Arthur C. Helton Memorial Lecture: Haiti on the Brink

Friday, February 18, 2022
Getty Images/David Sacks

Caribbean Correspondent, Miami Herald

Former U.S. Special Envoy to Haiti (2021); Former U.S. Ambassador to Zambia (2017–2020)

Adjunct Professor, School of International Service, American University; Distinguished Fellow, Stimson Center; Former Senior Advisor to the U.N. Mission in Haiti; Member, Board of Advisors, EarthSpark International; CFR Member


Journalist; Board Member; The Haitian Roundtable; Former Contributing Columnist, Washington Post; CFR Member

Panelists discuss humanitarian conditions in Haiti after the assassination of its president, successive natural disasters, a constitutional crisis, and the increasing control of the country by gangs, as well as how the United States and international organizations can aid efforts to strengthen Haiti's stability.

The Arthur C. Helton Memorial Lecture was established by CFR and the family of Arthur C. Helton, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who died in the August 2003 bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad. The Lecture addresses pressing issues in the broad field of human rights and humanitarian concerns.

DREYFUSS: Thank you. Welcome to today’s Council on Foreign Relations annual Arthur C. Helton Memorial Lecture. Today’s lecture is on the humanitarian crisis in Haiti. I’m Joel Dreyfuss, a journalist and board member of Haitian Roundtable, and I will be presiding over today’s discussion. Arthur C. Helton was director of peace and conflict studies and a senior fellow for refugee studies and preventive action here at CFR. The lecture is dedicated to Arthur’s lifetime mission of serving the world’s humanitarian and refugee crises. I would like to welcome Jackie Gilbert, his wife, and all of Arthur’s friends here with us today. “Haiti on the Brink.” Sounds like a familiar headline. Haiti is one of those countries where we dread having Haiti in the headlines, because they’re usually bad. And it seems particularly that way for the last decade. Since the earthquake in 2010 we’ve had earthquakes, hurricanes, political turmoil, and more earthquakes, and more political turmoil—and of course, the seminal event that happened last summer when President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated. As rough and tumble as Haitian politics can be, the assassination of the president was the first time in a hundred years. We have something on the U.S., where this happened more recently with John Kennedy. But the question is, where is Haiti today and what can we do about it? What are the currents at work? So we have three great panelists. Jacqueline Charles, who’s the Caribbean correspondent for the Miami Herald, Daniel Foote, who’s the former U.S. special envoy to Haiti and former U.S. ambassador to Zambia, and Johanna Mendelson-Forman, adjunct professor of the School of International Service at American University, and a distinguished fellow with the Simpson Center. And she’s a former advisor to the U.N. mission in Haiti, and a member of board of advisors at EarthSpark International. She’s also a CFR member. Let’s start off with Jacquie Charles. She’s, in my opinion, by far the best reporter on Haiti today working in an American newspaper. She’s thorough, has access to all the parties, is balanced in her reporting, and knows to separate the wheat from the chaff. And she’s going to give us an update on what’s happened to Haiti since the assassination. Jacquie.

CHARLES: Thank you, Joel. And thank you, everyone, for joining us. Interesting enough, I just came out of a U.N. Security Council meeting. And my story hasn’t posted yet, so I’ll fill you in on that. But in the meantime, I mean, what we’re looking at is basically total paralysis. Perhaps this is the best word to describe Haiti at this particular juncture. There is no elected president or president. There is no functioning parliament. The judiciary is paralyzed. The country’s just in dire straits. Almost half of the population is looking at food insecurity just for this year alone. All of this, right, because we’ve seen a country that has just been in turmoil. And more recently did not hold elections on time. So today for the fourth time since ushering in democracy in 1986 with the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship after twenty-nine years, Haiti is once again in a transition. But unlike the previous three transitions—the last of which was in 2016—you can argue here that it’s probably far worse. We have seen an alarming rise in gang-related insecurity, kidnappings—where no one is immune whether it is a professor, a former government minister from years past who we believe continues to be held by gangs, to school children, to most recently for us in the United States, Christian missionaries, we’ve seen this. There have been two conferences so far, one by the U.S. and another by Canada, to talk about the security situation and how the international community should support it. But so far, we haven’t seen a concrete plan. Just this week there was an international donors conference, and it was some good news for Haiti, at least for the government that’s currently there, the interim government. They went in expecting little less than 500 million (dollars) and they received $600 million in pledges. But of course, whether that money even gets realized or comes to the country is dependent on a lot of things. Will donors hold their promises, their pledges? They didn’t do it in 2010. And of course, the security situation, because in order to get to the south, the southern peninsula—which was struck by an earthquake on the 14th—you have to go through gang territory. And basically today that is a no-go zone. Over 19,000 Haitians have been forcefully displaced from their homes since June of last year, with nowhere to go. So on a political front, we also have the current government led by Ariel Henry, who was tapped by President Jovenel Moïse about a month before he was assassinated. And in the other half you have, you know, opposition groups, the main one of which is the Montana Group, which is basically saying: Listen we need to do something different because how we’ve been doing this has not worked in the past. Their proposal is a two-year transition, a five-person presidential college, and a prime minister. But what we have seen is despite the calls for some sort of a compromise, some sort of consensus on the way forward, that both of them seem to be standing in their own corner.  And today I just came out of the U.N. Security Council meeting. And despite what the Biden administration and others are saying, you know, the elections will take place—or, should take place, if the conditions are right, U.N. Security Council members made their position very clear today. They are impatient with the current situation. They want to elections. They want it before the end of this year. And they heightened the calls for Haitians to set aside their differences and to break the political deadlock. That’s where we are currently. (Laughs.)

DREYFUSS: And what do you think of the—if elections were held, what would they mean?

CHARLES: You know, when you look at the situation in Haiti—why are we in this situation? I mean, it always goes back to elections, right? It always goes back to disagreement with the way those elections were carried out. When you look in 2010, for instance, where President René Préval was forced by the international community to hold elections, despite the fact that the Port-au-Prince was basically destroyed. He himself was saying, listen, let’s try something different. I’m not saying I don’t want to have elections, but we cannot—the conditions are not there. But this was forced upon them. And we saw what happened in those elections. And there continues—what you’re seeing today is the ongoing battle of the 2010 elections and what took place. So if you have elections for elections’ sake, I think the international community has to be prepared to say that they’re not going to get out of this cycle that they say that they want to break. And interesting enough, what I’m not hearing out of the international—with the exception, I will say, the European Union last year—you know, when they basically stood their ground on the election issue, and they did not agree with the United States. They basically said that there was a laundry list of things that needed to take place in order for you to have some sort of a decent—not even credible, fair—but decent elections in Haiti. And it seems like that laundry list has just gone under a mattress somewhere, because nobody is talking about it. I mean, there’s this electoral law—let’s just start with that. You know, before President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated, he was handed an electoral law. And this law, from people who have seen it, still does not ban individuals with, you know, criminal records for problematic histories from running for office. And that was one of the things that we saw in the last elections, where the law that basically said that even if you’ve never been convicted of a crime, but if there’s a warrant out there for your arrest, if there’s some criminal allegations, you should not run for off—you cannot run for office. Well, that was tossed aside. And so you often hear people talk about legal bandits, you know, in the parliament. So again, if you want to have elections in this environment, where people are afraid to go out, send their kids to school, just run basic errands out of fear of being kidnapped, it begs the question what kind of elections will you end up with.

DREYFUSS: Thank you. Ambassador Foote, I’d like you to step in. You were appointed special envoy to Haiti by President Biden, but you resigned in disagreement with the policies that were being promoted. Could you talk to us about why you quit and what your see the larger motives of the United States toward Haiti?

FOOTE: Sure, I’d be happy to. You can hear me, right?


FOOTE: OK. Well, first, thanks to everyone for welcoming me here, and the other panelists, obviously. First, my premise—well, I have two premises I’m going to share. The first one is that without a real consensus sociopolitical agreement, compact, accord in Haiti, improving any of the other crises facing the country is going to be enormously challenging, if not impossible, in my opinion. Absent a prompt resolution, like Jacquie, I see quagmire as opposed to paralysis—(laughs)—but agree with the paralysis thing. U.S. policy and international policy towards Haiti has been a disaster over the last 108 years, since the last assassination of President Sam in 1915 when we sent the Marines for nineteen years to administer Haiti. They took over all the institutions, the national bank, and left under allegations of human rights abuses, and worse. We backed, as the United States the Duvalier regime and the Tonton Macoute death squads. And then in ’94, we sent a military intervention in order to restore President Aristide to his democratically elected position. In 2004, the U.S. had to send another combat stabilization team to remove President Aristide. And then in 2010, we had to send another group of 23,000 troops in the wake of the earthquake to help stabilize things and move things in the right direction. In almost all of these cases, the result has been worse than it was before. And Jacquie mentioned the 2010 elections, which are still seen as having been international puppeteering. And as a result, the people never really accepted those results. And then similar thing happened with the 2016, I think they were, Jacquie, elections. And the current government is seen as an extension of President Martelly, President Moïse, and now Ariel Henry. That part—the majority of Haitians see the PHTK, the ruling party, as having run the country into the group though impunity and gang ties. So you have that. So Ariel Henry—when Jovenel Moïse was assassinated, the then-acting Prime Minister, Claude Joseph, stood up and said: OK, it’s a weird situation. The constitution is broken. There’s no constitutional successor. I’ll step in. He did. Everybody accepted that. It made sense. Eleven days later, the international embassies—U.S., U.N., and other Western donors—in Port-au-Prince issued a statement saying that they would now recognize Ariel Henry as the prime minister, with no explanation behind that. So, as a result, Ariel Henry is seen by the people as totally illegitimate and appointed by the international community. When I first went there in July, everyone begged me not to force elections on the country, including Ariel Henry, because it’s just not ready. And anybody who’s been there, like Jacquie, recently, it’s immediately evident that that’s not the way forward. Jacquie mentioned the civil society Montana Commission, which got together starting about a year ago and doubled down on their work after the assassination. And over the course of the past seven—well, twelve months, but certainly past seven months, they have reached what I now consider to be an adequate consensus of the people—representing the people of Haiti. Montana is—includes representatives from religious institutions, syndicates, unions, peasants’ groups, farmer, businesspeople, marketers in the markets, et cetera, et cetera. It’s quite wide. And it now also includes the vast majority of the opposition political parties in Haiti, as well as the last ten legitimately elected Haitian parliamentarians. The U.S. and the internationals have said they need to come to a compromise, when from the beginning they were looking for consensus. Ariel Henry, and I told him this in July, had the opportunity to convince the people of Haiti that he deserved to part of a transition. He hasn’t done so. And almost everyone, certainly in this consensus agreement and amongst my interlocutors, believed that the Montana Consensus is what should be used to move Haiti forward. And Ariel Henry has never—except for going through the motions—sat down and had any dialogue with the Montana Group. Which leads me to my premise number two, and Jacquie alluded to this, elections under Ariel Henry will not be accepted by the Haitian people for three reasons. One, his party, PHTK, broke Haiti. It is so much worse today than it was when I left in 2012, despite the $14 billion in foreign assistance. And so that’s problem one. Problem two, Ariel Henry was illegitimately appointed by the international community and the Haitian people have had enough. They’re embarrassed. They’re angry. Their president was killed. And I really don’t think that they’re going to—that they’re going to accept this. And then, number three, Ariel Henry’s phone records and other information ties him to the chief suspect as the intellectual author of the crime, Joseph Badio. And he has never answered questions to the people or to investigators and continues to obstruct. So as Jacquie mentioned, if we’re going to rush to elections, I posit that we’re going to come back to the same place we’re in right now, so why even bother, under the current Ariel Henry government. I’ll stop there.

DREYFUSS: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador. Let me turn to Professor Mendelson-Forman. You’ve worked in Haiti over the many years, and you’ve been involved in conflict resolution. What do you see as a possible scenario for coming out of this for Haiti?

MENDELSON-FORMAN: Well, thank you, Joel. And thank you to Dan and to Jacquie as well, especially for the late-breaking news out of the Security Council. (Laughter.) You know, if you do the same thing again that has failed in the past you’ll fail again. And I think there are a couple things that I see. I share the consensus of this group that elections are not good if they aren’t decent results. And you have to be able to accept the results in any democratic environment, which I think we know is probably going to be very problematic. But I also know that there are very important things that we’ve learned in the development community. And I say this as we’re all outsiders. I mean, I’m an outsider. Outsiders cannot impose roles and empower people by mere willing it. And obviously the institutions we work with, whether it’s the multilateral community in the U.N., or the U.S. government, or other bilateral donors, can only go so far. They can supply resources, but there has to be trust. And I think that’s been the biggest challenge. I was actually an observer in the 2010 election. And I actually recall—I was down in Carrefour. And the list of registrants, which were stuck up on a wall, most of the people didn’t show up. And people were asking other observers, well, why didn’t they show up? And I said, don’t you realize, many of these people died in the earthquake. They’re not there anymore. So there needs to be all this technical support. But, you know, donors feel less comfortable when they’re dealing with the technical supports. I’d like to say that there are a couple of things that you always need to rebuild any society. You need security. And everybody has alluded to the challenge that Haiti faces with the lack of a secure environment. You can’t go down to Martissant without getting kidnapped. There are some workarounds. People are using barges to transport fuel, to transport aid. But that’s not a long-run solution. You need justice. And we all know that the justice institutionally, system, is very broken. But community justice has existed in Haiti from the time it was a country, from the time it had a revolution in the 19th century. So communities are able to solve their problems if they’re given a chance. I’ve seen this, you know, in person. And I do think that that’s an important way to work. I also think you need the socioeconomic support, which the international community can provide. I mean, it’s a tragedy that Haiti is on the global hunger index—you know, the second—one below the highest, after Afghanistan, I think—of people who are starving. It’s now up to 46 percent of the population. It’s in phase three. Twenty-two percent of children in the country don’t get enough nourishment. There’s no means for people to get access to food. And finally, I mean, you need governance. And we know that the governance problem is broken. And Montana, you know, accord, which has community members, offers a possibility of laying a foundation for some kind of trust in a social contract that eventually can lead to elections. So from that perspective, I’m supportive. I also know that there’s some pockets of hope. I mean, Haiti is a climate disaster. And things have to be done right now in order to protect it. Joel, you mentioned all the hurricanes that continually undermine any kind of development project. Well, Haiti has to switch to renewable energy. And I think there are opportunities to do this by using, you know, microgrids that are solar to provide fuel. And people forget, safety comes with lighting. And that’s a lesson I learned very—you know, when I was going in 1993—when we were—as the U.S. government and the international community wanted to bring back Aristide and reinstall him. The first thing that the military guys said to me is: We’ve got to turn on the lights. Well, you can turn on the lights. And you can turn on the lights by using solar cells. And that’s happening even as we speak now in the south, in Grand’Anse, which was affected by the earthquake. So you asked me to talk a little bit about the future. There is a future. And the future that I see is going to be driven by people. It’s going to be human dignity. And I think that’s important, since this is the Arthur Helton lecture, and he was the person used that concept continually, that Haitians have a very strong sense of self and dignity. And we, as outsiders, can enable, but we can’t do a lot more. And I’ll also mention one last thing, because I know people want to get to questions. The Biden administration, for whatever you feel one way or the other, right or wrong, is overwhelmed by a global pandemic, a potential world war in Europe, and crises around the world. And people forget that Haiti, as problematic and as tragic as the situation is, are not going to occupy the bandwidth of the State Department or the national government right now. We have wonderful advocates in the Congress. We had a caucus. But at the end of the day, it’s going to take the Haitian diaspora community and the Haitian citizens in Haiti to be able to empower themselves to right this tragedy. And it is a tragedy. It’s a beautiful place and it needs to have attention. But community is going to be the answer.

DREYFUSS: Thank you. You mention the diaspora. And I want to bring that to all three of you. There’s a huge Haitian diaspora. Most countries when they’re dealing with the U.S. have some—that have large numbers of immigrants in the United States—have a base of support that influences foreign policy. Why has Haiti been so ineffective in doing that? Or do you think they have, and what could they—what can the Haitians abroad do better to try to influence American policy?

MENDELSON-FORMAN: Can I just say one, quick thing? And I know Jacquie has a good opinion on this as well. I was just looking at the number of Haitian citizens who are registered voters. There are large numbers in Florida, and also throughout the South, because the Haitian community has moved, in Louisiana and in Georgia. You have to use that empowerment you have as a voter. Other—

DREYFUSS: Haitians just elected a member of Congress from Florida.

MENDELSON-FORMAN: Right. And I think they’re moving on—I mean, my observation is they’re moving on. Their first generation, second generation. They’re American citizens now. They integrate into their community. But, Jacquie, I will turn that over to you. I know you have very strong feelings on this.

CHARLES: Well, you know, being in Florida, right, in Miami in particular, where we have the Cuban American community and the Haitian American community, and that is where you really see the difference not just in terms of U.S. policy, but also in terms of these two diaspora communities and how they are responded to. You know, one of the things people always say as a criticism is that the Haitian American community is as divided as Haiti—you know, as Haiti itself. And I have said to people, if you are going to wait for some unified voice in this community to make policy decisions then you can just forget it and hang it up, because we’re never going to have policy—you know, policy divisions. I think you have to look at the trajectory of this—you know, of this community. If I just take south Florida, that went from being, you know, boat people and refugees, you know, in the ’70s to now winning political offices. I mean, we elected the first Haitian American elected official ever in the United States, was elected right here in Miami Dade county. You’ know, we’ve a number of elected officials. But what you have found is that, you know, they haven’t received the response that they hoped to receive. And then after 2010, there was a change. You know, after 2010, when a lot of Haitian Americans looked at U.S. policy toward Haiti, a lot of them became angry. And a lot of them gave up that dream that I’m going to move back to Haiti. And suddenly you start to see this shift where they were more focused on local politics and what was happening locally, as opposed to what was happening in Haiti. And I have always seen that that was a direct result of U.S. policy, you know, in the country. Today you have a situation where you have third generation Haitians. Unlike me, they don’t still have a connection to the country. They don’t have cousins or feel that connection to assist and help. They want to know more about Haiti, but they’re not interested in the Haiti that’s the problem. I remember I think it was two years ago we had—(inaudible)—right, when the whole shut down. For a lot of Millennials, this was their first introduction of a Haiti in crisis, because this is a group that was going to Haiti, going to the beach, going as tourists. And then here all of a sudden, this country is on complete lockdown. International airlines are cancelling flights. 
So the challenge for the diaspora is going to be: How do you tap into this younger generation of Haitians to get them to care and to get them to have a different kind of activism, and to use their voice differently with elected officials in the U.S. in order to influence policy in a country that they may not be directly connected to, but it’s because of that country they exist.

DREYFUSS: Ambassador Foote?

FOOTE: I’ll just tag on one thing, and that is when I first went to Haiti in July this year on this time around, I did not think that the folks wanted the diaspora involved too much. And after talking and being involved in this dialogue, it’s clear that the Montana Group and the current consensus wants the diaspora involved and are looking to amend the constitution to actually empower Haitian Americans with some seats in Haiti’s parliament. And I think I changed my mind when you look at the Haitians, like many immigrant communities, but the successful Haitians in this country are really exceptional under rule of law and have a lot to offer besides remissions and the funds that they send down there every year with their expertise and their ability to kind of mentor Haiti into a new era.

DREYFUSS: Jacquie?

CHARLES: I think he’s very optimistic. I mean, yes, you—I have seen an outreach on the part of the Montana Group, and I’ve even seen it on the part of the Ariel Henry government, to the diaspora. But the reality that—you know, that plays itself out on the ground in Haiti is that the diaspora is given lip service. You know, in Haiti, there’s an invisible line to the presidency. And the minute that somebody from the diaspora shows up with their diaspora education, their money, Haitians in Haiti feel very threatened and feel that this person is going to jump ahead. And at the same time, I’ll be honest, that you do have a number of influential people in the diaspora, who like to think they’re influential. And they say they want to help, but their intention is that they’re want to go down and they want to run things. And they want to run for president, or they want to run for this office. I’ve always treated the Haitian diaspora as, like, a divided family, right? Where this family’s been divided, and then the prodigal son or daughter comes back home and dinner is getting ready to be served. And rather than to just take a seat at the table, they want to sit at the head of the table and then they want to dictate how things are done. And this is, to me, the underlying tension that you’ve always seen, that when you hear international governments, foreign governments talk about the diaspora, they sort of talk about them in the sense that they’re going to be the savers and save the day. But when you talk one on one with Haitians, and collectively you look and you see how their policies and how they work to integrate or not integrate the diaspora, what you see is all about shutting out. I mean, name me in recent Haitian political history in the last fifteen years a name of a minister who was in charge of the diaspora, and you tell me their effectiveness in bringing that diaspora—or members of the diaspora in.

DREYFUSS: Great. At this time, I’d like to invite members to join our conversation with their questions. Just a reminder, this meeting in on the record. And the operator will remind you how to join the question queue.

OPERATOR: (Gives queuing instructions.)
We’ll take our first question from Richard Soudriette.

Q: Thank you very much for an excellent panel.
I have a question about President Aristide, and if you see if—what level of influence does he still continue to have? And do you see him as a positive or as a negative force, as it comes to Haiti’s future? Thank you.

FOOTE: Jacquie, I’ll defer to you.

CHARLES: Oh, I was about to defer to you, Dan. (Laughs.)

FOOTE: No, you weren’t. (Laughter.)

DREYFUSS: It this a hot plantain?

CHARLES: You know—well, you know, it’s interesting. Whenever I get inquiries from journalists outside of Haiti, they always ask about ideology, right? And I think that that’s also a mistake that people make, you know, in terms of leftist, you know, versus, you know, the right. But, you know, for so long, though, the Lavalas and Aristide presence was the elephant in the room in terms of Haitian politics. You know, and Dan hates it when I bring up 2004, but, you know, in 2004 the marching orders in the U.S.-backed interim government, was, you know, to keep the Lavalas out. And so, you know, what—and what we’ve seen in the last couple of years is this whole question about whether or not they are still a force or not, and whether you were a Lavalas or no longer a Lavalas, how does that influence? So, you know, and some Haitian analysts will tell you that that’s the backstory here that you’re seeing playing out in terms of one group of freedom fighters, in terms of Haiti’s history, sort of trying to right what has happened, you know, in the past. And there’s this invisible fight that’s happening in terms of folks who had supported President Aristide. President Aristide, to me, I mean, he’s been very quiet. He stays out of the fray. Nobody really sees him. But, you know, today, you know, there are supporters of his, whether they have broken away or they’re still with him, they’re part of the players. They think that they’ve been reintegrated into the political landscape after years of sort of being shut out. You know, there was once a point where, you know, they didn’t run for office, or they were banned from running. Dan.

FOOTE: And I talked to several members of Fanmi Lavalas while I was there, and continue to, honestly. They’re a part of this Montana agreement. It’s changed. Like Jacquie said, the ideology seems to be gone. They’re pretty moderate, to tell you the truth, right now. And I think the word on the street is Titide is frail, he’s old, he’s not trying to turn out people on the streets like he used to do. And I think Lavalas is probably going to play the same role of any political party down there this time.

DREYFUSS: Let’s take another question.

OPERATOR: We’ll take our next question from Reynold Verret.

Q: Reynold Verret, president, Xavier University of Louisiana.
The question I would ask is, you know, could you address the imperative of addressing the security issue, the security conditions in Haiti, as we even consider having an election, and even—and what the potential for that would be to really—for a decent result without it being at least some—(inaudible)?

FOOTE: I’ll start, and then you guys can hop in. Security has deteriorated steadily in Haiti since 2012, when Mario Andresol quit as the head of the Haitian national police because he would not play political games with then-President Michel Martelly. Since then the government and the gangs have developed close ties, with gang-affiliated people in command positions in the police. So it’s a pretty deep problem right now. The gangs are powerful. They’re better armed than the police. But they’re not an army. And it’s not like going after the Taliban or the FARC. There are some old guys running around and some young kids with guns, and the solution in the short term—in the long term, is to get the bad guys out of the police, vet them, and build them back to where they were in 2012. And they haven’t fallen to zero percent of 2012. They’ve fallen to maybe 60 percent of 2012. And the short term, they need an anti-gang task force that combines all the elements of door kickers, intel, communications, forensics, the judicial piece, and to start—to be trained, advised, and assisted to start pulling operations. The greater police is going to take longer than that. And it’s important that there’s a social side of this. This is the push to get them out of the gangs. There needs to be a pull in the slums as well—be it demobilization efforts, opportunities, some sort of employment programs, because without it being holistic like that, you’re going to have a lot of problems having any sustainability.

CHARLES: I’m going to agree with—go ahead, Johanna.

MENDELSON-FORMAN: I was just going to say briefly there are programs that address these kinds of issues that Dan has mentioned on security. But I think it would be a fool’s errand to think that you could have a secure election within the next year without some of the reforms that are being mentioned. And the other thing is you could do things at a community governance level—I keep on coming back to this—which would create some level of trust, and self-police in those areas, as a first step.

CHARLES: Let me say that, you know, the last time the police went into a place like Village de Dieu—this is under former Police Chief Michel-Ange Gédéon—and he got the police inside. This is a kidnapping lair. And, you know, people were very happy, because they basically had been held prisoners, right, by the gang. And I remember talking to him about this. And what he said what needed to come next was the social component, right? The government, NGOs, whomever, they needed to have a presence in that slum so that they can continue to keep that slum open. Well, the social component never came. And so that slum today is closed. And so when I hear this talk about the anti-gang unit, I go back to what happened in Village de Dieu, I think it was, like, last year, when five police officers went in there and till this day their corpses have not been retrieved. How do you convince police officers who are currently in the police force, who are demoralized, who don’t get paid much and don’t get paid regularly, if they do, that they should go head-to-head with gangs in a slum where there’s one way in and one way out? And for me, that is the fundamental issue here. It’s no longer about nationalism. In the last two years, I have watched with pain as I see police officers who I know, some of whom are even in my own family, where they’ve left the force. And it wasn’t because they got shot. It wasn’t become of some big event, but it was, like, that one event—getting sick, going to the hospital, and realizing that this insurance you thought you had meant absolutely nothing and now you have to go into your pocket. Almost being killed on public transportation trying to get to work every day, because most officers tell me that that is where they’re more likely to get killed. Not in the line of duty, but just catching public transport to get to work. There are fundamental issues that are wrong today in terms of the police force that need to be addressed in order to address the security issue. And I’m not—I have yet to see a plan at it. I don’t think that it’s just about putting guns in individuals’ hands. There are young kids today who are in these gangs, and they’re there because it’s how they eat. So what are you going to do with them to allow them to leave, and to allow a community to rat on a gang member who is holding someone hostage?

DREYFUSS: Johanna, did you have a—did you want to comment?

MENDELSON-FORMAN: No, I think we should take more questions. We can go on for the rest of the time on this.

DREYFUSS: Another question.

OPERATOR: We’ll take our next question from Patrick Duddy.

Q: Good afternoon. And this is fascinating.
And I’m—the one issue that continues to concern me is given the legacy of MINUSTAH, a very controversial, what will the role of the international—or what could the international community do to help reestablish the rule of law and a certain amount of governability in the country? Because my own sense is that there is deep suspicion associated with any conversation about interventionism or foreign forces in the country.

CHARLES: I’ve been calling it for a while—go ahead, Dan. (Laughs.)

FOOTE: No, your turn.

CHARLES: I’ve been calling it throw the baby out with the bathwater. You know, as a journalist I’d like to see the international community do a real deep analysis of these interventions and, you know, what went wrong. Where did we fail? Rather what we’re hearing today is that we’re not going to do this because it didn’t work. But we’re not hearing why it didn’t work and what responsibility you had in it not working, because, you know, the—you know, when I hear people refer to Haiti as the Somalia of Latin America, as the Caribbean, it’s very scary. And when you see what’s unfolding in that country you understand, you know, that phasing. And it’s not nice.

MENDELSON-FORMAN: But before—go ahead, Dan. I mean, it’s very hard—I mean, MINUSTAH had its own bad reputation for whatever the analysis it was, and it got even worse after the earthquake, because they were given a job that a peace operation shouldn’t have to do. And I think that’s the root of the problem. And we could go on about the analysis was. What are the options now is, I think, what the question is. And the options are to look at some support from the Caribbean. It takes, you know, three months to six months to even mobilize a force. And I think you also have the Haitian national police that aren’t really compromised, who, of course, need to have their salaries paid, which is a, you know, first condition to be able to operate. But I don’t see the United Nations coming in, in any way. Nor do I see whatever you want to call the—this government that is there inviting the U.N. to come in, which is the other condition for an operation under Chapter Six. And you’re not going to do a Chapter Seven operation. But, Dan, you’ve had a lot of time to think about that.

FOOTE: Yeah. There’s zero appetite for a U.N. mission in Haiti. And there’s zero appetite in the Security Council, with China, to do a peacekeeping operation in Haiti. Eventually if a political solution isn’t reached and it continues to deteriorate, it will take a combat stabilization mission. The Haitians would accept U.S. troops. I’m certainly not advocating for that, but they respect and like U.S. troops going back to the 2010 earthquake, which they did a great job. But I don’t think you’re going to be able to put a real coalition together in the short term. And the appetite is, internationally, it must be done by an organic Haitian institution, the only one of which is the Haitian national police that can do this right now. So you need a government we can trust and work with. And then building a police force, it takes time and it takes money. Those are the only two things it takes. We’ve done it across the world, across Latin America. But it’s going to take five to ten years to get to the point where you have an adequate police force top to bottom again in Haiti.

DREYFUSS: Great. Thank you all for your questions—I mean—for your answers. Let’s take another question.

OPERATOR: We’ll take the next question from Amy Wilentz.

Q: Hi, everyone. Thanks so much for all of what you’re saying. I really appreciate it.
I wanted to ask all of you, why is the international community, especially the United States, continuing its support for Ariel Henry, almost without remission? Is this the government, as Dan said, that we think we can trust and work with for the future, going toward elections? Whether it’s this year, which I highly doubt, or in the—a little more distant future? After the failures in our support for PHTK and the failures of the Martelly and Moïse governments, why does the U.S. cling to Ariel Henry? Thanks.

DREYFUSS: Go ahead, Dan. You’re on mute.

FOOTE: I was hoping one of our other panelists would take this. I have no idea. I think they must believe in the U.S. government that I am such an idiot that they should do the exact opposite of what I tell. No, there’s—Ariel Henry was their choice. So it’s human nature not to want to go back on it. There’s always a fear of a non-democratic transition of power—although we didn’t fear that on July 18th when we named by press release Ariel Henry as president. And it’s just easier. It’s easier to say: OK, you’re driving the government. You keep driving it. Let these other people on with you. So that’s my speculation. I welcome my—

MENDELSON-FORMAN: I would just go back to the bandwidth argument. I think it’s not only Haiti. It’s the entire region could require a total review of what’s happening. When you have Bolsonaro sitting down with Putin and Fernandez sitting down with Putin, I think we need a total revisiting of how we manage our affairs in Latin America, not only with a country like Haiti. I think there are too many crises going on at one time. I don’t have any inside information as to why this choice was made. But having watched the sausage being made inside, as Dan has been witness to, sometimes you can understand that, you know, a path of least resistance often is the easiest route. It might not be the best route, but it may be the easiest.

CHARLES: Well, let me—I have two comments. So when I ask—(laughs)—you know, U.S. officials this question in form or fashion, they say they are not supporting. They’re now thinking they want, you know, Haiti’s political actors to come to some sort of a compromise and some consensus. But I will say this, and I think that people have been dealing with this current interim government in a vacuum. You know, post the assassination of Jovenel Moïse. But we have to go back. You know, we have to remember that last year on February 7th there was this this huge debate in Haiti in terms of Jovenel Moïse and his term being over. And opposition groups, you know, said this, legal experts, constitutional experts, they said this. And what you saw was, first, the OAS come out and said: No, his term is not over. And we saw the U.N. take that position. And we saw the U.S. take that position through both administrations. And then in June, you had an OAS mission that went down to Haiti. And that OAS mission basically gave Jovenel Moïse the marching orders. And I don’t know what happened in those closed-door meetings, but what I’ve been told from people who were close to President Moïse is that there was a realization that the ship was sinking, and that he had to find an individual who was not PHTK, who was not in his party, that could build consensus and gather people around, to be prime minister—his seventh prime minister—and to lead the country to elections. And so Ariel Henry, who was a neurosurgeon, turned out to be that individual. I mean, he was tapped by Moïse long before he became publicly known. And Moïse charged him to go out and to build the support. Somebody asked about Lavalas earlier. What I’ve been told by people, that actually his name was presented to Moïse by a group of Lavalas. Because as much as people were fighting with Moïse, you know, some of these same factions, they would be on the radio criticizing the president during the day, but at night they were talking to him on the telephone. And Moïse made those statements a couple of times. (Laughs.) And so what you saw—so, you know, one could argue that Ariel Henry was a manifestation of that push by the international community on Moïse to do this, and he made that choice. Now, he died before you could have that installation, but I always go back to another argument, that, you know, if today we have an assassination case that’s being built around the idea that individuals assassinated a sitting president, or U.S. citizens were involved in the assassination of a sitting president, you have to stay to that argument, right, that the president at the time of his death, that he was president. And so if the U.S. comes in, just scratches everything and says, OK, we’re going to start from scratch, then the U.S. is now—and, Dan, correct me—is now saying, OK, well we were wrong when we were saying that his term wasn’t over on February 7th, 2021. That’s why I’ve always seen, you know, this sort of argument with U.S. policy, whether they say it verbally, but when you’re looking at the trajectory of where things are in terms of why they did this, and why they did that, why didn’t they go back to ground zero in this? You know, we get there. So, yeah.

FOOTE: The only thing I’d add, Jacquie—that’s really perceptive, I think—is that you have different policymakers. So there’s no deals—there’s no deals on paper. But there certainly may have been. The U.S. is doing the same thing in Haiti that we did when I was in Afghanistan in 2014. We are forcing unanimity. We are forcing a government of national unity, which we did in Afghanistan. And we know how that ended. The idea of a unanimous consensus in Haiti is flawed by definition. And as long as we force them to all agree, we’re not letting them find the solution on their own.

CHARLES: But, Dan, don’t you think that when the argument is that the U.S. has been putting its hands on the balance scale and choosing winners and losers, that on the one hand they’ve been so heavily criticized by this and that there are factions that now want them to do this? So it’s almost like wanting your cake and eating it too. And now what I’ve seen is an administration that’s almost kind of paralyzed, because it’s like darned if I do, darned if I don’t.

FOOTE: You’re exactly right.

MENDELSON-FORMAN: That’s exactly—that’s exactly the situation.

DREYFUSS: Let’s take one more question.

OPERATOR: We’ll take our next question from Pearl Robinson.

Q: Can you hear me?


Q: All right. So this has been fascinating to me.
I have a bottom-line question. It seems to me that there will be elections. Who will oversee those elections? And is somebody making a plan for what to do after people vote? And you can correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s what I get out of what has been said, that the solution to all these sorts of political turmoils is elections. We all know that—many of us know, understand that that’s usually not a selection—a solution, but that’s what I see is going to happen. So either correct me, or if there are elections I’d like to know who would take charge of responsibility for organizing them and setting up something to happen if and after the winners get inaugurated.

CHARLES: And that’s where the real crisis begins. (Laughs.)

MENDELSON-FORMAN: Right. Well, it’s the whole idea of what is a democracy? Accepting losers. And that’s been one of the biggest challenges in Haiti is, you know, when you lose you have to be able to accept that loss.

CHARLES: Well, why did you lose, and what went into that loss, and what led up to it?

MENDELSON-FORMAN: Right. And you spent the next few years debating that and making people pariahs. So one of the things I would suggest is just on a technical matter who would organize the election? I’m sure the OAS with long experience in there would possibly go in. They money would come probably from a multi-donor group. But that’s not the point. You have to build registries. You have to do this new electoral law. So we’re looking, I think, far down in the future of any election. Correct me, Dan, if I’m wrong, or Jacquie. But I’m don’t see elections, despite what the U.N. said today, because people have to put their money where their mouth is to actually run elections.

CHARLES: And let me just say too, we didn’t touch on this, because—and you’re right on that. You know, and in Haiti it’s always, you know, the OAS. That’s very controversial and, you know, the reaction to the elections—like, you know, when you saw in 2010 a lot of, you know, dead voters on the roll, well, when people were saying there were dead voters, they were not—you know, they were not listened to. And I’ll never forget, you know, Hillary Clinton came down and her mind was already made up about what she as going to force René Préval to do in 2010, regardless of what she heard after—you know, after she got there. But we also haven’t hit on one thing: How do you get Haitians to believe in democracy again? How do you get Haitians to believe that their vote count? Haitians don’t believe. When you look at the numbers from these last elections, from 1990 down, what you see is that Haitians either vote with their feet—meaning those who can get on a plane and come here—they stay home, or they sell their vote for, you know, whatever. But I’ve seen the selling of the vote in other Caribbean countries where people take the money, and they go and they vote their conscience. But how you get Haitians back to where they vote their conscience and they realize that democracy—you know, you election somebody, it doesn’t mean for life. And that your vote really does count. And for me, that is the tragedy in all that. And that is the biggest challenge to how do we deal with elections in this country. Because they are going to come because that is the policy of the international community. A democracy requires elections. And hell or high water, Haiti’s going to have elections. It’s just a question of what kind of elections they’re going to get.

FOOTE: And the only way that those elections will be acceptable is if whatever authority administers from now until elections can gain some trust in the population. And the first thing that they’re going to have to do is show some progress on security. If they don’t do that, there will be no trust. The Haitian people have no reason to trust anybody right now. So whomever is going to—and elections aren’t the Band-Aid. Good elections are the Band-Aid. That’s the problem. If you have bad elections, it’s going to right here.

MENDELSON-FORMAN: And in the past, Dan, a lot of the resources for elections were used to pay off gangs to stay off the streets so that they wouldn’t interfere—

FOOTE: Or on the street—

CHARLES: But in 2016, Jocelerme Privert, a transitional president, paid for Haiti’s election with Haiti’s funds. And he had legitimacy. And those elections still had problems and weren’t accepted. (Laughs.) So, you know, yeah. There’s a lot of ingredients that have to go into this whole election equation, and I am not hearing people talk about it. And if people talk about it. And if people don’t start talking about it and start thinking about how do you get good elections or decent elections, we’re just going to be repeating the same cycle that we’ve been in at least for the last ten years.

MENDELSON-FORMAN: And that goes back to the initial question: If there’s no security and people can’t go out on the streets, why even go out and vote?

CHARLES: Yeah, exactly. And why accept the results, regardless of who emerges?

MENDELSON-FORMAN: Yeah, exactly.

DREYFUSS: I think we have time for one more quick question.

OPERATOR: We’ll take our last question from Irving Williamson.

Q: Thank you for a fascinating discussion. Can I just turn to the economy briefly? Haiti continues to be a major exporter of apparel to the United States under the Haiti HOPE Act and CBI preferences. Is that a bright spot? And are there any other bright spots you can point to?

CHARLES: Well, that bright spot right now is in the middle of a protest.

FOOTE: Is not so bright.

CHARLES: Is not so bright. (Laughs.) I mean, there are, you know, ongoing protests as we speak. Garment workers are demanding $15 U.S. a day from $5 U.S. Every Haitian government in the last, what, fifteen years have had to deal with this issue, but now it’s coming on top of a cholera epidemic, a supply chain problem, you know, every problem you can imagine in a country completely in crisis. So I think the question today is going to be, you know, what will—you know, what will be the response of the government that kind of dragged its feet on responding to this demand? And how many factories will end up closing and going to Nicaragua because the reason why they’re in Haiti and they put up with so much is because of the cheap labor.

MENDELSON-FORMAN: Mmm hmm, right.

DREYFUSS: I’m going to have to end it there. So just thank you—thank you for joining today’s virtual meeting and thank you to the speakers. Please note that the video and transcript of today’s meeting will be posted on CFR’s website. Thank you all for a fascinating discussion and I’ll turn it back.

This is an uncorrected transcript.

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