MODERATOR: Good afternoon, happy Friday, and thank you, everyone, for joining us this afternoon. Today we’ll have a press call to read out the most recent virtual foreign ministers meeting on Haiti. As an initial reminder, this call is on the record, but the contents of the call are embargoed until the call is complete.
It’s my pleasure to have [Senior State Department Official] with us today to brief you. First, [Senior State Department Official] will give an overview of the meeting, and then we will resume taking your questions. I’ll now pass it over to [Senior State Department Official] to begin with his remarks.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you very much. I am very pleased with the ministerial-level meeting that Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman represented the United States at this morning. We had a long and in-depth conversation about the current situation in Haiti, the commitments of the international community to support the Haitian people, the challenges that the Haitian people face, and the way forward on Haiti.
This ministerial meeting was led by Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly, and the Canadian Government has, I believe, both released her remarks and the chair’s statement from the meeting. So I would refer you to that if you have not seen those items.
I note that we had broad participation from the international community. Twenty-four different senior officials, the majority of them ministers, joined the meeting. Canada led off, actually pledging 50 million Canadian dollars in new funds to support Haiti, but there are a number of other interventions in support of the Haitian people: key areas that donors looked at, particularly security and support for the Haitian National Police, as well as other emergency services in Haiti like fire and health services.
The conversations emphasized the importance of Haitians coming together around a unified and shared vision for the future to forge a political consensus that will allow Haiti to have elections and return to fully constitutional and democratic rule. The prime minister of Haiti, Ariel Henry, participated during the first part of the ministerial meeting, and then other Haitian officials participated in the other half of the conversation.
The prime minister reiterated his focus on forging a political consensus and a shared vision of the way forward. The United Nations also participated, including at the level of the Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, and a number of other senior UN officials were present. The United Nations is supporting this effort through both security and development-focused donor conferences and donor contribution baskets, I guess would be a better way to state that.
The Organization of American States participated in the form of Secretary General Luis Almagro. The OAS is on the ground already, particularly with police and anti-corruption cooperation efforts largely financed by the United States, and they committed to continue that effort going forward and to expand upon it in concert with technical experts and the Haitian Government.
I should note that there are already on the ground in Haiti several coordination groups that are working to ensure that the international community’s efforts are in harmony and concert, and that the Haitian Government and Haitian people’s views and concerns remain in the forefront of those efforts for deconfliction.
The meeting ran from 11:00 in the morning today till a little after 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time, and really struck me by the commitment across our hemisphere and across the globe with participation from Europeans, Asian countries, and – in addition to those from our own hemisphere, and the universal sentiment that we need to redouble our efforts to support the Haitian people.
I am going to stop there and look forward to taking any questions that you may have.
MODERATOR: Excuse me, Mr. Operator, if you wouldn’t mind just repeating the instructions so that journalists know how to opt in the queue before we start taking Q&A, that would be wonderful. Thank you.
OPERATOR: Sure. If you would like to ask a question on today’s call, please press 1, then 0. That command one more time is 1, then 0.
MODERATOR: Let’s start off with Matt Spetalnick of Reuters, please.
QUESTION: Yes, sir. Thank you very much. I wonder if you can give a sense of where the U.S. currently stands on the stalled electoral process in Haiti. What level of patience does the U.S. even have? How much longer is the administration willing to give Henry to work out a deal with other political players and civil society groups to organize elections?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thanks. That’s a multipart question and I’ll try and tackle the various elements there. The international community strongly believes that the electoral process in Haiti needs to be driven by the situation on the ground that they’re – the security situation, the electoral infrastructure needs to be in place to have a successful election in Haiti. There were commitments from a number of countries to help Haiti Provisional Electoral Council in the technical organization of the elections. Mexico in particular came in strongly on that point.
But the prime minister’s end goal is to have elections, he said, as soon as they can be arranged during the course of this year. I think it’s incumbent on the international community to encourage and support the structure and the environment that will allow that while encouraging all of the interested parties in Haiti to come together around a shared vision. And that theme was hit over and over and over again by different participants in the ministerial.
MODERATOR: Let’s go to Rosiland Jordan, please.
QUESTION: Hi, can you hear me?
MODERATOR: Yes, we can hear you.
QUESTION: Great, thanks so much, [Senior State Department Official]. We’ve been getting outreach, as it were, from various members of the Haitian diaspora here in the U.S., particularly in Miami but going up the Eastern Seaboard. And they’ve said that because they obviously are very concerned about the political situation in Port-au-Prince and they’re concerned about the prospects for political reform for holding new elections, that their efforts to try to engage with the U.S. Government in order to make their concerns and to bring forward their suggestions known – they say they’ve had just a really difficult time connecting. And they’re worried that some voices about the way forward for the Haitian people will be ignored. What outreach is the U.S. Government doing in acting in this role as a convener, trying to bring people together to help get Haiti beyond really the – a past couple of years that have been very, very difficult for the country? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So I met in person with the Haitian diaspora in Miami and in New York. I met virtually with the diaspora in Boston, and look forward to following up with all of those groups. I’ve had multiple meetings with some diaspora organizations. And my colleagues in the department have also separately had conversations with the diaspora in groups and individually.
We believe very deeply that the Haitian diaspora can provide very important insights and suggestions for our policy approach to Haiti. I would note more broadly that it’s a priority for me and for this administration to engage those diaspora groups from around our hemisphere on our policy approaches in the Americas, and that’s something that I find tremendously valuable. We will continue our outreach and our engagement with them going forward. And the many voices in the diaspora often agree, but they don’t always agree on every point, and that’s normal. That’s perfectly understandable.
So the – I would just note that there’s not a single perspective from the diaspora. There are multiple perspectives, and we value them and we incorporate them into our policy approach.
MODERATOR: Let’s go over to Jackie Charles of the Miami Herald, please.
QUESTION: Thanks for doing this. Can you provide us with some specifics in terms of the U.S. and what it is putting on the table, deliverables? And also, Haiti is clearly headed into a transition, and in the past the international community has been reluctant to provide any sort of financial assistance. Can you give us some ideas in terms of the ballpark, in terms of how much assistance can this country expect or will get in the coming months as it prepares to go through a very rough time?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So the United States has been the leading donor to Haiti, and we are doing a lot on security in particular, but also in other areas. I’ll just note some of the things that we are providing. We previously announced $15 million in additional funding for the Haitian National Police. But what that’s translating into on top of our preexisting support, we’re going up to 16 police subject matter experts in 2022 from 9. We’re providing training to the Haitian National Police’s special weapons and tactics team. We’re supporting community policing, corrections, and border security units. The – we have delivered 60 new vehicles and hundreds of pieces of personal protective equipment that we previously promised. And we are engaged, as I mentioned, with the OAS on community policing activities, anticorruption, and gang prevention activities. We have a corrections program dealing with overcrowding in the Haitian corrections system. On earthquake and reconstruction efforts, we’ve provided nearly $100 million in assistance through the U.S. Agency for International Development, and those programs are still ongoing.
The United States and I think others in the international community are quite focused on making sure that we understand the Haitian people’s vision and where assistance needs to go, and that’s an ongoing process. But among the things that others are looking to do, we are seeing support, as I noted, for the Haitian National Police from Chile, Argentina, Brazil; Japan in particular has been quite supportive as well. And on the development side, the UN Development Program is specifically organizing a donors’ meeting for February that I think will also bring greater clarity to both needs and resources, and I hope that the United States, when we have that clearer understanding, will come to the table with significant additional resources.
MODERATOR: Let’s please go to Sandra LeMair.
QUESTION: Hello. Thank you for doing this. My question is February 7th is coming up. It’s a big date for Haiti. There are some people who fear that there could be chaos on that date since it’s the date that Haiti was supposed to hand over the government to a new, democratically elected president. So my question is: Is the United States concerned about that? And if things do get chaotic, what is the United States prepared to do?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So we’ve been in legally uncharted territory in Haiti for quite some time, since the tragic and brutal assassination of former President Moïse. The – from a legal standpoint, the term of the prime minister is not linked to that of the term of the president. I think what the Haitian people want and expect is continued efforts and a path toward elections and the restoration of elective democracy, and that’s what the Haitian Government is working on now. That’s what the international community is working on now. And I don’t think average Haitians are fixated or focused on the February 7th date. Obviously the international community wants to make sure that the Haitian National Police and other Haitian institutions are ready to address the broad security challenges that that country faces, as I’ve explained up to this point, and will continue to provide support from the international community for the Haitian Government and the Haitian people.
MODERATOR: Let’s go to the line of Maria Abihabib.
QUESTION: Hi there. Thank you. So Haiti’s elections have been fraught in the past, and not all elections are good elections. Just because you have an election doesn’t mean that you have a strong democracy. We’ve seen that over and over again in Haiti, across the Middle East, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. The U.S.’s focus – singular focus, it seems – on having an election, while that might be well intended, I’m just wondering at what point do you say the security situation on the ground is not worthy of – is not conducive to having an election? You had President Moïse elected with 600,000 votes. That’s not a whole hell of a lot for a country of 11 million. So at what point do you kind of say we have to work on actually improving security before we have an election? What would that look like? What would the U.S. commit to doing to actually try to improve security beyond what you just said, helping train up Haitian police? I mean, will there be any kind of more concrete or tangible commitment?
And secondly, at what point do you say okay, Ariel Henry, you do have to step down if elections are stalled, because this is a man that wasn’t chosen by the country and may or may not be implicated in the murder of the president? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So what I said earlier and what I’ve said since my first day on this job is that elections in Haiti should be conditions-based. There needs to be adequate security to allow candidates to campaign, parties to hold rallies, to have the provisional electoral council carry out their duties, and for voters to be able to safely go forth and cast their ballots. Those are the conditions that we need to see for an election from a security standpoint, and then more broadly, we need a sufficient political consensus around the path toward elections.
The – I don’t think that there is any fixed date limit on elections, but I do believe the sooner that we’re able to bring those conditions into reality and Haitians are able to go to the polls and select a new democratic government, the better that will be for the Haitian people. And we and others in the international community continue to provide both the moral and the economic and – support to achieve those goals, and we deliver the message on the importance of moving in that direction to our Haitian partners every day, including almost every single intervention during today’s ministerial.
MODERATOR: Let’s please go to Danica Coto.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks for this briefing. I was wondering, was there any agreement on the way forward, including any mention of possible foreign intervention if the security worsens?
And how do you forge political consensus when there are at least three main accords on the table?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The – there was not any discussion of foreign intervention. What we’re there to do is to support the Haitian people; we’re not there to impose a foreign solution. And there was a continual drumbeat of emphasis on Haitian-led solutions to the situation with international support, and the commitments by countries throughout our hemisphere, Europe, a number of African countries through the Organisation la Francophonie, Japan toward providing the tools that Haiti needs to move forward.
MODERATOR: Let’s please take our final question from Rosiland Jordan.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks again. I wanted to come back to your announcement, if we can call it that, of the donors’ meeting in February. What specifically are Haitian officials saying are the biggest priorities right now to help the country rebuild? What are some of the things that the U.S. as a partner would be discouraging other countries from offering right now? Thanks.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So the Haitian Government prioritized security as a key need. I think that there are – there’s a tremendous breadth of need in Haiti. That’s not a surprise, and unfortunately, that’s not new. The – in terms of what we would encourage other donors to provide, we’ve encouraged them to provide security assistance. We’ve encouraged other countries to join us in providing economic, development, and humanitarian assistance to the Haitian people.
We are working also in the health area. A key need that we in the international community need to address is the COVID-19 pandemic in Haiti. We’ve donated 500,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses to Haiti, but unfortunately, the security situation and vaccine hesitancy has limited the uptake of vaccines in Haiti. I know that other international partners are working on things like cold chain support for Haiti as well as additional interventions to explain the importance and the utility of vaccines to the Haitian people to make sure that they are comfortable and appreciate the value of the vaccines that are provided.
We’re seeing a great deal of interest among the international community in electoral assistance. And as I mentioned earlier, Mexico in particular talked about their interest in providing assistance in that area. We are also through USAID providing assistance to the Provisional Electoral Council, including strategic planning, information technology, staff, funding. So that’s something that we’re also quite engaged on.
The passion with which the ministers and other senior officials spoke in their commitment to support the Haitian people was something that was very heartening for me – and I think for all of us who were present – to hear. This is a country that the international community really is united in wanting to support, but our mistake as an international community in the past has been trying to impose an outside decision or solution on Haiti.
We need the Haitian people to come together around a way forward, and the international community is focused on supporting that effort but not supplanting it. And I think you will see a continued rhythm, drumbeat of senior and ministerial-level engagement on Haiti going forward. This is a time when there’s a lot going on in the international community, a lot of challenges out there that you all know just as well as I do, and the fact that we had such a senior-level representation for a meeting on Haiti gives me great optimism that we’re going to find a positive way forward in support of the Haitian people. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Excuse me, I spoke a little bit too soon. We’re actually going to take our last question from Chris Cameron. Thank you.
QUESTION: Hi there, thanks. I wanted to ask, specifically in this ministerial meeting, was there any discussion among these ministers among – about the confidence that they had in the current Acting Prime Minister Ariel Henry? Was there any concern, for example, about links that he may have had to the assassination plot or any problems that he has had in governing the country currently?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That was not discussed during the ministerial.
MODERATOR: Hi. Do we still have Chris Cameron on the line?
OPERATOR: Chris Cameron’s line is now open.
QUESTION: So just to make sure I have that correctly, there was no discussion at all about any – like the confidence that the ministers had in Ariel Henry’s ability to govern to date?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That was not discussed. What was discussed was the importance of Haitian political actors across the spectrum coming together to forge a unified vision for the way forward. That point was made repeatedly by ministers, and Prime Minister Henry himself stated his commitment to do that and noted that he would redouble his efforts in that regard. That was the – that was the discussion.
MODERATOR: That concludes today’s press call. Thank you again, everyone, for joining. The embargo is now lifted. I hope you have a great rest of your Friday and weekend ahead.