Haiti in Crisis

Wednesday, April 10, 2024
Carlos Barria/Reuters

International Consultant; Member, Commission for the Search for a Haitian Solution to the Crisis

Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, U.S. Department of State

Founder and Publisher, Haitian Times


Special Correspondent, PBS NewsHour; CFR Member

Panelists discuss the escalating economic and political situation in Haiti with a focus on the humanitarian crisis, how the destabilization of the region has impacted Haitian people both domestically and across the diaspora, and policy options to help de-escalate and stabilize the nation.

If you wish to attend virtually, log-in information and instructions on how to participate during the question and answer portion will be provided the evening before the event to those who register.

Please note the audio, video, and transcript of this hybrid meeting will be posted on the CFR website.

BIGGS: Hello. Thank you so much for joining us. I’m Marcia Biggs. I’m a freelance journalist and special correspondent for the PBS NewsHour. I’ll be presiding over today’s discussion. We are joined by all of you in person in New York and over 150 attending virtually on Zoom. So I love to see that that many people are here to talk about Haiti.

And I want to welcome my panelists. I have here Brian Nichols, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs. Thank you for being here. Garry Pierre-Pierre, the founder and publisher of the Haitian Times. Thank you. And Monique Clesca, the member of the Commission for the Search for a Haitian Solution to the Crisis and a signatory of the Montana Accord. So let’s get into it.

Let me see my time. See my time? Sort of.

Port-au-Prince has been plagued by gang violence for the last several years, but in the last six weeks violence has become so untenable that Prime Minister Ariel Henry had to agree to resign. He’d been functioning as the president since the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July of 2021, and had largely been seen as an illegitimate successor. Now, a seven-member Presidential Council has been created to appoint a new leader. But it took weeks to actually come to a consensus on the formation of that committee. And in the meantime, over 50,000 people have fled their homes, a fractured but heavily armed coalition of gangs has taken the streets, killing and raping, burning down hospitals, pharmacies, gutting the airport and taking over the port. A lack of food and essential supplies have led an estimated 1.6 million people to be on the brink of famine. A multinational security support mission, led by Kenyan forces, has yet to deploy, due to the power vacuum.

So, Garry, let me start with you. How did we get here?

PIERRE-PIERRE: Well, thanks for inviting me, and it’s special to be here.

How did we get here? Well, I probably could start by an 1804 after Haiti got its independence—(laughter)—but we won’t.

BIGGS: We only have half an hour before we do Q&A. (Laughter.) I do appreciate the history, though.

PIERRE-PIERRE: Well, we can go back to right after the earthquake, where there was a lot of goodwill from the international community. People wanted Haiti to work. And the U.N. forces were there. And couple years later, the U.N. left. And we started to see black backsliding of democracy, where it seems that the leaders were not too interested in this democracy thing. And the politicians and many of the business leaders started using these gangs to settle scores in the streets. They worked for politicians and business leaders.

But 2018, this is a critical moment. They lost control of the gangs. The gangs realized that they had the upper hand. They were well armed. They no longer needed to do the bidding of the elite. And so chaos began. The country was locked down in a very comical way, if you will. There’s nothing funny about it, but the Haitian government had been under pressure from the international community, mainly the IMF and the World Bank, to stop subsidizing fuel. And it was a very contentious issue. And the government tried to pass that decree during the World Cup, when Brazil was playing Belgium in the quarterfinal. They assumed that Brazil was going to win. That Haitians, who are madly in love with Brazilian soccer, would take to the streets to celebrate.

As fate would have it, Brazil lost. People did take to the streets, not to celebrate but to protest violently against the ending of subsidies where the price of gas was going to double. And it just went down from there. Where 2021, Jovenel Moise was assassinated. And he was deeply unpopular, because less than 10 percent of the voting population did actually vote. So he had no mandate. He had no popular support. He had no support of the civil society. No one. So he was just there flailing. Ultimately, he got assassinated.

And we are seeing the effect of that vacuum currently, where gangs—I mean, we use the term “gangs.” We talk about that all the time. But they’re not street gangs. They are hardened criminals who are heavily armed—better armed than the police. And they’ve been running the country—or, actually, not running it. And here we are. People have to be evacuated out of Haiti. My co-panelist here, Monique Clesca, was telling me how she had to be evacuated by the U.N. And so it’s a really difficult situation right now.

BIGGS: So let me turn to you, Monique. I want to speak to the two Haitians first, and then I’ll get to you. But you’re a signatory and spokesperson for the Montana Accord, which proposed a Haitian-led solution to forming a transitional government after the murder of Jovenel Moise in 2021. It was rejected by the U.S. Now finally we’ve reached this crisis and you all have gotten what you’ve asked for, albeit two and a half years later. But this council has been mired in conflict. It’s taken weeks just to form a committee, which was just formed yesterday. Can a consensus on a new president, prime minister, government be reached in time? And is the Presidential Council not made up of some of the same players that got Haiti into this mess in the first place?

CLESCA: Thank you. Thank you for the invitation and thank you for being here.

I would respond by saying, first of all, we have not gotten what we wanted. What we wanted was systematic change, governance change. And I think Garry Pierre-Pierre has been extremely nice by not saying that we have been run by a mafia state. And we must say it. It has been a mafia state that has been running Haiti since 2011. So he has been very gentle with his description. And when you are run by mafia state, this is what happens. Eventually the mafia takes over the streets. And the mafia took over the president’s bedroom and killed him. And then the mafia now has taken over the street.

Now, having said this, since our accord, we started working on it in March 2021. Jovenel Moise died on the evening of the sixth to seventh of July. So we had been working on this for about six months by the time that Jovenel Moise died. Now, our accord stipulated a two-year transition. It stipulated a national conference so that Haitians could be talking to each other, so we could at least say what it is that was our vision for Haiti. Because one of the things that Garry Pierre-Pierre did not mention is that when there were the riots in July 2018, which is kind of the beginning of this crisis with the Brazil game. And I’m pleased that he remembers who Brazil was playing. (Laughter.) But one of the things that was on the agenda in terms of the riots, what they were asking for, was schools. They were asking for health care. They were asking for professional training. So there was a social justice agenda.

And parts—elements of this also were part of our accord. And I think it’s important to signal this. Two-thirds of Haiti’s population is under twenty-four years old. So unless you deal with those issues of social justice, you will not resolve problems of the gangs issue because somewhere along the line, if you’re coming with a machine gun, and you know, you don’t have anything to balance it, they’re going to go for the machine gun. And I’ve seen it, for example, in Niger, where I was for four years. So I think it’s important to know this. There was a social justice demand by youth, which continued. anticorruption, anti-impunity.

OK. Fast track now to now. The accord that is there—and I must say, I am pleased about reading it. About two-thirds or more of it really is almost copy-pasted from the Montana Accord. And a lot of work has gone into negotiate this. But bottom line, why did we have to wait two and a half years? Why did it took so many dead people, 5,000 or more girls and women were raped last year alone, reported? Did we need to go there? So we have lost a lot of time. And I dare say that this is a really massive foreign policy failure of the United States. Because, whether we like it or not, the United States really holds the strings for Haiti’s leaders. And we must admit that.

And I’m very happy to be here with Mr. Nichols, and looking forward to what will be said. So now, will this work? I don’t know. I really don’t know. I’m very tempted to say, you know, somewhere along the line my head says it’s not going to work, because a lot of these people are the ones who put us there. A lot of these people are people who finance the gangs. A lot of them. So how are you going to do—you know, in order to make peace to move forward, we had to have an accord. Because last time, after Duvalier left, everybody said, well, the people who were with Duvalier are not in it. It didn’t work. So somewhere along the line in order—you don’t make peace with your friends. You make peace with your adversaries.

So we need this. Will it work? I don’t know. Why is it taking so long? I don’t know either. Because it’s taking a long time to get things going. But then, if you’re speaking with your adversary, you’re going to have to convince him to do A, to do B, to do C. We’re trying to do this. But it’s too slow. People are dying every day. Women are being raped every day. So I don’t know how we can fast track, but I am, in a way, hopeful. But realistically, I’m saying, is this really going to work? I don’t know. Ask me later.

BIGGS: Oh, I will. (Laughter.) So I’ll get to the trying to maintain the security in the meantime in a moment. But first, I want to get to the secretary. You said that the U.S. wants a new approach to Haiti. But it had a direct hand in politics, essentially picking leaders, for decades. Last month, the U.S. finally called for Henry’s resignation. Why? Why wait for so long to—why recognize him for so long, with seemingly no conditions on elections and transparency amidst tension and violence every day? And what do you see the U.S.’s role going forward?

NICHOLS: Well, thank you very much for having me. And it’s a pleasure to be with such distinguished colleagues here on the panel.

The United States’ approach, you know, from the day that I came in to work on Haiti issues, has been very much focused on promoting a Haitian-led solution to the problem. Precisely because the United States and others in the international community had played such a determinative role in Haiti’s politics over a generation—to ill effect, I would argue—it was essential that we give Haitians the space to make their own decision and to move forward in a way to create a political space for progress and election. We have been deeply engaged in supporting that process.

My first overseas trip as assistant secretary was to Haiti immediately after intensive meetings in New York in 2021, on the margins of the U.N. General Assembly. We have had—Secretary Blinken just hosted a donor’s conference for the multinational security support mission on the margins of the G-20 and Rio de Janeiro. He’s met with Prime Minister Henry in Port-of-Spain to encourage progress last summer. So we’ve had—our U.N. Permanent Representative Linda Thomas Greenfield and I met with CARICOM leaders in Guyana in March to talk about the way forward on Haiti.

And we have been doing this in a way, one, to support Haitians to come to a decision about the way forward. So I’m very glad that many elements of the Montana Accord are incorporated into the Transitional Presidential Council process. But what we’re effectively looking at is the entire breadth of the Haitian political spectrum, trying to agree on something. That’s not easy. You can’t—there’s no country where it’s easy to get everybody from one end of the spectrum to the other end of the spectrum that come to agreement. All the sectors have been in intense negotiations for months and months and months trying to do that.

The conversations really intensified under CARICOM, the regional organization’s aegis, starting at the beginning of March. And then on March 11, Secretary Blinken traveled to Kingston to meet with CARICOM heads and try and push the process forward, including some forty Haitian stakeholders at that time. I would note that while we’ve been supporting a political accord in Haiti, we also continue to be the largest donor to Haiti. We provide about $360 million a year in assistance to Haiti, focused on humanitarian support, economic support, and security support. We have a long-term strategy for Haiti under the Global Fragility Act that has a ten-year plan to support Haiti’s increased stability and autonomy.

There was mention of the former U.N. mission there, MINUSTAH. When MINUSTAH was withdrawn, after more than a decade in Haiti, you lost the key security underpinning that the country needed to be able to maintain its security. If you look at the population of Haiti, 11 million people, there are about now less than 8,000 police in Haiti. Compare that to the city of New York where there’s 45,000 police. So there’s just not enough security to deal with normal policing issues. And then the use of gangs by corrupt elites, as well as desperate people on the streets, has exacerbated the security challenges that the country faces.

I am confident that this political accord will come together, and maybe as soon as today or tomorrow. I’m confident that the multinational security support mission will deploy to Haiti and give the Haitian national police the support that they need to be able to provide security in the country. And I would note that under extremely difficult circumstances, the Haitian national police have been defending key infrastructure and fighting off gangs that do often outnumber them and have superior equipment, in some cases. So this is a pivotal moment, but I continue to believe that we’re moving in the right direction and Haiti will have a better future as it moves towards elections and a restoration of democratic governance.

BIGGS: Not to belabor the point though, but why wait so long? Why wait two and a half years? Because not—because continuing to recognize Henry is, in a sense, taking a side, and not pulling back completely and allowing the Haitians to come to a Haitian-led solution, when we have been so involved in their politics for so long?

NICHOLS: But how is it a Haitian-led solution if we just go in and say: You’re not coming to agreement fast enough, we’re just going to pick somebody else to run Haiti? That’s the opposite of a Haitian-led solution.

BIGGS: But here we are today. We’ve reached a crisis. And now we—now we no longer recognize Henry. That’s my question. Why wait so long to make that choice?

NICHOLS: The reality of the situation in Haiti, the facts on the ground, were such that it was untenable for him to govern. He was prevented from returning to the country. The regional organization CARICOM also felt that it was essential that there be a change in Haiti. We have tried to support first Haitian-led solutions and the relevant regional organization in trying to find a way forward, rather than having the United States, again, impose a decision on who runs Haiti.

BIGGS: Let’s then now move onto the security situation, because as Monique mentioned this has taken—is going to take a long time. And in the meantime, people are dying, people are fleeing their homes, people are going hungry. This multinational security support mission, which is meant to be led by Kenyan police officers, has also been mired in conflict. The deployment has been mired in conflict, both on the Kenyan political side, now because of the power vacuum, and also because of the funding. It’s set to deploy once pledges are raised and a new leader’s been appointed. Can it actually suppress the gangs? I’ll ask you first, Garry. Does it have a chance?

PIERRE-PIERRE: Well, yeah, if it has a proper ammunition, support. The most important element is the intelligence data that the police, whatever forces—even the Haitian national police—I’m glad Brian mentioned them—because they have been doing a really great job, all things considered. And they have the capacity, but they just don’t have the support. And I want—I would like—I don’t want, actually. I would like for the police to be the hero in this story, because I think you lay the groundwork to building a better society. If people respect the police, and you can restore the rule of law, then Haiti has a chance. But anything shorter than that, you’re back to MINUSTAH being the savior. And, as Brian said, once they leave—the gangs just wait them out. They know that they cannot remain permanent. But the Haitian police, they are permanent. And if they’re strong enough and they have the proper support.

This is something my sources at NYPD told me. It can be done. A specialized force can take care of these gangs, because they’ve never had—nobody has ever shot back with heavy military—or, even back at them. Because they’ve just been shooting at defenseless people, and the police just trying to maintain some kind of order, as much as they can. And so it’ll be interesting to see what happens when they face real firepower. Because a lot of the soldiers are just really thugs. They’re not militarily trained. They’re not trained militarily or anything. They just shooting at people defenseless. And so therefore, yes, it will.

But I must say that, honestly, that’s the least—that’s the easiest part to solve. And as Monique is talking about, Haiti’s social fabric has to be stitched back together. It’s one of the most, if not the most, unequal society, where the wealth, you know, is in the hands of ten families or less. And under that system, she referred to as the mafia state. Well, you have to really eradicate the mafia. And for too long, U.S. diplomats and other officials dealt with these people in a way where they felt that they had Washington’s backing in whatever crime they were committing, and also not paying the taxes. And so the state doesn’t having the money to provide schools and all the services that any government provides to its citizens. And so it’s a complete breakdown right now. So the problem to me is the security is a short-term problem that can be dealt with professionally, but stitching back Haitian society, that’s going to be the real challenge.

BIGGS: And, Monique, pivoting off of what he just said about the elites, how do you eradicate the mafia state when the—or, the mafia, when the mafia is at the table?

CLESCA: Well, with great difficulty. (Laughter.) Yeah, with great difficulty.

Now, I think, you know, let me frame it. It’s all about power and money. And even now, you know, some of the news is telling us that is such an economic powerhouse gave one of the members an armored car. We’re being told things like this. Even now, they’re trying to influence some of these people. So we got to know this. But, bottom line, I think if we manage to move forward, what we must realize is that the change cannot be cosmetic, because that’s what it was with MINUSTAH. It cannot be a cosmetic change. It has to be a profound change. And the population knows this.

And I think it’s important, even though, you know, a lot of people perhaps are not educated, you know, in schools. But people are not dumb. They know this. They know what’s going on. And I think it is important for us to go into more popular education, more democratic kind of education, civic education, because the big problem is, what? The big problem is the people who came in believe that government is there for them to get rich and stay in power, rather than government is there to service the population. Government is there to provide you with health care, to provide you with education, to provide you with security. So that mind change, that mindset change, that paradigm change also must come with education.

And when people were in the streets protesting, a lot of what I heard—because I was also in the streets protesting—was, wait a minute, they had all this money and this stole it? You mean they could have provided schools? You mean, they could have provided health care? They stole all that money? Because there was close to $4 billion that was stolen from a Venezuelan loan. And all of this could have given education, could have given healthcare, job training, et cetera. So the people are beginning to ask that their leaders provide services. So when they went to the street in July ’18, I actually heard one protesters say the president must know Haiti not only for him. It’s for us also. So that is a clear demand, that we must change. And if we don’t listen to that, we’re going to go back to the same thing.

And if I may just say something, a couple of things. One of the things that Mr. Nichols has said is, what is the Haitian solution? We presented the Haitian solution that had close to a thousand signatories. You may have issues with it. I don’t have a problem with that. But when we presented, the United States said, well, you must put some ketchup in it. OK, you must coleslaw in it to make it a Haitian solution. OK, put some mustard in it to make it a Haitian solution. Meaning, everything we presented it was, you must have something else in it. OK, you must have an agreement with this. You must have an agreement with this. You must sit with this guy. You must sit with this woman. And it was no longer our Haitian solution. It was a Haitian solution that was being changed in the kitchen of the State Department. I’m sorry. I have to say this. I have to say it.

The second thing I want to say is, to me the Kenyans could stay in Kenya. They have their own issues. They have massive human rights issues. I don’t see why the United States would be pledging $600 million to bring a thousand Kenyans to Haiti. If I had that, build some schools, train some more Haitians, maybe some police from elsewhere in Latin America, huh? Maybe from the States. There are a lot of Haitian-born, Haitian American. Find another way. But, please, keep the Kenyans in Kenya. Let them do what they must do at home. Do not bring them to Haiti. They’ll be going back in body bags. They will. Do not do this to us. We do not want this. However, we need help. We need a lot of help. But where we can get the help? It’s not way across East Africa. No, I’m sorry.

NICHOLS: (Laughter.) What? Oh, all right.


NICHOLS: (Laughter.) So the United States has supported a broad, inclusive dialogue process. We have not said add ketchup to the coleslaw. But what we’ve said is, be inclusive. Talk to others. And the United States was not going to pick the winner of this dialogue process. That has been our view. We’ve wanted to support all Haitians in reaching an agreement. We have committed $300 million—$200 million from the Department of Defense, $100 million from the State Department—to support the deployment of a U.N. Security Council-authorized multinational security support mission. And in the resolution creating it, there are strict requirements to respect human rights and the rule of law, to provide an ombudsman to address concerns and requests for redress from the general population, measures to ensure that the forces prevent sexual- and gender-based violence, to ensure that proper sanitation measures are taken and health measures are taken to ensure that there’s no spreading of disease among the population.

Kenya is one of the world’s leading contributors to U.N. peacekeeping operations. And in addition to Kenya, a number of other countries will participate, including from this hemisphere, particularly meriting of our thanks and recognition, Jamaica and the Bahamas from the CARICOM region, but also others from this region will participate. There have been polls conducted in Haiti showing that at least 70 percent of the population wants an international mission to help provide security in Haiti. It is clear that the current situation is untenable. Garry talked about and you talked about the horrible violence that Haitians are suffering every single day. Without international support that’s going to continue and Haitians are going to suffer.

The number-one impediment, according to U.N. agencies as well as civil society organizations, in delivering humanitarian assistance, like opening clinics to provide health care, schools reopening, is the presence of gangs. At the beginning of this year and last, schools that refused to pay protection money to gangs received threatening letters and were attacked, and gangs went in there to shake them down. So if we want kids to be able to school—go to school, if we want people to receive health care, if we want the economy to function, if we want investment to take place—and, by the way, the United States that continues to support the HOPE and HELP legislation to provide trade preferences to Haiti. We continue to work with partners to support the investment parks that exist in Haiti.

Those are all things that we need to do. But this has to be an effort across many, many different lines of effort. There’s not one single thing that’s going to solve Haiti’s problem. We have to work on them all, and we have to do so intensively. There is no greater humanitarian crisis in the world today than what’s going on in Haiti. We have to address this. It is vital for the Haitian people. It’s vital for our region. And it’s vital for the global community. And we’re going to work tirelessly to realize the promise of change for the better in Haiti.

CLESCA: Just two minutes.

BIGGS: Thirty seconds.

CLESCA: Oh! (Laughter.)

BIGGS: I have to open it to the audience!

CLESCA: OK, no I—yeah. I wanted to say, we had a meeting on January 10, 2022, two years ago, Mr. Nichols, where you said: We don’t pick losers and winners. And I remember I was the one who said, well, in this time you have picked a loser. And then two years later, then the loser, you dropped him like a hot potato, because he—not because he had killed too many, not because of the failure, but because the gangs then prevented him from going back home. So I think if we are going forward, and particularly we are here in the Council on Foreign Relations, we have to—we have to think about that policy.

Was it bad? What can we learn from it? Can we admit that there was a failure? And I think it’s important, to me, anyway, from the background that I come from, you have to analyze these things. And then say, it was a failure. We must do better, et cetera. So we know we need change. And you know, I’m Haitian. I am fighting for change. So I know the humanitarian situation. I know all of that. And I know we can move forward. I just don’t want it to be—for people to believe the thousand Kenyans are coming to save us 11 ½ million Haitians. I’m sorry. No.

PIERRE-PIERRE: Can I interject a little bit? Because I think the Montana Accord, the group, was not the most flexible. They would only talk to Ariel Henry if he resigned.

CLESCA: No, no, no. In August 2023 we said he had to resign. We talked to him from ’21 to August 2023. For two years we talked to him.

PIERRE-PIERRE: OK. But they were not very fruitful talks. But anyway, right.

BIGGS: OK. At this moment, I want to open it up to members, both in person on Zoom, to present their questions. And a reminder that this is on the record. We’ll start with a question here in New York, right there.

Q: Hi. Renata Segura from Crisis Group.

I have two brief questions. For Mr. Nichols, why has it been so difficult for the U.S. to stop the smuggling of weapons from Florida to Haiti? Which we know it’s an essential part of the problem. And to Monique, I’m not talking about having Guy Philippe in the Presidential Council or anything like that, but it seems to Crisis Group that having a DDR—we need to demobilize some of these gangs. Even if the Kenyans come and they’re incredible, we can’t hope that they kill everybody, considering also so many of these gang members are children, minors, right? How can we start thinking about processes of demobilization for the gangs that are willing to do so at this point? Do you think that is something that Haiti is ready to start the conversation on?

BIGGS: I’ll let you start with the weapons trafficking.

NICHOLS: So just on April 5th there was a major seizure of weapons headed for Haiti. The challenge that we face is that firearms are widely available in the United States. In response to that, the United States passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which specifically criminalizes the straw purchasing and trafficking of arms overseas that are used in crime. Last year, the Department of Justice, under the president’s direction, created a special prosecutor for gun crimes and smuggling in the Caribbean. We have two task forces—one based in Miami and one based in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad—that worked with Caribbean countries, including Haiti, to help them trace and interdict weapons that are smuggled into their countries.

And the Department of Homeland Security and other U.S. law enforcement agencies focus intensively on tracking down the networks that are purchasing guns and illegally smuggling them overseas to be used in crime. This is a very serious problem. President Biden and Vice President Harris have met with Caribbean leaders and talked specifically about the urgency of addressing this issue. At the Summit of the of the Americas in Los Angeles, there was an intensive conversation about that. When Vice President Harris went to the Bahamas for the 50th anniversary of CARICOM meeting, we also discussed it. We’ve discussed it in numerous meetings during the entirety of my time in this position.

And we are committed to doing all we can and leveraging all the tools that we have, including things like eTrace, which allows people to trace the serial numbers on weapons that they find through a U.S. database to find out where they were purchased. All of those measures are ongoing. And while they are having an effect, as I said there was an important seizure just on April 5. But as much as we’ve done, we have to continue those efforts and to do more.

CLESCA: In terms of a demobilization that you talked about, Renata, I think there are some models in Liberia, in Sierra Leone in terms of demobilization of children who were involved in a fighting, in heavy fighting. And these are models that we started to look at. And these are pretty good models in terms of what has been done. And I think a lot of it has to do with social identity types of things, because they now identify with the guns, with the—with the power, with, you know, burning things, et cetera. And a lot of the work that has to be done involves changing that kind of social identity so that the social identity becomes something more progressive, more about school, more about jobs, more about these kinds of things.

So there are some models. Few in Rwanda. I haven’t looked yet in terms of Latin America. Perhaps there are some things there. But they are some models. And to me, the Liberia and the Sierra Leone ones are the ones that seem to be the best. And a lot of them, UNICEF has been involved in that. And there is quite a lot of research that can be found on that.

BIGGS: Well, now I’m being told take a question from one of our participants on Zoom.

OPERATOR: We’ll take our next question from Beatrice Rangel.

Q: Hi. Good afternoon. My heart is really torn to see what is going on in Haiti, because in my past I did work for the development of rule of law and cooperation with that country, that is very close to all of us in Venezuela because of the especial ties between Miranda and President—(inaudible).

But let me tell you something. What I see is a comedy of errors when it comes to Haiti. And is not only the United States. It’s the whole hemisphere in that comedy of errors. I think—and this is my question to Secretary Nichols: Why is it that the United States doesn’t understand that nation building is not an option in most of the Global South? And that we have to give the people, what you call popular will, a chance? And that’s how we need to work with the people, not with the elites. Because the elites do not reflect what the people want. And, second, why don’t we learn from history? We already had in the hemisphere an international organized crime set in bases in the Caribbean. Those were the pirates that were armed and sent to take part in the trade between the Americas and Europe by the European powers that were excluded from the land, the rights to exploit the lands in America, by the pope.

So what—and in that case, then they realized that it was very dangerous for the newborn republics and for trade to have these pirates going all over and taking—creating a city like Port Royal. So there was a negotiation. And negotiation between the established crowns and the pirates. And the letters of marque were suspended, and these people got some rights, and so forth and so on. Why don’t we understand that we have to do the same thing with the gangs? Those gangs need to be taken as a very important player in stabilizing the situation in Haiti. And why aren’t they in any negotiation?

BIGGS: Let’s let them answer. Or, it’s to you.

NICHOLS: Always? (Laughter.)

BIGGS: No, I mean—

NICHOLS: OK. All right. So just in terms of the piece you talked about, why don’t we understand that nation building does not work in the Global South? I would argue that empowerment of people in their own countries through democratic processes is something that does and can work. I think that the challenge that Haiti has faced is an electoral process and a democracy that has been unresponsive to the needs of the ordinary Haitian populace. And helping get the country back on a path towards elections so that they can choose their own leaders by popular vote, rather than a decision by either a small group of people or by the international community is a better way forward for any country. I certainly would not want someone else to choose the leaders of my country. So I think that process towards elections is vital. But the structures around governance need to exist. It’s hard for people to respond to their enlightened self-interest if they lack food, they lack shelter, they lack security. So those things also need to go along with a democratic process.

With regard to negotiating with gangs, I think that having a broad, inclusive dialogue among all segments of society is certainly something that is worth doing. The challenge that one faces is that the interests of gangs specifically cannot be put ahead of ordinary, law-abiding citizens in the country. But there does need to be a solution to the problems that create gang members, the teenagers and twenty-something-year-olds are in gangs today are not the same ones that were running around in the gangs in 2004 and ’(0)5, when there was also a lot of gang activity. So you have to ask yourself, what is it—what’s happening that continues to generate, year after year, of people joining these gangs. So as Monique said, there has to be, you know, access to education, and job opportunities, and training programs for people. Those are all very important parts of a solution. I’ll stop there, in the interests of time.

BIGGS: Do either you want to—because there it has been suggested by some that the gangs should have a place at the table. So do either of you want to—want to respond to this?

PIERRE-PIERRE: Well, back to the extent that the political and business elite created these gangs, they need to have—I do agree with that. Because we talked about the situation where Ariel Henry cannot return to the country. But Wantaga (ph) and the other group couldn’t stop that. The gangs were able to do what she was talking about. She wanted him to resign. And he would have none of it. But now the gangs are—and rightly saying—so we were responsible for this. So now you can form a government, but we want to have a say so in the matter.

And really, part of the problem we’re not talking about it is that I think the political class in Haiti is, like, zero sum. And every crossroad that we’ve gotten to, it’s either my way or no way. And they have the ability to halt the process. Negotiations are done in good faith. And they just want to have things their way. And no matter what side. And there’s a bit of self-righteousness in the process that I think needs to be tempered. And think about the country not myself and my political party. Because at this point, that hasn’t worked. We’ve seen it. And I think we said, U.S. there, but we need you. But the two cannot exist. It has to be a common understanding what our role as Haitians and what the U.S. can do.

I think, personally, the U.S. should play a supporting role, not the central role. By that, I mean, you have about 1.5 million Americans of Haitian ancestors living in the United States. All the brainpower that Monique said is necessary to do the work is not in Haiti right now. Hasn’t been for quite some time. One third of all Black doctors in New York state are Haitian. And we’re talking about a place that cannot provide basic health care. So we have to address that. So what mechanism exists, can be constructed, to allow the collaboration between Monique and I? Because right now, we’re not on the same page. We’re not even talking to each other in terms of what’s best for Haiti. No one is consulting the diaspora.

Which, by the way, Brian, that’s the largest donor in Haiti, $4 billion. The U.S. provides—the international community provides $1-point-something billion. Haiti’s budget this year is $2.5 billion. So the largest donor is not at the table, right? And the skill set—people with either visceral ties or whatever. Yesterday, the White House put together a call with the Haitian diaspora. I mean, it went viral. Because people were so willing to contribute, you know, we Americans, you know, went to school here, we have to give back. That’s what we were told. And we want to give back to the place where we were born, that, you know, we care deeply about, and very passionate. But they’re not at the table.

Brian knows very well, there’s a program that the State Department had, and then the last guy kind of, like, did away with it, which was the Haitian American police officers working alongside with the counterpart in Haiti building their capacity. That program was dismantled. I know you’re trying to restore it. I don’t know where it is now. But there’s the police. There’s journalism, media. There’s all the institutions that you need to have a functioning society. They are weak in Haiti. And we need to start there, strengthening these institutions. Because everything we’re talking about, if you don’t have these infrastructures and institutions to underpin it, they won’t work. They will fall apart. And we’ve never tried this route before.

We’re really in good faith helping Haitian Americans, Haitian Canadians, and French, so on and so forth, wherever Haitians may be, to play a role in their country. That way we have a stake. And I’m American citizen. Many of us are. And so what better situation to be able to contribute? And Haitians in Haiti used to say, well, you left. Well, right now, everybody has left. You have the exile group, which I call the those who have left recently because they couldn’t live in Haiti, and you have the established diaspora. There needs to come a moment where we come together, and we can petition our government to help our homeland get where it needs to be. I agree with you. I don’t think you need Kenyans or anybody else. You need help, of course. But you should explore further the relationship with the Haitian American police officers to come to a better place.

BIGGS: Monique, you wanted to say something very quickly?

CLESCA: Well, maybe more questions.

BIGGS: Oh, great. OK.

CLESCA: I’ll intervene after. (Laughter.)

BIGGS: OK, right here.

Q: Hi. Tom Nagorski.

I want to come back to the issue of a force, not so much whether they’re Kenyan or anyplace else. I think, Mr. Nichols, you mentioned a poll, which I hadn’t heard, of support within Haiti for it. But if I could ask Monique and Garry a question about the disposition, to the extent you know, it, of the Haitian people to outside force generally. I think it’s not an exaggeration to say on the one hand, the country has, as you have said, the worst—the biggest need for such a force that probably any country in the world has. But I can’t imagine there’s another country with a more fraught history, not just recently, U.N. and everyone else but going back, as you began, Garry, hundreds of years. What do we know about the willingness and the wishes of the Haitian people to have anybody come and do this work right now?

CLESCA: Maybe I could respond to some of that. I don’t trust the polls that have happened. Some of them were paid for by organizations that we don’t know. So to me, the polling really doesn’t mean anything. That is one thing. The second thing is that we had an occupation by the United States that lasted nineteen years. Haitians, a lot of Haitians, died fighting against that. So that tells us something about how Haitians feel about that. Now, granted, the situation that we are living in is so desperate, and people are feeling a lot of despair. So pretty much a lot of help that is coming, you’re going to take it as it comes.

But the point I want to make is the following: There is a huge difference between us, Haitians, saying these are the problems that we have. These are some of the issues. These are areas in which we need help, policy, logistics, et cetera. This was never done by the mafia state government. It was never done. Instead of that, the prime minister sent his foreign minister to the U.N. to say, we need support. And then everybody’s, like, OK, support. And then the Kenyans, and then the millions, et cetera. So nowhere along the line was there a Haitian thing that was, this is the security plan.

And the point I’m making is the Canadian ambassador to the U.N. who came to Haiti said: I’m asking government, where is the plan? There is no security plan. So there was nothing that was done. Whatever plan that was done, was concocted elsewhere. And then there were meetings in the State Department with the Kenyans, the Kenyans are coming, et cetera. What we are saying is the following: We need support, yes. And we can have it both ways. I don’t see a problem with saying we are an independent country. We are a sovereign country. We want to be able to decide what are the needs, with our partners—with our partners. Not with our handlers.

And I think it makes a huge difference when you have—you’re paying a thousand Kenyans to come across the continent to Haiti, rather than saying: What are the issues? What are the needs? What are the plans, et cetera? And then, who is best—who can provide the needs that we have? I don’t know that the Kenyans are the ones. No. So I just want to kind of change that around to it’s not an invasion force that we need. We need to decide, OK, here is the situation. What are the needs? This is what is done everywhere. Everywhere. They’re not going to send a thousand Kenyans to Israel. They’re not going to send a thousand Kenyans to Ukraine. Why send them to us? No. I think we ought to sit down. There are people in Haiti—contrary to what Monsieur Pierre-Pierre says, there are Haitians who are capable who are still in Haiti.

I was in Haiti until last Monday. I believe I’m capable. All the friends I have, all the people I know, they are working in it. No, but wait a minute. You know, Haiti is not only a question of gangs. There may be 3,000 gang members. We are 11.5 million. So, excuse me, let’s look at it another way. Let’s change the way we look at Haiti. There are people who perhaps do not want to be involved. Yes, I understand. The diaspora has a lot of Haitians who can contribute, who are contributing, who are participating even in the negotiations as we speak. Every day there are meetings with the diaspora, along with the people who are working in the Presidential Commission. Every day, the diaspora is participating.

PIERRE-PIERRE: Well, if you have such capable people, how did we get here? Of course, you could always, blame the—

CLESCA: Ask Mr. Nichols.

PIERRE-PIERRE: You could always—

CLESCA: Ask Mr. Nichols. The support of the U.S., the support of France, the support of the U.N. I assume we have huge responsibility in what is going on. Of course, we are responsible, because the mafia people we have are ours. But I do not—I will not accept anyone to come and tell me that there are no good Haitians, there are no capable Haitians in Haiti. I’m sorry.

PIERRE-PIERRE: You don’t have enough to rebuild this country. And I’m sorry about that. The fact of the matter is, the diaspora that you’re talking about is a sort of—again, there’s a cabal, a group who has taken over, because—we will go there—but it’s not really representative of the diaspora, writ large. And to think that the people who got us here are the ones to they’re going to solve it, it’s kind of fanciful. And it shows you why this crisis is continuing, because the attitude is that we can do it. But you’ve had—you can blame Brian or whoever you want. But you call yourself a sovereign state, that you’re highly educated, I get that. And I’m not challenging that. But there’s just simply not enough of you to get done what needs to be done.

I think, in my chat—my tasks to the diaspora is, stop sending money back to Haiti. You’re wasting that money. That’s a government job, to provide basic human rights, OK, not us. Let’s stop it. Let’s look for an investment fund in how we can invest in Haiti. The system is no better than what we criticize the missionaries for doing and some of the aid work of doing. And we just become another player in that field. And that’s just really wasting $4 billion. And so we got to get smarter, not the same old-same old. You know, people who got us there, you know, we need to find an alternative. Because we can’t blame the State Department, the White House, the Pentagon, yes. But we are responsible as well.

And we have to own that. We have to be intellectually honest with ourselves and look in the mirror that we were part of the problem, that zero-sum policy that we have. OK, go back to 1991. Jean-Bertrand Aristide is ousted. Why did it take 20,000 U.S. soldier to come back? The Haitians should have solved that problem. We didn’t. And I’ve watched this very intensively—intensely—excuse me—what has happened in the place of my birth. It is time that we start taking some responsibility as well. And not just, like, dump it on everybody else as it’s their fault. Yes, they are responsible. We need to change the narrative. What can we do? Not continue with the same old conversations. Let’s see some action.

When you talk about the government did not have a plan. But there were political actors on the ground, on the scene. So where were your plans? Did Brian reject them? Did he add sausage, ketchup on them? Where are they? I’d like to see them. I’ve spent thirty years of my professional career, from the Sun Sentinel to the New York Times to the Haitian Times, writing about Haiti. It’s the same story. I predicted we will be there because they are doing the same thing thinking it’s going to be a different result. That’s insanity. We need to stop the insanity. Haitian Americans, Haitians in Haiti, there needs to come-to-Jesus moment, and then stop the nonsense.

I am embarrassed. And I told someone I’m tired of explaining maladies, because it’s unexplainable. I know what happened in 1804. It is big. But at this juncture, you know, we need to start. Just like Vietnam did. My son lives in Vietnam. I had the pleasure of visiting Vietnam twice. This is a country that went through China, France exploitation, and U.S. bombing the bejesus out of the place. The new generation said, listen, we’re not scarred by this war. We were not alive. We need to move forward. This is what Haiti needs. Not some platitude talking about talking, talking, talking. We need action. We need to recruit people with the knowledge. I did not say there was nobody in Haiti capable. They are. But it’s not enough to move a country around. And we need to recognize that. If you want the Americans’ help, look towards the Haitian Americans.

BIGGS: It pains me deeply to have to say we have to cut this conversation short.

NICHOLS: No, there’s two hours left, at least. (Laughter.)

BIGGS: I mean, I’ve been tasked to end the conversation on time. If there’s any final thought you had, because they just spoke, or should we leave it there?

NICHOLS: Well, I do have a couple of thoughts. So, one, I want to thank all of you on the panel for helping shine the spotlight on this incredibly important issue—the challenges that the Haitian people face. And that we in the international community have an obligation to help Haitians to find a better future. The United States has stepped forward to do that. We work on this issue tirelessly. There has been engagement from the level the president on down focused on trying to find a way forward. And that way forward, I will repeat, means we have to provide support to Haitians to rebuild their democracy, we have to give Haitians the security they need to rebuild their lives, we have to find ways to provide basic services in conjunction with the Haitian government for its people.

The role of the diaspora is a vital role. The amount of talent that is demonstrated in the Haitian diaspora, whether it’s in Miami or New York or Montreal or Quebec or Paris, demonstrates that the problems in Haiti are a software issue, not a hardware issue, OK? Haitians are incredibly talented and capable. But we have to give them the things that they need to succeed and rebuild a country that has a unique and important place in the history of our region and our world. And we’re going to work tirelessly toward that end.

BIGGS: Thank you so much, Brian, Garry, and Monique for participating in this important conversation. And thank you to all of you who joined us. Please note, the video and a transcript of this conversation will be on CFR’s website. Thank you very much. (Applause.)


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