Updates from Haiti: Foote is out, and the emergency response still needed

This week has been a roller coaster. As of Friday there have been at least 21 deportation flights to Haiti this week as the Biden administration tries to clear out thousands of people who have been stuck at the Del Rio port of entry after crossing into Texas – most from Haiti. As a frame of reference, through the first 11 months of the current fiscal year, there were a total of 37 flights to Haiti. As Biden has doubled down on Title 42 expulsions, the vast majority of people processed will simply be expelled without an opportunity to seek asylum.

The mass deportations of Haitians back to a country that is clearly in crisis, reeling from political violence and the recent earthquake, has led to widespread condemnation. Hundreds of organizations have issued statements of opposition to these expulsions and the treatment of Haitians in Del Rio, including UNITE/HERE and the NAACP. Democratic leadership has also spoken out, with both Schumer and Pelosi criticizing the expulsions.

We’ve been writing about about the situation all week. If you’d like to catch up, see our statement denouncing the expulsions here, and some background on the context of the crisis in Del Rio here. Finally, I get a little angry with Biden over all of this here.

Foote is out

The biggest news to emerge from official criticism comes with the resignation of the US Special Envoy to Haiti, Daniel Foote, who quit his post in protest of the Biden administration’s deportation policy, as well as continued US efforts to control the electoral process in Haiti. Jake Johnston from the Center for Economic and Policy Research broke the story early Thursday morning in an excellent article you can read here.

The media has covered Foote’s condemnation of the deportation policy widely, but has downplayed his criticism of US intervention. This is too bad, as he makes clear a point that we and many others have been making for months now: The United States continues to intervene in the electoral process in an attempt to control the outcome. Foote writes

[W]hat our Haitian friends really want, and need, is the opportunity to chart their own course, without international puppeteering and favored candidates but with genuine support for that course. I do not believe that Haiti can enjoy stability until her citizens have the dignity of truly choosing their leaders fairly and acceptably.

Last week, the U.S. and other embassies in Port-au-Prince issued another public statement of support for the unelected, de facto Prime MInister Dr. Ariel Henry as interim leader of Haiti, and have continued to tout his “political agreement” over another broader, earlier accord shepherded by civil society. The hubris that makes us believe we should pick the winner – again – is impressive. This cycle of international political intervention in Haiti has consistently produced catastrophic results. [emphasis added].

What impact Foote’s departure will have on US policy is hard to read. He clearly felt that there was little chance of a change – or he would have stayed on. Ambassador Sison and other officials at State continue to call the shots for now, which does not bode well for the majority of people in Haiti. Of course, the administration replied to all of this by throwing Foote under the imperial bus, basically calling him a liar (they never use the actual word, of course). This doesn’t suggest much internal reflection about the demonstrable failure of US policy regarding the political process in Haiti.

Earthquake response

Reports from the impacted area suggest that coordination is still limited among some of the major players. The result being that some communities are still being ignored, while others are seeing a duplication of efforts and the resulting waste of resources. 

While that general critique is probably to be expected (do we ever actually learn lessons from previous disaster responses?) there are some good things to lift up

The Quixote Center has directed most of our emergency response funding to the Haiti Response Coalition, of which we are a member. The HRC has gathered a team of community organizers who are engaged in community surveys, analyzing local needs and providing some assistance. A full update of the first month’s activities is available here.  An excerpt from the longer report on emergency response:

Haiti Response Coalition is taking steps to respond to each of these priority needs:

Health: We are working with the Haiti Health Network and Barbara Campbell at Dalton Foundation to coordinate with organizations who are able to provide mobile clinics for areas where there is a need for a medical team.

Food and basic necessities: In the first seven communities identified during assessments, locally accessible markets have food and other basic necessities available for sale. In order to support the local economy and small businesswomen, and to avoid the logistical challenges of transporting and distributing these items, Haiti Response Coalition is making direct cash transfers to 600 affected families in the seven communities.

Water: Instead of bringing water into the southwest in plastic bottles, Haiti Response Coalition is looking for long-term water solutions. In several of the target communities, including Pestel and the Cayemites islands, water systems were damaged during the earthquake leading to contaminated water supplies in some cases, and an inability to catch, store and treat water. Family and community cisterns were cracked or destroyed during the quake, and in addition, some farmers in Camp Perrin and Cavaillon are calling for support to repair irrigation canals before the end of the rainy season. Over the coming two weeks, an engineer will visit these communities to provide a technical assessment and recommendations to repair water systems.

Shelter: Unlike the 2010 earthquake which forced people out of their urban neighborhoods into parks and other open spaces, this earthquake has mainly impacted people who have land around their homes and therefore do not necessarily have to move into camps for safety. However, camps have formed throughout the earthquake affected regions and there are several factors contributing to this growing situation. Many people from remote villages have moved down to the camp near the national highways in hopes of benefiting from aid that is being transported along these roads because they have not seen any kind of response where they live in the weeks since the earthquake.

In order to help people get out of the rain as quickly as possible, the Coalition is

    • Developing model transitional shelters built from materials available locally in each of the three geographical departments; 
    • Gathering information about existing models and best practices to inform our response and contribute to the development of a global shelter strategy;
    • Exploring options for construction of temporary spaces for schools to reopen in a couple of weeks; and 
    • Working with neighborhood associations in Port-au-Prince to create a model for solidarity konbit work teams to help clear rubble and build temporary shelters for families and schools in affected areas.
    • In addition, we will be working with partners to develop a model for accompanying families currently in tent camps back to their homes and connecting them with support there.

As the summary makes clear, there is a strong emphasis in the medium and long term on utilizing local resources, rather than bringing in external supplies except where there are few other options. 

The Quixote Center did provide support for other emergency responses during the first couple of weeks after the earthquake: Provision of medical supplies delivered to Baradare by the Fondasyon Mapou, and 400 food and sanitary kits delivered to several smaller communities closer in to Les Cayes; an effort organized by the Kolectif pou Lakay.

A lot has been going on! Here are a few things to read to catch up

Jake Johnston, “US Envoy to Haiti Resigns, Citing Political Intervention and “Inhumane” Deportation Policy” Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). Jake not only breaks this story, scooping “major” media outlets by a couple of hours, he also provides much needed context to help understand many of the details in the letter of resignation and what the US government has been up to. So, this really is a must read. 

Human Rights First and the Haitian Bridge Alliance, Biden Administration’s Dangerous Haitian Expulsion Strategy Escalates the U.S. History of Illegal and Discriminatory Mistreatment of Haitians Seeking Safety in the United States. Online here. This “factsheet” provides a great overview of recent border policy (Title 42), and situates current events in the context of a history of abusive immigraiton policies targeting Haitians. The chart on page 2 tells you everything you need to know about the failure of deterrence: Blocking asylum access at points of entry has only led people to cross between ports – it has not stopped them!

Another backgrounder/factsheet from the Latin America Working Groups, Human Rights First and others, Doubling Down on Deterrence: Access to Asylum Under Biden. This came out earlier in the month and does not address the situation at Del Rio directly (nor is it Haiti specific), but it does provide all the background you need to understand what is really happening at the border.

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