MS PORTER: Hello. Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us today on this busy Friday at the State Department, and welcome to today’s press call to read out the recent senior-level virtual International Partners Meeting on Haiti. As a reminder, this call is on the record; however, the contents of the call are embargoed until its completion. A transcript of this call will be posted on www.state.gov.
It’s my pleasure to have Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Ambassador Brian Nichols with us to brief you today. First, Assistant Secretary Nichols will give an overview of the meeting and then he will resume taking your questions. With that, I’ll hand it over to Assistant Secretary Nichols.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS: Thank you and good afternoon. It’s great to be with you following our senior-level International Partners Meeting to discuss our support for the Haitian people, but I’d like to first note that we very much welcome the news that the remaining 12 individuals, including 11 U.S. citizens and one Canadian, who were kidnapped in Haiti on October 16th are free. The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is the highest priority for the Department of State. We continue to provide all appropriate assistance to them and their families. We express our appreciation to our Haitian, interagency, and international partners for their assistance.
I would also like to extend my condolences to the people of Haiti following the explosion of a fuel tanker earlier this week, killing scores of Haitians and injuring many more. Our hearts go out to all of those who are missing loved ones and working to overcome injury.
This morning I hosted a productive discussion regarding the situation in Haiti among 14 partner countries and several international organizations. The Haitian foreign minister joined us for our presentation today on the challenges in Haiti. The United States convened this group to discuss conditions on the ground in Haiti and identify tangible steps to address Haiti’s security, political, and economic challenges. All of the participants in today’s meeting have broad and deep experience in supporting Haiti, and each one of them brought their experience to bear during today’s conversation.
We agreed that the Haitian National Police needs additional support from the international community. We also agreed that political dialogue must continue among all sectors of Haitian society to build consensus on a political accord. When Haitians reach a consensus agreement, the international community stands ready to support Haiti’s path back to restoring its democratic institutions, including holding elections when conditions permit.
I thank all of the participants for today’s deep and rich discussion and look forward to continuing our work to help Haiti overcome its multifaceted set of challenges. To that end, I will work with my team to establish a working-level international coordination group so that we are all aligned in helping Haiti overcome their remaining obstacles. Today’s collective efforts demonstrate our political will to help Haiti forge a broad consensus for establishing a stable and democratic government. Today we also sought concrete pledges from participants to assist in three areas: security, political, and economic assistance.
The United States remains committed to supporting Haiti through this difficult period. Since 2010, the United States has provided over $250 million to the Haitian National Police through the training, equipping, and professionalization of Haitian National Police officers. We have recently increased our support to the Haitian National Police by $15 million, including $12 million to strengthen the Haitian National Police’s capacity to respond to gangs, including efforts with communities to resist gangs, additional anti-gang subject matter experts, and support to the Haitian National Police to establish an anti-gang task force.
The Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs funds nine subject matter experts to advise the Haitian National Police senior leadership and two police advisors seconded to the UN Integrated Office in Haiti. We will increase that number to 16 in 2022. INL also supports the Haitian National Police’s counternarcotics, crowd control, special weapons and tactics, community policing, corrections, and border security units. In 2022, we will send 12 experts to help train the Haitian National Police’s SWAT unit in their efforts to dismantle gangs. We will also provide infrastructure and facility upgrades to help the Haitian National Police train future SWAT officers and provide long-term safety from gangs.
INL will donate a total of 50 new vehicles and protective equipment to the Haitian National Police to help combat the rise of criminality. Nineteen are already in operation, and the remainder should be delivered by February.
We’ve also started a project with the Organization of American States to bolster the Haitian National Police’s community policing and police presence, improve service delivery, and engage with at-risk youth. We firmly believe that gang prevention strategies must include strong community policing efforts to rebuild citizen confidence in the Haitian National Police and reduce incentives for youth gang participation. To improve security even more, we are seeking additional commitments of police trainers and equipment and other material support for the Haitian National Police as well as assistance to prisons, community policing programs, and anti-gang campaigns.
In addition to these commitments from the United States, we also heard from other donors who are planning to increase their presence in Haiti, working on a multilateral mechanism to provide financial support for the Haitian National Police, planning to provide additional technical and capacity building support, and providing vehicles and police infrastructure such as housing.
Our discussion today about Haiti’s political situation focused on the need to support Haiti’s political, civil society, private sector, and religious leaders as they continue to work to achieve a broad political consensus. Once a broad political consensus is achieved, the international community stands ready to assist Haiti in transitioning back to democratic institutions, strengthening the electoral process, and promoting rule of law and anti-corruption efforts.
And lastly, we know security and political stability are prerequisites for a greater return to normalcy and economic growth in Haiti. We also discussed possible support to provide economic assistance through job creation and poverty reduction programs. The active participation of the international community and ongoing support are important for improving the lives of Haitian citizens today and well into the future. Today’s meeting participants look forward to continuing the conversation we began today and to continuing their significant development, security, and humanitarian assistance to Haiti as well as considering new significant contributions in the future.
Thanks very much, and with that, I look forward to your questions.
OPERATOR: And ladies and gentlemen, as a reminder, if you wish to ask a question, please press 1 then 0 at this time. You may remove yourself from queue at any time by pressing 1, 0 again.
MS PORTER: Let’s go to Jacqueline Charles.
QUESTION: Yes. I have a two-prong question. One, if the Haitians that are not able to reach a consensus because this – they remain at an impasse in the political front, what is the United States and international community prepared to do in terms of that? And finally, in terms of the police, I mean, what you’ve just announced is what’s been going on with the police. There has been support from Canada, the UN, United States for over a decade. There has been assistance with equipment. But earlier this year, we saw five police officers killed in a kidnapping lair, their bodies never retrieved. So what is different about what’s being proposed to do today to make the Haitian National Police better equipped to take on the gangs that we see proliferating throughout the country?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS: So sadly, during the Moïse administration, we saw a lot of the previous investments in policing were left without proper maintenance or support. Morale within the Haitian National Police declined. Funding from the Haitian Government for things like salaries really did not arrive for the police. So there was a significant degradation in their capability in recent years. I think they had been quite capable prior to that.
We have commitments on investments from others who had not previously been engaged in supporting the Haitian National Police. For example, Japan is contributing $3 million for the police, including building housing and other facilities for the Haitian National Police, and I think that’s different. The reality is that whatever investments we provide specifically for the Haitian National Police need to be accompanied by gains in governance, transparency, and anti-corruption efforts. The Organization of American States earlier this year established a multilateral mission to support anti-corruption efforts in Haiti, and that should help us in that regard.
The broader political situation and building consensus is vital, and we and our partners in the international community are, one, engaged regularly with Haitians from all sectors of society, encouraging them to come together and work on an accord. But also, we’re looking at international and civil society support through mediation, dialogue promotion, and facilitation that can help them going forward. And our embassy in Port-au-Prince is in discussions with key players around what that might look like.
In the past, the international community has frankly grown frustrated too quickly when Haitians haven’t been able to agree, and we just said, well, if you can’t come together in our timeframe, then we’re just going to impose an outside solution. We’re not going to do that. We are focused on supporting Haitians to come together around a way forward, and we want to make sure that they have the tools and incentives to do that without taking the decision out of their hands by picking a way forward, the same thing we’ve done in the past, and it’s always brought us back to the same place.
MS PORTER: Let’s go over to Andrea Mitchell, please.
QUESTION: Thank you so much for doing this. I know that the statement yesterday expressed gratitude and you were expressing gratitude to international partners. Could you explain how international partners helped in the release of the missionaries – and the role of the Haitian police, how you would evaluate their role? We – we’re told that it was an FBI lead, with I assume the State Department consular helping in getting them out. But do you have any other clarification on how they are, what the medical evaluation was? We’ve seen pictures of them leaving on a government plane – apparently happened yesterday – which was posted today on social media. And anything at all on any money that may have changed hands?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS: So out of respect for the privacy of the individuals involved, I really have to be judicious about my comments. I will just note that in our interagency effort to support a successful conclusion of this tragic kidnapping, we worked across the interagency and partnered with other law enforcement agencies, most notably the Haitian National Police. I’m not going to get into the details of our law enforcement cooperation. I’d refer you to the FBI for that. But I will note that whatever its deep challenges, Haiti remains a sovereign nation and their – it’s their law enforcement that has to play a crucial role in anything that we do in Haiti, and that remains the case in this instance. The – and I’ll just have to leave it there out of respect for the privacy of the individuals involved.
MS PORTER: Let’s go over to Shaun Tandon.
QUESTION: Hi there. Thanks for doing this call. Could I follow up on the first question about support to the police and what you were mentioning? You mentioned a lot of the assistance and the advisory roles. Was the talk in your discussions today on actually sending police forces there – not necessarily from the United States, but from the other partners? Because I know that’s been a longstanding request from some Haitian leaders, to have some more direct international assistance to maintain the security posture.
And also, can I follow up on the assassination of President Moïse? There was a report recently in The New York Times saying that drug trafficking was likely to blame for this and announced that he was going to hand over names to the United States. Do you have anything to say about that or more broadly about where the investigation stands into the assassination? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS: So a number of the countries who participated in the discussion this morning had previously contributed to international police support for Haiti through the United Nations or through the OAS. They expressed their shared willingness to explore greater police deployment in Haiti, whether that was through mentoring, through training, or through formed police units. The structure of how that would happen, the coordination pieces – something that we all agreed we needed to explore further. There’s certainly a crucial coordination element that we need to bring more tightly together around how we cooperate, how this type of an operation or assistance – I shouldn’t use “operation” – I’d say how this type of law enforcement assistance would be structured that we agreed we needed to explore further.
But in contrast to the way that the policing is typically structured in the United States, a number of countries in our hemisphere and internationally have national police forces, and they have the ability to do types of deployment which are more complicated for the United States.
So there are countries that bring a lot to the table in this, and they all expressed a deep willingness to look at that. But the – working out the details is something that our experts-level staff is going to be looking at going forward, and we’ll be coming back together to try and put greater definition on that piece.
I’ll just note, with regard to the press article that you referred to, I can only note that the United States is very interested and committed to seeing a complete, thorough, transparent investigation into the horrific assassination of Jovenel Moïse. And with regard to details of the investigation, I would refer you to Haitian authorities for that. If there are elements that have a U.S. nexus, then I would refer you to the FBI or the Department of Justice to discuss the status of the case for any elements with a U.S. nexus. Thank you.
MS PORTER: Let’s go to Marissa Iati. Do we have Marissa?
OPERATOR: And your line is open.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) were treated in captivity or whether they’ve returned to their families.
OPERATOR: Sorry, the —
MS PORTER: Hi Marissa, can you repeat your question?
QUESTION: Yes. I – so I said: Understanding that you want to be judicious in talking about the kidnapping, I’m wondering if you could say anything about either how they were treated or whether they’ve returned to their families.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS: I will only note that we have used the full interagency resources to facilitate the return of those who had been kidnapped to the United States. And beyond that, I’d prefer not to comment.
MS PORTER: Let’s go to Conor Finnegan, please.
OPERATOR: He removed his line from queue.
MS PORTER: Okay. All right, let’s go over to Daphne Psaledakis. I’m sorry, I actually see Conor is back in the queue. Do we have Conor Finnegan on the line?
OPERATOR: Yes, his line is open.
MS PORTER: We’re having a hard time hearing you.
QUESTION: Can you hear me now?
MS PORTER: Yes, that’s much better.
QUESTION: Sorry about that. So just to put a finer point on Shaun’s question, can you say has the administration ruled out the deployment of U.S. forces of some kind or a push at the Security Council for UN peacekeeping forces? And then just a second question: You mentioned a $3 million figure for Japan’s commitment. Where – can you give us just sort of any other monetary figures for this, including for the U.S. deployment, how much this will cost? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS: So I’d just note that there are a number of broad commitments and statements that don’t necessarily immediately translate to a dollar figure. The – a lot of the cost of the policing support, or there were several nations, and I’d note Mexico, for example, offered support around electoral structures and organization. Mexico’s electoral – federal electoral institute is really a world class organization. But they didn’t come with a specific dollar figure.
I’ll note that the – certainly within the United States, we are looking at continued robust assistance around a whole host of areas. And – so the development side, I’ll just note we’ve already announced early in January of 2021 of this year $75.5 million in bilateral and development health assistance for Haiti. We provided $181 million in HIV/AIDS and humanitarian assistance. We recently announced a USAID $4.5 million program for citizen security and community policing efforts. So there’s a lot that we have done, over $36.5 million in non-earthquake related humanitarian programming in 2021, as well as $55.5 million in critical shelter, food help, livelihood assistance specifically as a result of the earthquake in Haiti. And the – and I don’t want to just bombard you with figures, but I also want to be cautious in not weighing out each country’s individual pledge in too great detail, but I will note that what I found heartening was an incredible focus on all the participants on the need to make concrete investments in Haiti and the regional and global implication if we fail to do so, and that was certainly important.
With regard to the Security Council, I’ll note that the United States, France, U.K., Brazil were on the call – Brazil would be as a nonpermanent member beginning next year; Mexico, who is on now as a nonpermanent member. And I think there’s broad agreement that the security situation in Haiti is a policing challenge; it’s not a military challenge. And figuring out what the right array of support for that policing requirement in Haiti is something that we discussed in the meeting, and we decided that we need to go back and think about that more.
I’d just note that in addition to the bilateral partners who were participating today, we also had a number of UN-related international agencies there. The Organization of American States was there, and they previously had organized a policing mission for Haiti. We had the UN Development Program was there. The UN Integrated Office in Haiti participated. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime, International Organization for Migration were all there, and we talked about – the UN Office on Political and Peacekeeping Affairs also participated.
And really trying to frame out what the – what we need in terms of an outcome and on-the-ground organization I think needs to proceed, what diplomatic efforts or UN resolutions or OAS resolutions might come out of this. And we note given that the UN and multilateral organizations are already playing a very important role in Haiti, whether we need to adjust that and how we need to adjust that laydown of resources.
In addition to those UN agencies, I’ll just note that CARICOM participated. The International Organization of La Francophonie participated. And they have also been involved in on-the-ground support for Haiti in earlier configurations and international missions. So we have a lot of players in there, and we need to figure out how to array and deploy those players going forward, and then figure out what’s the vehicle to make that happen.
MS PORTER: Let’s go to the line of Sandra Lemaire.
QUESTION: I have two questions. My first question is that there are rumors going around in Haiti about a ransom having been paid for the missionaries’ release. So could you speak to that?
And my second question is: Will the United States pursue the kidnappers legally? Will they go after them and extradite them to the U.S. and prosecute them here in the United States?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS: So I cannot comment on a ransom beyond saying that the United States Government does not pay ransoms for hostages. And I will note that the FBI has the lead in any investigations of criminal activity with U.S. nexus, and I would refer you to them for the status of any investigation or plans that they would have.
MS PORTER: Let’s go to Daphne Psaledakis, please.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you so much for doing this. You said earlier that the international community has in the past grown frustrated too quickly on the political situation. But the elections were postponed after the earthquake, and they can’t currently be called because there’s no elections council. Right now there’s no timeline for naming an elections council nor even any obvious moves to create one. Does the State Department believe this situation can go on indefinitely, and what’s your latest understanding of where the elections council stands?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS: So I don’t think that the situation can go on indefinitely. I think that it’s incumbent upon the international community to provide Haitians with the support and structure and backstop that they need to come together around a way forward. The two main sort of political constellations, the Montana Group and the Prime Minister Henry September 11th accord both have talked about naming provisional electoral council members in their plans, and we have encouraged both of them to come together around that process. That is one of the areas that still needs to be negotiated.
But for us, patience is essential. We want to provide people with the kind of structures that help them come together, but we do not want to force our hand or pick winners or losers. Again, I think that’s – that has only led to transitory progress in Haiti, and we hope to see lasting progress in Haiti.
MS PORTER: Let’s take our final question from Chris Cameron.
QUESTION: On the question of the assassination, The New York Times, we’ve reported in that same Sunday story that American officials have said that the investigation into the assassination has stalled, and I have to imagine these groups are trying to get this political agreement from remember that the current Acting Prime Minister Henry was accused of being tied to the assassination plot by Haiti’s chief prosecutor, so how is the U.S. going to come to this comprehensive political agreement when Haitians suspect that some of these leaders could be behind the assassination? And if they can’t reach a political agreement, will the acting prime minister, who was sort of put in power by the Core Group, by the U.S. and these other foreign countries, will he remain in power after that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS: The – I think it’s crucial for us to provide that support for structures that will lead to an accord. The accusations against Ariel Henry, which he has denied, we are well aware of. But also note that there are a number of other political actors in Haiti who are alleged to have links to gangs, armed groups in Haiti. There is a great deal of concern in different quarters as to who has links to whom among the political and business class in Haiti. It is an opaque environment.
We have to do all that we can to both shed light on any illicit connections, work with Haitian law enforcement authorities to bring those responsible for crime and illicit activities to justice, strengthen the Haitian National Police as we’ve talked about doing. There’s also a lot of focus and commitment on the broader justice sector and its needs for help, including protection for investigating magistrates and judges in Haiti to make sure that they also feel safe in doing their jobs, providing technical assistance to those authorities for complex investigations, and we and our partners in the international community intend to do that. We owe it collectively to the Haitian people to bring those responsible for Jovenel Moïse’s assassination to justice, and I am confident that that will happen. And I know that a lasting political accord and lasting security in Haiti depends on resolution of the security and rule of law challenges that the nation faces.
I’d just also like to note that this meeting is by no means an end state. It’s an important milestone in our efforts to forge a much stronger, deeper, more integrated coalition to help the Haitian people. And we will be coming together again at senior levels early in the new year as we focus our efforts on further concretizing the pledges and expressions of interest that came out today and working with institutions in Haiti to bring the stability needed to hold elections and a restoration of representative democracy in Haiti.
That’s our longer-term goal. We’re not going to lose sight of that, and we’re working tirelessly toward that end.
MS PORTER: That concludes today’s press call. The embargo is now lifted. Thank you very much to Assistant Secretary Nichols and everyone else for joining the call. Have a great weekend ahead.
For more information on today’s action, please see the Department of the Treasury’s press release.