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Protestors chant slogans in front of the USCIS district office in Miami as members of Miami’s Haitian community protest Sept. 22, 2021 against the Biden administration for their handling of Haitian immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Protestors chant slogans in front of the USCIS district office in Miami as members of Miami’s Haitian community protest Sept. 22, 2021 against the Biden administration for their handling of Haitian immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. (Jose A. Iglesias/el Nuevo Herald/TNS)

MIAMI (Tribune News Service) — Top officials from the National Security Council and the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs are in Miami on Wednesday to meet with Cuban and Haitian American leaders ahead of a visit to Port-au-Prince later this week.

The discussions come as both Caribbean nations have undergone political turmoil this summer. Thousands of Cubans protested on July 11 to demand an end to their nation’s dictatorship, and Haiti continues to reel from the July 7 assassination of its president, Jovenel Moïse, and a major earthquake a month later.

Since then, an unprecedented rush by thousands of asylum-seeking Haitian migrants to the U.S. border with Mexico, the hasty deportation of many of the migrants, and the resignation of the administration’s top envoy to Haiti, Daniel Foote, has plunged Haiti deeper into chaos amid U.S. policy ambiguity.

Previewing the U.S. delegation’s trip to Haiti, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told McClatchy last week that the purpose of the visit is “to see what is the best way forward here, to make sure that we are talking to civil society so that we are hearing from the people of Haiti themselves to try to figure out what that path is.”

But the trip comes as members of the South Florida Haitian community, as well as leaders across Latin America and the Caribbean, press the Biden administration for more details on where it stands on Haiti’s political challenges.

“It’s an open question mark, what U.S. policy is today,” Dominican Foreign Minister Roberto Alvarez told the Miami Herald ahead of a Tuesday visit to the State Department to meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

During a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly last week, Dominican President Luis Abinader made an impassioned plea on behalf of Haiti in which he said the international community can not abandon the country and that its ongoing crisis could not be tackled by one country alone.

Abinader also called for an external force to take control of the country, noting that without improvements to the security situation, Haiti can not hold elections. In the wake of Moïse’s murder, a political struggle ensued and continues today as some of his loyalists seek to oust interim Prime Minister Ariel Henry, and members of Haiti’s civil society seek to take charge of the country’s governance.

Abinader’s comments came as his nation became part of an informal alliance with Panama and Costa Rica around issues related to trade, democracy and human rights. During a meeting among the three presidents at the U.N., the conversation inevitably turned to the issue of migration and the number of Haitians going through Panama, Alvarez said.

“We are just trying to get the attention of the countries that have a leading role in the world. That’s the main objective, to get particularly the U.S.’s attention,” Alvarez said.

A State Department spokesperson said that while in Haiti, Assistant Secretary Brian Nichols and National Security Council Senior Director Juan Gonzalez plan to meet with civil society groups, as well as Henry and Foreign Minister Claude Joseph.

Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, Bocchit Edmond, raised concerns in a meeting with Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas on Tuesday over the recent treatment of Haitian migrants at the border.

“We do care about our migrants — you have to respect their dignity and rights,” Edmond told the Herald. “We are very concerned when it comes to their treatment.”

The two discussed the U.S. H1 visa program, the resumption of a family reunification program and better coordination between the U.S. and Haitian coast guards “to help them cover some part of the Caribbean Sea,” Edmond added.

In a statement on the meeting, Mayorkas said that the United States and Haiti have a “shared commitment to ensuring that Haitian migrants are treated with dignity and respect.”

Mayorkas also thanked Edmond for the “reintegration” of Haitian migrants back at home in Haiti. USAID has established a $5.5 million program to provide on-the-ground assistance to repatriated Haitian migrants.

“I look forward to continuing to work with the government of Haiti and other partners throughout the hemisphere as we work toward safe, orderly, and humane management of migration in the region,” Mayorkas said.

Earlier this week, Henry disbanded Haiti’s nine-member Provisional Electoral Council, effectively postponing next month’s general elections for a new president and parliament and the vote on a controversial constitutional referendum. The council had been criticized by Moïse prior to his death, but was supported by the international community despite protests from Haiti’s opposition and civil society groups that had refused to name representatives.

It is the fourth time Haiti’s election has been postponed, and Henry said that he would soon appoint a new electoral council.

Appointing a new, inclusive and representative council is the first step in staging elections, but Henry, who has been seeking support for his own “Political Accord for Peaceful and Effective Governance,” faces opposition to his rule. Hundreds of organizations in and out of Haiti are backing a broad-based commission on Haitian civil society that lays out a road map for a transitional government.

The United States, which has been pushing elections instead of a long transition period, has been accused of ignoring the commission, a point made by Foote, the former envoy, in a harsh resignation letter criticizing U.S. policy in Haiti and international support for Henry and his interim government, as well as the ongoing U.S. repatriation of Haitians.

Biden administration officials have also been meeting with Cuban Americans regularly to discuss U.S. policy toward Cuba and how to best support the island’s pro-democracy movement. President Joe Biden has been a vocal critic of the repression of anti-government protesters who took to the streets in July. Hundreds are still in jail, some facing charges that could keep them in prison for several years.

The Biden administration is also expected to announce a decision soon regarding remittances to Cuba, after a working group set to study the issue offered recommendations to the White House at the end of August. Official money transfer channels have been suspended since 2020, and the administration said it was examining ways to allow remittances while minimizing the cut taken by the Cuban government.

©2021 Miami Herald. Visit at miamiherald.com.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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