December 10, 2019. Click here for witness list and video of the hearing

The House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere today heard five witnesses on the topic, What should U.S. policy be in Haiti? There were no administration witnesses. Two of the five were from Haiti, two were Americans reflecting the Democratic and Republican wings, and one was a Haitian-American.

Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.) asked all five if the U.N. peacekeeping mission should return. All five said no, although Dan Erickson hedged with “Not yet.”

The two from Haiti urged that the U.S. government pull support from the current government of Haiti, while the other three took no such explicit position. None called for U.S. support of it, though.

The former Obama-administration official Dan Erickson’s proposal was for the United States to convene a high-level conference of all the major countries involved in supporting Haiti, from Canada and Brazil to France, Germany and the European Union in order to formulate a new approach. He did not say what that approach should be.

Elsewhere, former U.N. peacekeeping mission chief Edmond Gulet has called for the U.S. military to distribute food to the starving in Haiti, because that is the only practical way to get it to them, and for the mission to return for twenty years with full decision-making powers.

There was acknowledgment from the witnesses from Haiti of the dire humanitarian situation, but nothing practical from them in terms of getting food to the starving, i.e., moving it through or over the blocked roads which are causing the famine. One of the witnesses from Haiti doubted the usefulness of food aid because it did not solve the underlying problems and Haiti was an agricultural country that should be able to feed itself.

Thus, the witnesses from Haiti did not address the dilemma that many thousands of their countrymen are about to die of starvation unless the international community arrives in force to distribute food.

The other dilemma ignored by all was that the current government was elected, so that, unless one spoke differently, the panel was calling for the United States to pull support from an elected government. One of the witnesses from Haiti may have addressed an aspect of this question by doubting the very utility of elections since all the candidates were corrupt. That still did not address the central dilemma, namely that however corrupt, the candidates were elected and the president, in effect, twice. So where the panel left it was the takedown of an elected government.

As a policy proposal for the United States, this will be a difficult sell. When twenty-eight years ago a freely-elected Haitian president was overthrown by the military, the United States restored him to office with twenty thousand U.S. troops. This was the only time in Latin American history that the United States has forcibly restored an ousted president to office. It took such a drastic step because it considered the electoral route less disruptive, and less productive of refugees to Florida, than army overthrows or street fighting. The United States followed with financial and technical support for elections for thirty years. In 2000 it withdrew aid to protest electoral fraud and in 2011 it intervened diplomatically to reverse fraudulent results. Similarly, in 2016, when the losing candidates succeeded in overthrowing an election, the United States refused to finance the election redo since the original tabulation was perfectly good. The call for the United States to discard electoral results will probably fall on deaf ears, and deservedly so.

There is no question that the majority of Haitians have soured on President Jovenel Moïse, but this is not unusual. In 2006 René Préval was elected for a second term with 48 percent of the vote, but in 2008 hunger riots would have swept him from office had not a U.N. peacekeeping mission been there to protect him. There is no peacekeeping mission now, hence the president’s greater vulnerability to crowds on the street.

The existence of impeachment mechanisms in the Haitian constitution was acknowledged and the recent impeachment vote noted, but it was contended that the majority voted against impeachment because they were bribed.

It was correctly noted during the hearing that it is difficult for honest candidates to run because there are so many corrupt ones. It was alleged that if the United States would just help them get rid of the current government, there would be honest ones next time.