By Alana Goodman
State Department officials agreed to give Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff the opportunity to clear travel warnings and human rights reports related to Haiti, after some of the releases hurt fundraising efforts for the 2010 earthquake recovery, according to emails released by the department on Friday.
Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills criticized the consular affairs bureau in a March 19, 2010 email for failing to coordinate with her before upgrading the State Department’s travel warning for Haiti. The notice advised Americans to avoid traveling to the island, noting an increase in murders in Port au Prince following the January earthquake.
According to Mills, who was serving as Clinton’s envoy for Haiti relief efforts, the timing of the warning was problematic because it came days before a major Haiti donor conference. Mills said she was caught off guard by the release and received quizzical phone calls from former President Bill Clinton and Haiti officials after the travel alert was issued.
“We upgrade the travel warning, which has folks from Haiti and former President Clinton call to ask why,” wrote Mills in an email to her aides in the Secretary’s office. “I have no idea it’s been done again.”
Mills said the situation made her look “out of touch” and made the State Department appear “uncoordinated on the sensitivity of these issues given the pending conference to raise [$4 billion] dollars in 11 days.”
“There is a real impact on the efforts we have been directed to undertake by the President to multilaterilize this effort so other donors share the burden of the cost,” wrote Mills.
Daniel B. Smith, then the State Department executive secretary, apologized to Mills for the uncoordinated release and asked if she wanted him to request any changes.
Smith said that bureau officials had been informed of “the importance of clearing anything Haiti-related with [Mills].”
“I’m very sorry for this oversight,” he added. “Please let me know if you want me to ask them to make any changes.”
Smith followed up later, saying that his office would “work with [the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs] to ensure anything Haiti-related is sent for your review.”
“That is already standard guidance in the Secretariat, but there are things we don’t see. [Western Hemisphere Affairs], however, should see everything that touches on Haiti,” he added.
The State Department’s March 2010 travel warning, which replaced an alert issued immediately after the earthquake, ordered a full evacuation of any non-emergency U.S. government officials from Haiti and “strongly” urged U.S. citizens to avoid traveling to the island.
“Since the January 12 earthquake, four American citizens have been murdered in Port-au-Prince. Most kidnappings are criminal in nature, and the kidnappers make no distinctions of nationality, race, gender, or age,” said the travel warning. “The lack of civil protections in Haiti, as well as the limited capability of local law enforcement to resolve crime, further compounds the security threat to American citizens.”
Mills also criticized officials for not checking with her before issuing an annual country report that raised concerns about Haiti’s human rights conditions. She said the timing of this report also conflicted with the donor conference.
The March 11, 2010 human rights report cited the Haitian government’s “failure to hold timely parliamentary elections” and “severe corruption in all branches,” as well as criminal activities by the Haiti national police and poor labor conditions in the country.
“The [human rights] report comes out the day before the pre-donor conference reiterating past language on corruption,” Mills wrote. “I don’t make even a courtesy call to [Haiti President Rene Preval] to let him know so he is understandably frustrated and confused by the message.”
Mills said Haiti had taken efforts to improve on human rights issues, writing that they “properly raised their meeting the standards” for the World Bank, the Treasury Department and the International Monetary Fund.
“Not sure how or if those things are factored in (I suggested that I did not know but imagine they must not be) but [the report] created an undercurrent at the conference regarding what was the message we wanted donors to take from the timing of its release given our leadership role,” said Mills. “And a President [Preval] who properly felt unhappy about any notice or coordination to help them prepare.”
Mills did not respond to a request for comment.
A State Department official told the Washington Free Beacon that it is not unusual for bureaus to coordinate with senior officials before the release of human rights reports or travel alerts.
“Generally speaking, it is not unusual for there to be discussion between relevant offices, regional bureaus, and senior State Department leadership in advance of the release of these types of documents,” the State Department official said.
The official declined to comment on whether any travel warnings or human rights reports on Haiti were ever edited or temporarily delayed based on requests from Mills or Clinton’s office.
The State Department has faced criticism in the past for its travel warnings, particularly on Israel. Critics have accused the department of letting political considerations factor into its advisories. The State Department has stressed that the warnings are determined by security issues, not politics.