(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Congressman Albio Sires (D-NJ), Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security, and Trade, delivered the following opening remarks at the subcommittee hearing he convened, entitled “Haiti on the Brink: Assessing U.S. Policy Toward a Country in Crisis”:
“This hearing comes at a critical time for Haiti. For much of the past year, the country has been gripped by a political and economic crisis. Many factors are contributing to this concerning situation.
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with nearly sixty percent of Haitians living on less than two dollars per day. Increasing inflation and rising costs of living have made life even more difficult for the many Haitians already struggling to get by.
At the same time, the Administration of President Jovenel Moise has been unable to form a government and the legislature has rejected his last two nominees for Prime Minister. Scheduled elections did not take place in October, creating the real possibility that the Chamber of Deputies will dissolve in January and President Moise will be ruling by decree.
Yet the street demonstrations we have seen in Haiti appear to reflect even deeper discontent. It seems that the Haitian people have had enough of political elites who they feel do not represent them or advocate for their interests. I hear their frustration.
As someone who is deeply engaged in our hemisphere and who wants the best for Haiti, I also believe it is completely unacceptable that some of Haiti’s political leaders are living lavishly while the people continue to suffer. I know that for the Haitian people, corruption is not an abstract concept. Corruption helps explain why half of the country is undernourished. Corruption contributes to Haiti’s extremely low adult literacy rate of just 60 percent. And corruption tells an important part of the story behind the roads that still have not been replaced following the devastating earthquake in 2010.
In other words, the funds stolen by government officials through the Petrocaribe program did not merely disappear into thin air. These were dollars that should have been used to improve people’s lives and were instead used to line the pockets of the politically powerful. With today’s hearing, I want to send a clear message to the Haitian people that members of the United States Congress recognize this profound injustice.
This hearing is also about assessing U.S. policy and foreign assistance programs. I know that we have dedicated staff working for USAID and the State Department in Haiti who are trying to help improve the situation in the country. But I believe we need to think critically about how we can better support the Haitian people.
For instance, I am very worried about the human rights situation in the country. I urge the State Department to push for full investigations into the La Saline massacre last year and allegations of excessive use of force against protesters in recent months. It is clear to me that a prosperous and fully democratic Haiti is in the United States’ best interest.
Moreover, the United States’ relationship with the Haitian people is not a one-way street. We know that Haitian-Americans and Haitian-born residents living in the United States provide crucial support to their home country and lift up our economies as well. That is part of why I have consistently defended temporary protected status for Haitians. I want to thank my good friend Senator Menendez for issuing a report last month that highlighted the contributions of fifty-six thousand Haitian TPS holders who have been living in our country and strengthening our communities. I will continue to work with my colleagues to defend TPS for Haitians.
I will also work to protect United States taxpayer resources. It is for this reason that I will continue to oppose any effort to use U.S. assistance to fund the Haitian military, which is unnecessary and diverts resources away from the National Police. I appreciate Congressman Levin’s leadership on this issue and his deep engagement with Haiti.
I hope that this hearing enables us to have an honest discussion about the extent to which our current policy is helping combat corruption, tackle poverty, and promote human rights and the rule of law in Haiti. And I look forward to a bipartisan conversation about what more we can be doing.”