AN INTERNATIONAL SHAME – HAITIAN PRESIDENT RECEIVED IN THE HALLWAY BY US SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO
Haiti President Jovenel Moise missed the 350th-anniversary celebration of the founding of the northern city of Cap-Haïtien only to get dissed by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Moise, who was in Santo Domingo to attend the inauguration of the newly elected Dominican Republic President Luis Abinader Corona, was received in the hallway of the Palace by Pompeo for a scheduled 30-minute meeting.
The meeting’s setting was revealed after Pompeo tweeted a picture of him talking to Moise in the hallway of the national palace in Santo Domingo as both stood across from each other. The picture sent a shockwave to the Haitian community and quickly dubbed it an international shame. The image became an internet sensation after Haiti Foreign Minister Claude Joseph told Magik9 a radio station in Port-Au-Prince.
The meeting’s location did not matter as much as the “content of the conversation.” This statement raises several questions. Why would Moise a president of a nation agree to a hallway meeting with a lower-ranking official of another nation? Second, why would Moise’s assistants and advisors think it was good to allow Moise to participate in a hallway meeting? The Secretary of State had several sit-down meetings with Heads of States and other foreign delegations. But the only scheduled meeting that took place in the hallway was the meeting with Moise.
The way the Americans handled the meeting signaled the level of disrespect to the Haitian people and underscored Trump’s view that Haiti is indeed a “shithole country” and must be treated as such. While the Haitian president had a hallway meeting, a sort of an “afterthought” kind of encounter with Pompeo, the Dominican President had a proper meeting in a room surrounded by advisers.
Minister Claude Joseph could not have been serious when he claimed that it is the “content of the conversation” that matters; not where the meeting was held. I beg to differ with him. As a former adviser to a president, I would have never advised my president to accept a meeting in such a situation, especially with a lower ranking official. It would be a different matter if Moise had a tete-a-tete with President Trump, someone at the same level as him. What serious conversation could they have been engaged in? Whatever issues they may have discussed were certainly downplayed by the place of the meeting. Anyone who saw the pictures could have only concluded that this was sort of an encounter one has with someone who does not really matter but not the president of a nation in crisis.
The way the US State Department handled this meeting demonstrates a complete lack of respect for Haitian officials and a clear violation of international protocol governing interactions between officials of different countries. The protocols do not allow lower-ranking officials to upstage a higher ranking official, and if Claude as foreign minister knew that, he could have intervened to prevent the embarrassment. Moise, a president of a nation, should have never agreed to a hallway meeting with a lower ranking US official. The US Secretary of State is equivalent to a Minister of Foreign Affairs. Can you imagine, a Haitian foreign minister holding a meeting with a US president in the hallway of a palace?
The meeting’s place underscores the sordid nature of Haiti’s relationship with the United States and reflects a relationship fraught with exploitation, neglect, abuse, and utter disrespect. It also portrays and sends the signal that Haiti, unlike other nations, is simply an afterthought – not part of a serious US foreign policy initiative to help the country.
Haiti is currently undergoing some of the worst crises: legislative, social, political, economic, and security. Currently, President Moise is governing by decree. Legislative elections have not been held, and there is no plan to hold such election. The economy has been in a downward spiral as the American dollar increases in value against the Gourde, making daily living more expensive. Criminal gangs armed with military grade weapons have taken over part of the capital killing innocent people. The people are still protesting the high cost of living demanding the resignation of President Moise. Food security is the gravest threat facing Haiti, and the government has no plan to effectively address the problem. Nearly two years ago, certain food products from the Dominican Republic had been banned by the Moise government, creating friction with the Dominican Republic. The relationship between the two countries has not been good for some time. This meeting was an opportunity to address the serious bilateral issues between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, where Pompeo could have played a serious role.
A picture says a thousand words. The picture of the Haitian President and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo standing in a hallway clearly rubs other Haitians and me the wrong way. It evokes the feeling that Haiti is not important enough to have a sit-down meeting and that the issues and crises facing the country are not worth serious consideration or the US Secretary’s time. Daniel Erikson, an adviser to Vice-President Joe Biden, echoed the same sentiment when he said that the optics demonstrate that “Haiti has simply not been a priority for the Trump administration” and “given the major issues Haiti is currently confronting, including delayed elections, worsening security, 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, instead it looks like an afterthought.”
Haiti has not been a priority for the United States for a very long time. Trump simply continues the policy of debasement, abuse, and neglect. The hallway meeting reflects that sentiment, but now it is up to the Haitian government and the Haitian diaspora to ensure that Haiti becomes and remains a priority. How this is to be done should be the subject of a community discussion.