Latin America Brief

A one-stop weekly digest of politics, economics, technology, and culture in Latin America. Delivered Friday.

The View From Haiti

Many decry U.S. policy toward the country—and its migrants—as anti-Black racism.

By , the writer of Foreign Policy’s weekly Latin America Brief.
A U.S. Border Patrol agent on horseback tries to stop a Haitian migrant from entering an encampment on the banks of the Rio Grande near the Acuña-Del Rio International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas, on Sept. 19.
A U.S. Border Patrol agent on horseback tries to stop a Haitian migrant from entering an encampment on the banks of the Rio Grande near the Acuña-Del Rio International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas, on Sept. 19. PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Latin America Brief.

The highlights this week: Haitians react to mass deportations from the U.S.-Mexico border, Latin American leaders slam vaccine inequity at the United Nations General Assembly, and the decade-old regional forum CELAC withers.

If you would like to receive Latin America Brief in your inbox every Friday, please sign up here.

Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Latin America Brief.

The highlights this week: Haitians react to mass deportations from the U.S.-Mexico border, Latin American leaders slam vaccine inequity at the United Nations General Assembly, and the decade-old regional forum CELAC withers.

If you would like to receive Latin America Brief in your inbox every Friday, please sign up here.


‘America Has Lost Its Humanity’

On Wednesday, a few days after images circulated of horse-mounted U.S. Border Patrol agents confronting Haitian migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border in Del Rio, Texas—some appearing to brandish their reins like whips—Haiti’s largest newspaper, Le Nouvelliste, ran a front-page cartoon depicting the U.S. ambassador and the top U.N. envoy to the country at the moment the events unfolded. In the drawing, the two officials sit on the back of a prostrate Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry, whose arms are bound to his sides with rope.

The Border Patrol agents were corralling the migrants as part of efforts to expel them from the United States by the hundreds. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said the United States has conducted 12 deportation flights to Haiti since Sept. 19, which carried a total of more than 1,400 migrants. U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi on Tuesday warned that the U.S. expulsions might have violated international law.

In a Tuesday editorial, Le Nouvelliste slammed not only what it described as cruel U.S. deportations but also a feeble response from Henry’s government. Henry was installed with support from U.S. and other international backers after the July assassination of then-President Jovenel Moïse.

The newspaper wrote that the Haitian government did not immediately delegate legal assistance for the Haitians in Del Rio. Nor did Henry himself seem to strongly object to the deportations: In a short Sept. 18 Twitter thread, the Haitian prime minister wrote that he “shares [migrants’] suffering while saying welcome home.”

“America has lost its humanity and Haitian diplomacy its usefulness,” read the Nouvelliste editorial. On Wednesday, U.S. Special Envoy for Haiti Daniel Foote, a career foreign service official, similarly cited both the deportations and Washington’s support for Henry as part of its “deeply flawed” Haiti policy in a blistering 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,” Foote wrote.

The chaotic expulsions unleashed a slew of criticism in Haiti and elsewhere in Latin America about U.S. immigration policy under President Joe Biden and highlighted tensions—both current and historical—in U.S.-Haiti relations.

The role of racism. Title 42, the rule the Biden administration used to deport the Haitians, was imposed by the Trump administration in March 2020 as part of an ostensible effort to curb the coronavirus pandemic. The measure effectively allows U.S. authorities to block people from applying for asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Biden has moved to abolish some Trump-era immigration policies, such as the program known as Remain in Mexico, but his administration has maintained Title 42, while waiving it for unaccompanied children and some migrant families without issuing clear criteria on which families can expect such waivers. Enforcement has varied based on the nationality of migrants and the part of the border they approach.

In a victory for migrant rights groups that have long argued Title 42 is illegal, a U.S. federal judge on Sept. 16 ruled it could no longer be used to expel migrants, effective Sept. 30. The Biden administration has appealed the ruling.

In the meantime, Customs and Border Protection invoked Title 42 after thousands of mostly Haitian migrants entered Texas last week—prompting criticism that the administration’s actions were “rooted in racism,” as the Haitian social entrepreneur Daphné Bourgoin wrote on Twitter. The Mexican historian León Krauze called the Haitian migrants “victims of abuses and racism.”

U.S. policy problems. Many Haitians have suggested that U.S. immigration policy should take into account Washington’s role in perpetuating the instability and violence that cause people to flee Haiti.

A story in Haiti’s AyiboPost looked at the flow of U.S. guns to Haiti and how those weapons arm the country’s deadly gangs. It cited a new Center for American Progress report on how weak U.S. gun laws contribute to violent crime abroad.   

Some Haitians pointed to what they called weak leadership by Haitian heads of state whom Washington helped prop up, such as Moïse and Henry. Emmanuela Douyon, the director of the nongovernmental organization Policité, tweeted, “If America doesn’t want Haitian migrants at the borders then America needs to change its policies towards Haiti and stop supporting a cruel regime.”

Hemisphere-wide strains. Many of the Haitian migrants camping in southern Texas this week did not come directly from Haiti but rather left the country after its devastating 2010 earthquake and lived abroad for years in countries such as Brazil and Chile. In 2018, Chile eliminated a pathway to work permits for Haitian migrants, spurring many to move again.

The economic hardship of the pandemic also prompted many Haitians to migrate once COVID-19 travel restrictions began to ease this year. In June, Panamanian Foreign Minister Erika Mouynes wrote in Foreign Policy about the dangers a growing number of migrants—many of them Haitian—face as they trek northward through the Darién Gap jungle crossing between Colombia and Panama.

The Biden administration has said it aims to improve migration management. The steps the White House could take to do so are straightforward and include increasing capacities for evaluating asylum claims, the Washington Office on Latin America’s Maureen Meyer and Adam Isacson recently wrote.

Meanwhile, much of Washington’s migration cooperation with Latin American governments has focused on physically blocking migrants from reaching the United States. An alternative would be to engage in dialogue with regional governments about how all countries, including the United States, can offer more legal pathways for migration to better reflect the realities of a new era of Latin Americans on the move.


Upcoming Events

Friday, Sept. 24: The U.N. Human Rights Council discusses Venezuela.

Saturday, Sept. 25: Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry speaks at the U.N. General Assembly.

Thursday, Sept. 30: El Salvador’s 2022 budget proposal is due to congress.

Friday, Oct. 1: The Dominican Republic’s 2022 budget proposal is due to Congress.


Chart of the Week

Over the course of 2020, the pollster Gallup and health care company Hologic surveyed men and women around the world on a series of health indicators. One question asked, “Do you feel safe walking alone at night in the city or area where you live?”

The levels of women who responded “yes” to this question in Latin America are among the lowest of any region.


What We’re Following

Colombian President Ivan Duque addresses the 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York on Sept. 21.

Colombian President Ivan Duque addresses the 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York on Sept. 21.Eduardo Munoz-Pool/Getty Images

Diplomatic palooza. Apart from a speech by unvaccinated Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, which mostly catered to his domestic base, remarks by Latin American leaders at this year’s U.N. General Assembly focused heavily on COVID-19 vaccine inequity.

The presidents of both Colombia and Argentina also called for standard-setters in the international financial system—such as credit ratings agencies and the International Monetary Fund—to avoid unduly penalizing lower-income countries for the debt they have accrued to fund their pandemic responses.

Evergrande tremors. Brazil’s benchmark stock index, Ibovespa, fell to its lowest closing point of the entire year on Monday after speculation about a possible default by the Chinese real estate giant Evergrande. According to Wells Fargo, Brazil is among the national economies most financially exposed to the deceleration of economic growth in China. Another is Chile.

Futuristic flights. On Tuesday, the Brazilian low-cost airline Gol announced its intent to buy a fleet of 250 electric air taxis for São Paulo, South America’s largest city, which boasts some of the largest numbers of helicopters and helipads in the world. The air taxis are expected to be delivered in late 2024 or sometime in 2025. Their vendor said it is aiming for a trip price on an air taxi to be near that of an Uber ride.

Cuban podcasts. Cuba gained cellular internet access for smartphones in 2018. Since then, podcasts have boomed. According to the New York Times, the podcast landscape remains so far untouched by government censors and has expanded “the middle ground between the hyper-partisan content generated by government-run media outlets and American government funded newsrooms that are highly critical of the island’s authoritarian leaders.”

That middle ground includes great variety: El Enjambre features a history segment, El Pitch focuses on entrepreneurship, and La Potajera highlights LGBTQ+ voices.


Question of the Week

Brazil’s president—or a designated envoy—is always the first world leader to speak at the U.N. General Assembly. In what year did this tradition begin?

In the early days of the United Nations, Brazilian diplomat Osvaldo Aranha offered to speak first when officials from other nations would not. The Getulio Vargas Foundation’s Oliver Stuenkel told the Brazilian newspaper Estado de S. Paulo that the first-place position in the speaker lineup can also be considered a “consolation prize” for Brazil after not being selected as a permanent member of the Security Council upon its formation.


In Focus: The Promise and Pitfalls of CELAC

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard (second frm left) talks next to the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean Alicia Barcena (left) in a press conference during the Sixth Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) at Mexico´s National Palace in Mexico City on Sept. 18.

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard (second frm left) talks next to the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean Alicia Barcena (left) in a press conference during the Sixth Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) at Mexico´s National Palace in Mexico City on Sept. 18.PEDRO PARDO/AFP via Getty Images

Last Saturday, Mexico hosted the annual summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). The forum was officially founded in 2011 as the successor to two other regional blocs, the Rio Group and the Latin American and Caribbean Summit on Integration and Development.

Unlike another regional body, the Organization of American States, CELAC does not include the United States. One of its biggest champions, former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, had characterized CELAC as a group established to challenge U.S. influence in Latin America.

Cooperation challenges. The speed at which different Latin American regional groupings come into and out of existence has hampered their effectiveness over the years. This was particularly notable during the coronavirus pandemic. During the 2010s, the Union of South American Nations served as a key regional body for health cooperation, but it has since gone extinct.

Now—after very little Latin American cooperation on pandemic management—some CELAC leaders have sought assistance from U.N. officials on crafting a new plan for boosting regional vaccine development capacity. The proposal, presented at Saturday’s summit, lays out a detailed list of the region’s pharmaceutical laboratories, COVID-19 vaccines being researched and tested, and laws and government agencies that could be mobilized as part of cooperation efforts.

WHO to the rescue? Three days later, on Tuesday, the World Health Organization announced it had identified two biotechnical research plants in Argentina and Brazil to serve as regional hubs for mRNA coronavirus vaccine development and production. It remains to be seen how much these WHO-led efforts might draw on CELAC’s policy planning.

Discord and no-shows. CELAC host Mexico was silent on recent human rights abuses by the governments of countries it welcomed to the summit, including Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. But their presence provoked strong objections from some other leaders present, such as Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle Pou, who said “we should voice with concern” what is unfolding in the three countries.

Meanwhile, the presidents of Argentina and Colombia sent envoys to the event rather than attending personally. Brazil pulled out of the group in 2020, at Bolsonaro’s behest. Overall, the summit evidenced Latin America’s divisions more than its unity, Mexican writer Ricardo Raphael wrote in the Washington Post.

Catherine Osborn is the writer of Foreign Policy’s weekly Latin America Brief. She is a print and radio journalist based in Rio de Janeiro. Twitter: @cculbertosborn

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