Daniel Foote testifies during a hearing on Capitol Hill on May 26, 2016, in Washington, D.C.

Daniel Foote testifies during a hearing on Capitol Hill on May 26, 2016, in Washington, D.C. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/TNS)

WASHINGTON — Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman pushed back Thursday against scathing criticism from Daniel Foote, the administration's special envoy for Haiti who resigned this week, saying she disagreed with his proposal to send U.S. troops to the country.

Foote resigned after two months on the job and in his resignation letter cited "inhumane" treatment of Haitian migrants at the U.S. southern border.

His appointment in mid-July came on the heels of an active debate within the administration over whether to send U.S. troops into the country. Amid the fallout from the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, Haitian government officials asked Washington to send security assistance to help protect critical infrastructure — a request that was reviewed by the Pentagon and senior national security officials.

Sherman, the second-highest official at the State Department, said in an interview with McClatchy that policy disagreements with Foote persisted throughout his tenure and whether to send U.S. military troops into Haiti was a central dispute.

Foote was appointed special envoy to Haiti in the weeks after Moïse's murder, and before the Aug. 14 earthquake that further devastated the Caribbean nation.

Sherman rejected Foote's assertion that his recommendations were ignored.

"There have been multiple senior-level policy conversations on Haiti where all proposals, including those led by Special Envoy Foote, were fully considered in a rigorous and transparent policy process. Quite frankly, some of those proposals were harmful to our commitment to the promotion of democracy in Haiti. For him to say the proposals were ignored were, I'm sad to say, simply false," she said.

"You know, one of the ideas that Mr. Foote had was to send the U.S. military back to Haiti," she continued. "I have followed Haiti since the Clinton administration, and I can tell you that sending the U.S. military into Haiti is not the answer that will solve the terrible situation that the Haitian people are currently facing. It just was a bad idea."

Foote said earlier this month that gang violence and kidnappings were issues that needed to be addressed before the country can hold elections. Some leaders in the region, including Dominican Republic President Luis Abinader, have warned that Haiti could become a factor of insecurity across Latin America if other countries don't step in to provide security assistance there.

"Haitians alone will not be able to bring peace to their country, much less will they be able to guarantee the conditions to establish a minimum of order," Abinader told the U.N. General Assembly. "The most important and immediate issue in Haiti is security. Only after this is achieved can free, fair and reliable elections be held."

Days before Foote's appointment, President Joe Biden said he had no immediate plans to send U.S. troops in, other than to bolster security at the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince.

Sherman said that the administration has no current plans to replace Foote. "I don't know that we need a replacement," she said.

Assistant Secretary for Western Hemispheric Affairs Brian Nichols will travel to Haiti next week with Juan Gonzalez, senior director for Western Hemispheric affairs at the National Security Council, she said.

A surge of Haitian migrants to the U.S. border with Mexico has overwhelmed the Department of Homeland Security in recent days. Images of border patrol agents on horseback corralling migrants shocked the public and members of the Biden administration.

Sherman said that the administration is "looking at whatever facility we need to help the Haitian people. We are totally committed to that objective."

Disagreements between Foote and Michele Sison, the U.S. ambassador to Haiti, were well known within Port-au-Prince.

Sherman expressed support for Sison, calling her "an excellent ambassador."

"We have tremendous faith in her and in her leadership," she said.

Sison and Nichols will assess in the coming weeks whether it is feasible for Haiti to hold free and fair elections this year.

Biden administration officials had been calling for elections this calendar year until just recently, after the August earthquake put additional strains on the interim government.

"I think that Assistant Secretary Nichols will work with Ambassador Sison, and listening to civil society to see what we can do to help make the judgments to get to a free and fair election as soon as possible for the Haitian people," Sherman said. "Again, there is nobody who doesn't look at what is happening in Haiti — it is gut-wrenching. And we want to do everything we can to help the Haitian people."

Foote had said that addressing Haiti's security challenges with armed gangs controlling large swaths of the territory was key to helping the country be able to hold elections that are acceptable to Haitians. The country's interim leadership that took control after the death of Moïse had requested that the Biden administration send U.S. troops, but the White House did not support the idea.

"I resign from my position as Special Envoy for Haiti, effective immediately," Foote wrote in his resignation letter. "I will not be associated with the United States inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees and illegal immigrants to Haiti, a country where American officials are confined to secure compounds because of the danger posed by armed gangs in control of daily life. Our policy approach to Haiti remains deeply flawed."

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Thursday that Foote had not raised concerns about the treatment of Haitian migrants at the border while in his job, and said that his criticisms were unspecific.

©2021 Miami Herald.

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