President Biden’s former special envoy for Haiti sharply criticized the U.S. government’s policies toward the impoverished Caribbean country on Thursday in his first public appearance since resigning in protest last month.
The remarks from the career diplomat followed withering criticism from the Biden administration for what it called his “mischaracterization of the circumstances of his resignation” and his abandonment of his mission in Haiti during trying times. Despite those attacks, Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee rallied behind the former envoy, saying his compassion for Haitian migrants and ideas for overhauling U.S.-Haiti policy were sorely needed.
“I’m furious about this,” Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.) said. “Today, the Haitian people are crying out for the opportunity to chart their own country’s course. . . . Ambassador Foote was doing a great job trying to figure this out.”
In his remarks to Congress, Foote was particularly critical of the Biden administration’s decision to back Haiti’s embattled interim prime minister, Ariel Henry, following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July.
Many in Haiti believe Henry has been able to hold on to power only because of his backing by the United States. Henry is facing various attempts to oust him, particularly after a prosecutor sought his indictment in connection with Moïse’s assassination. Henry removed the country’s chief prosecutor and denied any connection to the murder.
“We’ve always prioritized stability over going after the root causes of instability,” Foote told lawmakers. “I believe the root causes of instability are now that the Haitian people do not believe that they have had a voice in their destiny in selecting their leaders.”
Rep. Albio Sires (D-N.J.) agreed with Foote, saying “We should not put our faith into the interim government.” Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar (R-Fla.) thanked Foote for “being courageous and holding true to your values.”
Foote said he was blindsided by the Biden administration’s decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees to their home country who had crossed into Texas from Mexico and were seeking asylum.
“Nobody asked me about the deportations,” he said. “I found out about it on the news just like everybody else.”
Foote said Haiti was unable to absorb an influx of cash-strapped migrants so soon after being thrust into political turmoil after the presidential assassination and a recent deadly earthquake that devastated the country’s south. Street gangs have torched homes and unleashed waves of violence on the population.
The State Department did not respond Thursday to requests for comment on Foote’s remarks.
State Department spokesman Ned Price earlier had said that, in resigning, Foote abandoned efforts to find a solution while falsely suggesting that his input had been ignored.
“This is a challenging moment that requires leadership. It is unfortunate that, instead of participating in a solutions-oriented policy process, Special Envoy Foote has both resigned and mischaracterized the circumstances of his resignation,” Price said in a statement last month.
Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman went further and accused Foote of pushing for a U.S. military intervention in Haiti, something she called a “bad idea” in an interview with McClatchy. During the interview, Sherman said the administration had no plans to name a replacement to Foote.
Foote’s resignation was followed weeks later by the departure of a top State Department lawyer, Harold Koh, who called the Biden administration’s deportation policy “illegal” and “inhumane” in an internal memo to colleagues.