Haitian Foreign Minister Antonio Rodrigue speaking on Jun. 4 at the 48th OAS General Assembly in Washington, DC. Credit: Juan Manuel Herrera/OAS

By Garry Pierre-Pierre

In his latest column, Haitian Times publisher Garry Pierre-Pierre discusses Haitian / Venezuela relations and why the United States’ push to freeze out Venezuela from the Organization of American States won’t be accomplished with help from Haiti.

Vice President Mike Pence thought he was snubbing Haiti by not inviting Haitian diplomats to a special White House reception for countries supporting an attempt by the United States to suspend Venezuela from the Organization of American States (OAS).

A day after receiving the cold shoulder, Haitian diplomats stuck to their guns and abstained from the vote, joining 11 other OAS member states who refused to expel one of the Caribbean’s largest benefactors.

While 19 nations voted in favor of the resolution. It is still far from the 24 votes required to launch a process that could end in a suspension of the South American country.

It appears that the U.S. has been dealt a major setback in its attempt to isolate Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro, who the U.S. accuses of trampling on democracy. The U.S. attempt to publicly shame Haiti reveals that this administration has little grasp of Haitian officials’ mindset.  It also exposes the administration’s tenuous understanding of diplomacy.

Let’s breakdown Haiti’s position for a moment. Haiti receives heavily subsidized Venezuelan oil in addition to roughly $2 billion in unrestricted loans under the Petrocaribe program.

On the other hand, the U.S. provides little direct financial assistance to the Haitian government. While, the U.S. is home to the largest Haitian Diaspora, the Trump administration has been hostile and has taken steps to expel more than 60,000 Haitians who are living here legally under Temporary Protected Status.

In short, Trump has been hostile to Haiti and Haitians in the U.S. despite his pledge during the campaign that he would be the greatest champion of the Haitian people.  

In the end, Haiti did what’s in its best interests, not those of the U.S., despite not being invited to the all so White House for cocktails.

I believe we will continually see a decline of Washington’s soft and strong power. It was not too long ago that the U.S. State Department regularly imposed its will on its considerably weaker hemispheric neighbors. This administration lacks the moral authority to talk about degradation of democratic norms in another country.

President Trump has embraced dictators and strongmen the world over and has been waging an intense campaign to undermine the media and the rule of law – two pillars of democracy. He has introduced a brazen level of corruption never seen so overtly in Washington. The Mueller investigation into his campaign has yielded indictments and there are more to come. At the same time, Trump has done his very best to undermine that probe that is closing in on him, his family and close associates.

In short, Trump embodies the very traits that he wants to ostracize Maduro for.

So when they’re making a sound case against Maduro, other leaders are not too receptive and will only go along if it meets their own interests, including the Haitians.

The Venezuelan case should have been an easy one to make, considering how the Bolivarian Republic’s slide into authoritarianism can destabilize the region.

Venezuela, once a looming regional power, is now in shambles. The economy is in a tattered state. Venezuelans are fleeing by the hundreds of thousands to neighboring countries like Brazil and Columbia.

Maduro, who succeeded the late Hugo Chavez, could not carry out his predecessor’s populist vision. By all accounts, the former bus driver lacked the political skills to continue Chavez’s mission. He has been accused of rigging elections and flouting the rule of law in Venezuela.

In addition, Venezuela, has failed to diversify its economy and suffered tremendously when the bottom fell out on the oil industry. Venezuelan leaders had failed to invest in infrastructure and education and had not produced an economic development plan for the country. Like its OPEC member Saudi Arabia, Venezuela imports almost everything that its people need.

Facing economic malaise, Maduro has cracked down on his political foes. Most analysts predict that things will not end well in Venezuela. It will either be susceptible to a coup by marauding high level military officials, who would take democracy back further. The other option is that Venezuela continues its decline. So at this critical juncture, Washington needs seasoned and experienced diplomats who can thread the needle carefully to keep the region together.

What the Trump administration will quickly realize is that no matter what the president thinks about Haiti, it is a chartered member of the OAS and its vote is critical in a number of issues and carries equal weight to other members.

Regular readers of this column know that I’ve called out Haitian leaders when they appear to be falling short in their responsibility to their people. For once, I’m happy to say that Haitian leaders did what was in the country’s best interests.

I urge them to take one step further and cut Washington’s leash and develop strategic partners that will help the country out of its morass.

Garry Pierre-Pierre is a Pulitzer-prize winning, multimedia and entrepreneurial journalist. In 1999, he left the New York Times to launch the Haitian Times, a New York-based English-language publication serving the Haitian Diaspora. He is also the co-founder of the City University Graduate School of Journalism‘s Center for Community and Ethnic Media and a senior producer at CUNY TV.

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