy process” but that some of the suggested measures “were determined to be harmful to our commitment to the promotion of democracy in Haiti and were rejected during the policy process. For [Mr Foote] to say his proposals were ignored is simply false”.

“No ideas are ignored, but not all ideas are good ideas,” Mr Price added. “It is unfortunate that, instead of participating in a solutions-oriented policy process, Special Envoy Foote has both resigned and mischaracterized the circumstances of his resignation. He failed to take advantage of ample opportunity to raise concerns about migration during his tenure and chose to resign instead.”

Mr Foote said the Haitian people are “mired in poverty” and are “hostage to the terror, kidnappings, robberies and massacres of armed gangs” and that they’re “suffering under a corrupt government” that has alliances with those gangs.

Arguing against the deportation of Haitian migrants who have made it to the southern US border, Mr Foote said Haiti “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. Surging migration to our borders will only grow as we add to Haiti’s unacceptable misery,” he wrote.

Daniel Foote testifies during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on 26 May 2016
Daniel Foote testifies during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on 26 May 2016 (Getty Images)

He added that Haiti needs “immediate assistance” and “money to deliver Covid vaccines and so many other things”.

Blasting international political interference in the country, Mr Foote said that what Haitians “really want” is to choose their own path “without international puppeteering and favoured candidates”.

“Last week, the US 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,” Mr Foote added. “The hubris that makes us believe we should pick the winner – again – is impressive. This cycle of international political interventions in Haiti has consistently produced catastrophic results. More negative impacts to Haiti will have calamitous consequences, not only in Haiti, but in the US and our neighbours in the hemisphere,” he concluded.

Since 19 September, 12 flights have taken off carrying Haitians back to the country from the US, with 1,401 individuals having been returned so far. A further 3,206 Haitians have been moved from a camp in Del Rio, Texas to the custody of US Customs and Border Patrol or to other areas of the border to be expelled from the country or to take part in removal proceedings.

A spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security said that there are fewer than 5,000 migrants in the Del Rio sector, according to The Herald.

The Biden administration has been criticised for its handling of the situation after border agents were filmed whipping people as they tried to enter the US.

US officials to probe whip-like cords used against migrants

A large camp formed under the international bridge in Del Rio, with most of the migrants in the camp having previously lived in countries such as Brazil, Chile, and elsewhere in South and Central America. Many Haitians went there after the 2010 earthquake that destroyed the country, after which the US pledged support for Haiti’s recovery.

But circumstances in Haiti haven’t improved since that time. Mr Foote told a Florida International University panel in August that he had accepted the special envoy job on the condition that the US doesn’t repeat its mistakes in relation to Haiti.

Mr Foote has experienced difficulties in his relationship with the US embassy in the capital of Port-au-Prince, with some Haitians having been critical of Ambassador Michele Sison.

After entering the job, Mr Foote communicated with political and civil leaders, urging them to agree on a premise for a transition government. The talks prompted the Biden administration to walk back its previous guidance that Haiti should conduct elections in the near future, noting that current circumstances in the country may not be optimal for an election to be held.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday during a press briefing that “the Department of Homeland Security continues to expel migrants under the CDC’s Title 42 authority. Those who cannot be expelled, and this has been the case and been our policy and process for migrants coming from any country around the world, under Title 42, and who do not have a legal basis to remain, are placed in ... a form of removal proceedings. And individuals who are not immediately removed are either placed in an alternative to detention or transported to an [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] facility”.

Title 42 allows the US to stop individuals who may pose a health risk from entering the country and has been used to remove migrants during the Covid-19 pandemic.

House Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said on Thursday that the migrants’ “journey is the direct result of the Biden-Harris agenda that wants to grant them amnesty and a lifetime of government benefits”.

“Where is the border czar, Vice President Kamala Harris?” he asked and added that the situation has “only continued to deteriorate”.

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