A meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Haiti President Jovenel Moise during Sunday’s inauguration of new Dominican Republic President Luis Abinader is rubbing Haitians the wrong way, with some feeling like their crisis-laden nation isn’t much more than an “afterthought” in the Trump administration’s foreign policy agenda.
Rather than occurring in a meeting room, the pre-arranged 30-minute bilateral discussion between Pompeo and Moise over the need for Haiti to schedule its overdue legislative elections, took place in a hall of the presidential palace in Santo Domingo.
Haitians are saying the informal setting was a dis of their president — who missed the 350th anniversary celebration of the founding of the northern city of Cap-Haitien to travel to Santo Domingo — and by extension, their country, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic.
“The way they managed this meeting translates into a complete lack of respect for Haitian officials,” said Ives Marie Chanel, a journalist and expert on Haiti-Dominican relations who splits his time between both nations. “It’s along the same lines of the declaration that President Donald Trump made when he called Haiti a shithole country. There should have been at least a minimum of protocol that they respected.”
In 2018, Trump was accused of referring to Haiti, El Salvador and African countries as “shithole” nations during a meeting on immigration. Even though Trump denied the claim, Haitians have said they believe it.
As evidence, they have cited the administration’s decision to terminate Temporary Protected Status for Haitians in the United States, the end of the Haitian Family Reunification Parole program and the barring of Haitians in a temporary workers’ visa program that for decades allowed U.S. farmers, hoteliers and other business owners to hire foreign seasonal workers. They also note the administration’s lack of forcefulness on Haiti’s political crisis and continued support of Moise, who has been ruling by decree since January when Parliament became dysfunctional after he failed to send an electoral law and budget to be voted on.
The meeting’s setting in the Dominican Republic came to light after Pompeo issued a tweet with a photo of him talking to Moise as both stood. The image was immediately shared on social media, where it was the talk of the Haitian internet and led the Monday news cycle.
After dodging the question about where the meeting occurred, Haiti Foreign Minister Claude Joseph told Port-au-Prince based Magik9 radio journalists that it wasn’t the location of the talk that was important, but “the content of the conversation.”
“Our friends the Americans … embraced the idea for us to organize the election to renew political personalities,” said Joseph, who noted that the meeting lasted 30 minutes. “Everyone who knows the history of the country knows that in 2019 the issue of peyi lock (country lockdown) prevented the organizing of elections.”
He also noted that the propagation of the coronavirus is also preventing elections from taking place this year, making 2021 an election year.
Moise, who met with Abinader in a meeting room where they spent an hour discussing Haiti-Dominican relations at a table, offered up his own reaction to the meeting with Pompeo. Showing a more close-up photo of him and Pompeo speaking, Moise tweeted that the discussion with Pompeo “focused on the organization of elections.”
Pompeo’s tweet, however, went much further, indicating that Haiti’s worsening security climate and human rights abuses were also matters of concern and were raised.
“It is critical that Haiti schedule its overdue legislative elections, form an inclusive (provisional electoral council), and strengthen rule of law and support for human rights. These are key elements of the democratic process,” Pompeo said in the tweet.
The State Department did not provide a readout of the meeting although it did provide one with Pompeo’s bilateral meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. The State Department also did not answer questions sent by the Miami Herald about the meeting’s length or why it took place in a hallway. The agency’s spokesperson Morgan Ortagus provided a list of topics discussed, similar to the content of Pompeo’s tweet.
Daniel Erikson, a former U.S. State Department official and adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, said the optics aren’t good and demonstrate that “Haiti has simply not been a priority for the Trump administration.”
“Given the major issues that Haiti is currently confronting, including delayed elections, worsening insecurity and the economic and health impact of the pandemic, Secretary Pompeo’s engagement with President Moise could have been a centerpiece of his trip to the Dominican Republic,” Erikson said. “Instead it looks like an afterthought.”
Jean-Junior Joseph, a former press secretary for the U.S.-backed government of interim Haitian Prime Minister Gerard Latortue and a blogger, called the encounter “a big slap to Haiti.”
“I don’t see any sitting down pictures. I just see the picture of him standing in the koulwa as many people are saying,” said Joseph, employing the Haitian Creole word for hallway.
“Haiti diplomacy, with 216 years of independence, we don’t deserve that. We deserve a diplomacy where people should sit down and talk with a reciprocal exchange,” Joseph said. “Why should the president have to stand in a hallway to speak to the representative of another president?”
©2020 Miami Herald