Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Former U.S. Ambassador to Haiti argues for international intervention in Haiti


We're going to seek additional perspective on this story now from a former U.S. ambassador to Haiti, Pamela White. She served there from 2012 to 2015. She's been arguing for some time now that Haiti needs an international force to quell the violence and help bring back stability. Ambassador White, welcome back to the program. Thanks for joining us once again.

PAMELA WHITE: Thank you so much for having me.

MARTIN: We last spoke with you in October, after you testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. You argued then that Haiti needed help to deal with the spiraling situation, and you called then for boots on the ground. And after hearing our conversation with AP reporter Megan Janetsky, I can imagine that that only reinforces your view.

WHITE: Everything she had to say just points to the fact that we have got to do something. It just makes me so angry that for months and months and months, the reality of what's going on in Haiti has been there for all to see. And yet no action, no action. What are we going to do? One of the senior diplomats said, well, we'll wait till it gets worse. Worse? How can it get much worse. There's 5 million people nearing starvation. Somewhere between 60 and 80, 90% of Port au Prince is run over by gangs. Twenty percent of the kids are not getting enough to eat, day in and day out, right now as we speak. I mean, it can't get worse. It is worse. And to not do anything quickly and concretely, in my opinion, is just plain criminal.

MARTIN: The U.N. secretary general has also said an international force is needed, but there are few takers so far, as you were just alluding to.

WHITE: Yeah.

MARTIN: Jamaica's prime minister recently announced that he would be willing to send soldiers and police officers to Haiti. But what does a strategic intervention look like?

WHITE: We've got to have a transitional group. And I - that transitional group, in my opinion, should not involve anyone who's had anything to do with politics or gangs in the last five years in Haiti. I mean, we've got to have somebody that - totally above any suspicion of corruption. We need a high, high-level group that no one can deny are the experts in this area to go down there and have a solid, big presence and come up with a transition plan that we can get Haiti, you know, on some kind of strategic plan to go forward. And the part of that plan, obviously, is going to have to be security.

If Jamaica is the only one willing to come to the front, let's get them over there, if that's what we can. But we've got to get them everything else that they need. We need to start recruiting immediately for more police, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And are there bad guys in the police force? You bet there are. Yes. And we need to get them out. When I was there as ambassador, we had NYPD policemen and we had Miami policemen down - inserted into the Haitian police force. And they were fantastic because they were mentors. They were overseers. They made sure that the special teams were trained. They went with them on operations. We can do this, again, but we can't do nothing.

MARTIN: If you know anything about the history of the country, you can certainly make a moral argument.

WHITE: Yeah.

MARTIN: But what is the geopolitical argument? What is the national security argument? What is your most persuasive argument here?

WHITE: Well, yeah. Well, they're leaving - you know, schools aren't functioning. The banks aren't functioning. The clinics aren't functioning. You know what's functioning? The passport office. You know, two days ago, there was a massive outbreak of violence in front of the passport office. People are desperate to get a passport because this new ruling by the Biden administration says that if you can find somebody in United States that has the means to support you and you have a valid Haitian passport, then we'll consider letting you get into the states legally. And so, you know, they're fighting. They're desperate to get that passport. They're literally, you know, crawling all over each other to get into the office. And that's caused by the need to get out of there.

Do we want hundreds of thousands of Haitians on our shores? I mean, I've never liked this argument. I think we should be doing something in Haiti because we're the United States of America, and we have a long history of being involved in that country, for the - for good and for bad, often. But do something because we can. And we're the country that stands for doing - you know, helping countries that need us out. But if you don't like that argument, if you want to go to the national security argument, OK, I can go there. There's going to be tens of thousands like you've never - you know, getting into any rickety boat whatsoever or anything else that they can put two feet on. And they're going to be on our shores. And it's going to be a political problem for the Biden administration. It's going to be a national security problem. You've got to do something.

And by the way, the people that say that, oh, the Haitian people don't want an intervention force, blah, blah, blah. Just on March 1, there was some - a group called the Diagnostic Development Group issued a really well-done study that they - they had a wonderful cross-section of the population. They have a database of about 5,000 people that they use. And in normal times, they go door to door. But this time, they went phone by phone. They used phone calls. And 69% of the Haitian people said, we need an intervention now. This is a brand-new study. It really needs to be listened to.

Seventy-one percent that the Haitian National Police cannot control the gangs. Sixty-four percent of them said that the gangs are taking over more and more and more every single day. You've got to listen to the voice of the people. And I think if we had this top-notch, high-powered mediation group, that they could use the Diagnostic Development Group to go out and get the voice of the Haitian people, unfiltered, through their networks. And that would be a huge plus towards any plan going forward.

MARTIN: So before we let you go, according to previous reporting by NPR, Prime Minister Henry has called for a new round of elections, with the aim of swearing in a new government by early next year. Is that even possible?

WHITE: I mean, I have tons of friends in Haiti. And, I mean, I've talked to them - I talk to them all the time. There's not one person that I know or any of the experts that I talk to all the time on Haiti that think that it's possible to organize elections, especially not Henry. Henry is not seen by the Haitian people as a legitimate leader. He's just not. So anything that he comes up with, no matter who says, oh, yeah, that's a good idea, then no one - the people on the ground are not going to participate as long as he's in the lead. It's just not going to happen.

MARTIN: That was former U.S. ambassador to Haiti Pamela White. Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us once again.

WHITE: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.