Yes, It's Fair To Say That Biden, Democrats Created Haitian Crisis In Del Rio — Along With GOP
COMMENTARY Many Democrats feel it's unfair to hold a Democratic administration culpable for this month's Haitian migrant crisis at the border. No, actually it's not.
This commentary was updated at 10:48 am
A lot of Democrats are experiencing two reactions to the horrid images of horse-mounted U.S. Border Patrol agents whipping back desperate Haitian migrants at Del Rio, Texas, this week.
One is outrage. This is hardly the example the United States of America is supposed to set on the border — like tearing families apart or putting kids in cages, à la Donald Trump. Which brings us to Democrat Reaction Number Two: it’s so unfair that an immigrant-embracing president like Joe Biden and his immigrant-embracing administration are getting stained with this kind of retro-racist controversy — this very Trump-feeling moment.
No, it’s really not all that unfair.
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Yes, the Biden Administration’s response to the episode — Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said it “horrified” him — is humanely heads and shoulders above the schoolyard-bully high-fives former President Trump and his nativist cult usually tweet out when refugees from what he calls “sh—hole” countries get roughed up. Still, for years Democrats have asked for this crisis almost as much, maybe as much, as Republicans have.
I’ve frequently acknowledged that the onus for the hellish conditions in Haiti that drive so many Haitians out – including the thousands who showed up at Del Rio last week and are still camped under a bridge there – is on Haiti’s ultra-corrupt governments, left and right.
But the U.S., including Democratic administrations, has all too often indulged if not endorsed those Port-au-Prince cabals. And just as often that American m.o. isn’t part of some geopolitical scheme. Instead, it's just a convenient way to keep the impoverished Caribbean country out of America's sight and mind.
That attitude started as soon as Haiti became the western hemisphere’s first independent Black nation in 1804, founded by former enslaved Africans. Consider the U.S. refused to even recognize it until 60 years later.
The new border ugliness isn’t an unprecedented eruption but an eruptive return to reality — born from a cynically negligent U.S. Haiti policy that Democrats own along with Republicans.
It continued through the 20th century into the 21st, under former GOP President George W. Bush but also under former Democratic President Barack Obama — when $13 billion pledged by the U.S. and international community to help Haiti recover from its apocalyptic 2010 earthquake resulted in relatively little help or recovery.
A year later Obama’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ended up backing the dubious election of clown-thug populist Michel Martelly as Haiti’s president. More than anything else, it seemed, she just wanted to get Haitian politics cleared off her desk (unaware that she’d lose to her own Martelly in 2016).
Since 2011, Haiti’s political, economic and security plunge has been breathtaking, brutal and bottomless. Obama all but looked the other way as Martelly began dismantling the country’s fledgling democracy. Trump all but encouraged Martelly’s hand-picked successor, Jovenel Moïse, to continue that institutional car-stripping as long as he sucked up to Trump. Biden then bowed to Moïse’s insistence that he had a right to stay in office a year beyond what legal experts agreed was his constitutional term — until Moïse was assassinated in July.
His murder was another blunt trauma for a country that’s seen its government fall into paralysis while its legislative and judicial branches fall into comas. Violent and politically-affiliated criminal gangs have take over whole sectors of its cities. Almost half its population is underfed. And its southwest peninsula was wrecked by another powerful earthquake last month.
The Haitians who stormed the U.S. border last week are a product of that decade-long implosion. Venezuelan refugees flocked to the same Del Rio border point last spring. In recent years. South American countries like Chile had taken in both migrant groups — essentially taking them off the U.S.’s hands — until the pandemic raged in and their hospitality ran out.
So what’s happening on the border now isn’t an unprecedented eruption but an eruptive return to reality. A reality born from U.S. Haiti policy negligence that Democrats own along with Republicans.
In my commentary last week I asked how the U.S. can change that: how can it pursue helpful involvement in Haiti, especially to create conditions for new elections, without reverting to harmful intervention?
Many readers insisted Biden needs to back a proposal by Haitian civil society organizations to form a rebuilding transitional government. WLRN will explore that plan in next week’s Latin America Report.
Whatever the solution, a change in attitude toward Haiti should be the Democrats’ third reaction to the ugliness toward Haitians in Del Rio.
UPDATE: As this commentary was being published, Daniel Foote, the Biden Administration's special envoy to Haiti, resigned, criticizing what he called the "inhumane" deportations of Haitian migrants this month and saying: “Our policy approach to Haiti remains deeply flawed, and my policy recommendations have been ignored and dismissed.”