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Welcome to "Ask the Ambassador" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to U.S. Ambassadors around the world.


U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Janet A. Sanderson, discussed U.S.-Haiti bilateral relations.

Janet A. Sanderson, U.S. Ambassador to Haiti
Janet A. Sanderson
U.S. Ambassador to

Event Date: 1/25/2008

Charles in California writes:

Madam Ambassador, please forgive my simplistic question, but how do we fix Haiti? Such sorrow, so many problems, so many failed solutions.  How do the beloved people of this country advance in their development?

Ambassador Sanderson:

Hi, Charles. I think this is a good question – in fact, it’s one we have all been asking ourselves for a long time. The answer lies in the last part of your question. The future of Haiti rests firmly in the hands of the Haitian people. The international community, especially the United States, stands ready to help, but it is the role of the democratically elected Haitian government to set the priorities so that we all can respond accordingly. Since I’ve been Ambassador here, we have seen this collaboration paying off with small victories – which are adding up to long-term support for Haiti and its people.

Luis in Colombia writes:

Hello, Janet

Some months ago we saw you practicing a HIV/AIDS test in Port-Au-Prince. What the US is doing to help Haiti for fighting against that mortal disease?

Ambassador Sanderson:

Luis, we are very proud of our efforts to fight the spread of AIDS in Haiti through President Bush’s PEPFAR program. This year alone, the American people have invested more than $75 million in PEPFAR programs for prevention, treatment, maternal and prenatal HIV care and education. One cornerstone of our programs is “knowing your status” by getting tested regularly – and the American people pay for tests, plus all medical care and treatments for those who are diagnosed as HIV-positive. And yes – the Prime Minister and I took an AIDS test in public for World AIDS Day to encourage others. There is never any shame in knowing your status. The shame is not knowing and possibly harming others and yourself.

Cagatay in Turkey writes:

Madame Ambassador,

Firstly thank you very much for giving the privileged opportunity to answer the questions. The searches made about Haiti indicate that it's the poorest country in the western hemisphere with 80% of the population living under the poverty line and 54% in abject poverty. From your point of view, in what ways the United States of America is tackling to overcome this problem? Moreover, estimated numbers for HIV(+)with AIDS is 280,000 effective for 2003. So, is the U.S. Embassy and the Department of Health cooperating with the Haiti government to fight back about getting serious precautions for the health issues? Thank you.

Ambassador Sanderson:

Thank you for your interest, Cagatay. The situation in Haiti is indeed grave, but not insurmountable. In close partnership with the Haitian government and the international community, we’ve been able to put programs in place which are enabling the Haitian people to take back their lives and build a better future for their children and their country. Initiatives such as clean water, better access to healthcare, port security, vocational training, Through PEPFAR, we have also been able to strengthen the overall healthcare system with the Ministry of Health, leading to better-equipped hospitals and clinics, better training for medical professionals, and more accessible services for the provinces. As a result, the prevalence of AIDS in Haiti has dropped by almost half since 2002, to about 3% today. It’s no longer a death sentence and is a condition with which many people here can and do live.

We also emphasize preventive care such as immunizations for babies (and have vaccinated thousands of children here). That said, more than 47% of Haitians have access to health services funded by the American government, thanks to the American people. We have developed plans for better resource management and outreach with the Ministry of Health in all 10 departments in Haiti so that people have better access and better-quality government health care. Slowly, we hope, things are changing for the better.

Martin in Germany writes:

Ambassador Sanderson!

What do you think is the most urgent problem in Haiti which ought to be solved right now? Do you think Haiti is on the way towards stability and a vital democracy? What is the United States` favorite project?

Ambassador Sanderson:

Hi, Martin. To me, the most urgent problem for Haiti is simple: Job creation. Now that Haiti has gone through peaceful, successful elections, has a democratically-elected, constitutional government and has seen significant improvements in security, the stage is set for the public and private sectors to work together to create more jobs. People have to get back to work.

My favorite project is a tough question. I like getting out of Port au Prince and meeting the people, children especially, who are benefiting from U.S.–sponsored programs like schools, hospitals and the like. I particularly appreciate the opportunity to talk with people living with AIDS, and even had a chance to share lunch with one group for World AIDS Day. They spoke with us frankly about their daily struggles and triumphs, and really touched me when they thanked the American people for “giving us back our dignity” by openly speaking about HIV and fighting for better treatment of those living with and affected by HIV.

Carlos in Puerto Rico writes:

What does the United States to help the Haitian economy?

Ambassador Sanderson:

Hi, Carlos. As an economist, this question is of particular interest to me. So many factors affect the Haitian economy, from security to weather to the quality of infrastructure. We are working with the various ministries and the private sector in a strong partnership as they reinforce critical institutions such as the tax bureau, and also develop ways to capitalize on bilateral business opportunities such as the HOPE bill, which creates favorable trade incentives within the textile industry (once a powerhouse here).

Steven in Connecticut writes:

Mrs. Ambassador,

 I recently spent one month in Haiti researching the possibilities of bringing students on an academic/service based trip to the Hospital Albert Schweitzer.  My question to you is what are the greatest dangers for Americans in the rural Haitian communities and what can be done avoid these potential problems besides diverting all travel?


Ambassador Sanderson:

Hospital Albert Schweitzer is a great facility with a long history here. It receives USG funds under PEPFAR and I have been impressed by the work that the staff at the hospital is doing for the community. You should take a look at the State Department travel warning on Haiti for the most up-to-date information on the current security climate here, and I also strongly suggest registering your travel plans and group with the American Citizen Services office at the U.S. Embassy in Port au Prince. You can find the link here: http://haiti.usembassy.gov/information_for_travelers.html. In addition, keep in mind that proximity to hospitals and police stations is not a guarantee, so getting help in the event of an accident or other trouble can be difficult. Travel in groups with at least one other car with you, leave your itinerary with a local contact and of course keep bottled water and emergency supplies on hand.

Lenny in New Jersey writes:

How is the relation between United States and Haiti today? How do you improve and develop Haiti to be a better in Education and Economic grow in the future?


Ambassador Sanderson:

Lenny, I am proud to say that positive, fruitful relations between the United States and Haiti continue to this day. I am particularly proud of our education programs, which really will help change people’s lives. In a country with only 52% literacy and where over 80% of parents send their children to private schools due to the lack of public schools, we have provided more than $20 million in education assistance, including teacher training, food assistance, curriculum development, English-language programs, schoolbooks and supplies, distance learning for those who can’t get to a school, and youth vocational training through IDEJEN, a program for out of school youth. One of the best things I have done here is hand out school books to kids at the beginning of the school year. One little girl was wearing socks with American flags on them which she couldnt wait to show me as she grabbed her new books!

For promising university graduates and seasoned professionals who want to contribute to a better future here, we have one of the most successful Fulbright scholarship programs in the Western Hemisphere. There are also numerous opportunities for focused training and knowledge-sharing through our International Visitors’ program. Three current ministers plus the head of the Central Bank were Fulbrighters, and it is truly the gift that keeps on giving. .

Kyle in North Carolina writes:

Hello Ambassador Sanderson. With Haiti being the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and not exactly the best climate to invest in, how is the Haitian Government trying to encourage foreign investors to invest in Haiti and not solely rely on aid from the U.S. and others? Thank you for answering.

Ambassador Sanderson:

Thanks for your question, Kyle. Haiti doesn’t “solely” rely on aid from the international community. In fact, more than $1 billion in remittances from Haitians living abroad made its way here last year alone. As Haiti’s largest bilateral trade partner, we also believe in close cooperation to strengthen the business climate here. We’ve worked with the Ministries of Finance, Justice and Commerce to implement anti-fraud, fiscal accounting, tax collection and customs programs aimed at curbing corruption and increasing revenue. With U.S. trade legislation such as the “ Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement Act” (a.k.a. the HOPE bill) which permits the duty free entry of Haitian textiles, into the U.S. the private sector and the Haitian government have more opportunities to increase industry and create jobs here. We have also support center dedicated to helping investors move quickly to set up businessess here to encourage bilateral trade.

Dieter in Germany writes:

Ambassador Sanderson!

How do you think can the rule of law be realized in Haiti?

What is the status quo of the judicial system in Haiti?

Ambassador Sanderson:

Hello, Dieter. Judicial reform and rule of law are critical priorities for the Haitian government and for us as well. I see the rule of law as a balance between the Haitian National Police, the judiciary and the community. Through initiatives such as community policing, and thanks in large part to a dramatic increase in police presence on the streets here (the last graduating class of the Haitian National Police had almost 900 new officers – 86 of whom are women), improvements are visible. We are doing our part: for instance, we will be building police stations in Cité Soleil, the neighborhood in downtown Port au Prince that was until recently held captive by armed gangs. Ensuring fair due process for those arrested (currently the vast majority of prisoners, including kids in the juvenile detention facilities, have never been charged with a crime), and ensuring that the police and communities treat each other with respect and courtesy, will go a long way to realizing the rule of law and making sure that Haitians have their rights.

Omar in Florida writes:

Madame Ambassador: Do you think that Haiti can achieve stability during the next 5 years?

Ambassador Sanderson:

Omar, I’m often asked about “timelines” for Haitian stability and development. My answer always is, it’s in the hands of the Haitian people and their government. Certainly there is a lot of work still to be done, but much progress has been made in the last couple of years, and I remain cautiously optimistic that Haiti can achieve lasting peace and stability. As Haitians build their country, the United States will be at their side.

Alan in Virginia writes:

Stabilization is often begun at the lowest levels and most effective when it is a result of self-sufficiency.  What micro-economic efforts have you seen to be most productive towards bringing empowerment and long-term benefits?

Ambassador Sanderson:

It’s interesting you raise the issue of micro-credits, Alan. We’ve seen microfinance projects empower so many groups of people in Haiti – People Living with AIDS, rural women, residents of disadvantaged neighborhoods – have been able to take advantage of these programs. In the case of those living with AIDS, their motivation to take care of their families and send their kids to school now that they have attainted a manageable state of health is remarkable. When I recently visited Les Cayes on the southern coast of Haiti, I had the chance to meet with some women who were running seafood restaurants with micro-credits and doing well, thank you very much. They all helped each other and no one had defaulted. Now, that’s impressive!

Through USAID, we support a network of 19 microfinance centers across the country, including “one-stop shops” for funding and micro-entrepreneurship development services and support. All of our members and anyone applying for micro-credit must meet rigorous standards to qualify, and we have found that repayment rates are very high. In addition, through USAID, the US Government also funds comprehensive training for microfinance institutions. It’s critical to make sure that training and services are part of any micro-finance package.

Geralda in New Jersey writes:

What is the nature of your work as an ambassador for a third world country? I, myself dream to be a foreign officer and Haiti is my motherland, so I want to ask if you find it challenging to work in a country with very little health care and employment?

Ambassador Sanderson:

As the President’s personal representative in a foreign country, Geralda, my role is to promote US interests in Haiti and to build a strong relationship between our two countries. One of my more important duties is the protection of US citizens here – there are almost 30,000 Americans living in Haiti – and I am so impressed with what our communities are doing here. This is actually my second time as Ambassador - I was previously the Ambassador to Algeria. Do I find it challenging? Absolutely. Both experiences have also been the most rewarding of my career. On your other note, the state of health care here does continue to concern me, but working together with the Ministry of Health, we have made great strides to improve access and quality of healthcare, and continue to work with the public and private sectors here on job creation.

Osaro in Texas writes:

Has the U.S.A. removed the travel warning from Haiti or not?

Ambassador Sanderson:

Osaro, the State Department travel advisory on Haiti was updated in August 2007 and is still in place. You can find a copy of it here: http://haiti.usembassy.gov/information_for_travelers.html.

David in Oklahoma writes:

I was specifically wondering about the improving security situation in Haiti.  I am a college student (incidentally, I am an International Relations major and would like to work with the State Department) and I am going on a missions trip to Hope for Haiti orphanage in Ouanaminthe, Haiti.  I am assuming that the security situation is better in the eastern part of the country (the town is a couple of minutes from the Dominican Republic border).  Is this correct? Also, how can our team prepare and what can we do to improve our safety while in-country?  Finally, being close to the DR border, is Creole still the dominant language in Ouanaminthe (as opposed to Spanish)?

Ambassador Sanderson:

I spoke with our security experts about your questions David. They suggested that, in addition to making sure you register your travel plans with the US Embassy either in-person at the Consulate or through our Web site ( http://haiti.usembassy.gov/information_for_travelers.html), that road travel does remain a concern, especially in rural areas. Due to the state of infrastructure, proximity to medical care, driving habits and the paucity of police in many towns, if you do have an accident, it will be very difficult to get help. Finally, we suggest that when traveling outside of Port-au-Prince, drivers caravan with other vehicles to avoid being stranded in the event of an accident or breakdown. Read the travel warnings and other guidelines (available at the same site) very carefully and note any cautions.

When I was in Ouanaminthe last year, I found both Creole and Spanish spoken, although Creole did predominate.

James in Colorado writes:

What advice would you offer someone who is interested in becoming a diplomat?

Ambassador Sanderson:

Hi, James. I came across this question a lot when I was Diplomat-in-Residence at UC Berkeley. My career has been challenging and fulfilling – living abroad under tough conditions is not always easy, but I learned so much and continue to learn every day. This is really a “people position” – not that you have to be the most gregarious person on Earth or the life of the party, but as a diplomat, you get a firsthand look at how and why our policies as a government affect real people, and part of your job is engaging and meeting these individuals. You also have to remember that you are always representing your country – even in line at the grocery store.

If you’re interested in learning more about a career as a diplomat, there are some great tools on the State Department Web site. At http://www.state.gov/careers, you can see and hear stories about real-life diplomats, learn about different options under the auspices of “diplomat,” and even take a test to see if this is an avenue you want to explore further. Good luck in your search – we are always looking for the best and brightest to join!

Wid in Virginia writes:

Is there an economic plan that will help the Haitian government in maintaining security and welfare?

Ambassador Sanderson:

Hi, Wid. This is probably the biggest challenge for the Haitian government – developing and implementing an economic plan that will create jobs and positive growth, which will help maintain security and the welfare of the Haitian people. But I think and hope it is a possibility, and we are seeing some of the building blocks coming into place. The United States, along with the international community, will continue to help as the Government of Haiti wants us to do so.

Petit in Haiti writes:

Do you believe that Haitian people can change our life without American aid?

Are you really satisfied to live in this poor country and do nothing so high to change something here?

Are you really satisfied to see that Haiti is always, always, the poorest country in the American Hemisphere?

Ambassador Sanderson:

Petit, I believe firmly in the capabilities of the Haitian people to change their lives – this is a rich and vibrant culture -- and we are beginning to see this happen. Through our collaboration with the Government of Haiti and the international community, we are seeing children walking to school for the first time. We’ve seen a dramatic change in the security situation, including more police than ever on the streets. The American people want nothing more than a stable, prosperous Haiti as our neighbor. I look forward to the day that we do not have to characterize Haiti as the “poorest country in the hemisphere.”

Glenda in Texas writes:

We will be traveling to Aruba in February and were wondering if you knew anything about traveling with a pet (you know if they have to go to quarantine and if so how long). I know you are in Haiti, not Aruba, but I couldn't find an Ambassador listed for Aruba.  Please help!

Ambassador Sanderson:

Hi, Glenda. As a pet parent myself, I know what you mean! I have traveled with my cats all over the world. . The airline on which you are traveling should have information about pet travel policies on its Web site. If not, I suggest checking www.aphis.usda.gov – the US Department of Agriculture’s Web site – for any pet travel information, including documents and regulations. For your information, we don’t have an Embassy in Aruba, but the U.S. Consulate for the Netherlands Antilles in Curaçao (Web site: http://www.amcongencuracao.an) might be able to get you more information on getting your pet to and from Aruba.

Kettley in Maryland writes:

I am a recent college graduate and I am interested in a job in the Embassy in Haiti. How can I apply?

Ambassador Sanderson:

Hi, Kettley. You can find current job opportunities with the US Embassy in Haiti here: http://haiti.usembassy.gov/job_opportunities2.html. Good luck!

Callie in Texas writes:

I'm doing a report on the State Department for my school and would like to know the general purpose and responsibility of the state department.

Ambassador Sanderson:

Hi, Callie. The State Department, working in concert with other U.S. Government agencies, is responsible for the conduct of U.S. foreign policy. Want to know more? Check the State Department Web site (www.state.gov) or our new public information site, www.America.gov, for more information. Good luck on your report!

Pierre in Florida writes:

Is Haiti an oil producer?

Ambassador Sanderson:

Hi, Pierre. Haiti is not considered an oil-producing country.

Dylan in Georgia writes:

My pastor wants to take our church youth group on a mission trip to Haiti. I've heard Haiti is a dangerous country. If this is true I will need to talk to my pastor about this. Can you help me out?

Ambassador Sanderson:

Hi, Dylan. I would start with our Embassy Web site, which lists basic information about traveling to Haiti and some of the cautions you might take. You can find it at: http://haiti.usembassy.gov/information_for_travelers.html. In addition, we’ve had a couple of questions already about trips here which gave advice on things to think about. And do register with the Consulate! We may never need to get a hold of you while you’re here, but it’s nice to know that someone can reach out and touch you and your group in an emergency- or if you havent emailed home in a while.

Melissa in New York writes:

What can the U.S. do to stabilize the government permanently in Haiti?

Ambassador Sanderson:

Thanks for your question, Melissa. Our approach to development here is to think both short-term and long-term. We’re working closely with the government of Haiti and the international community to show progressive results, such as rebuilding the road to a key commerce transit point in Cité Soleil or opening a school – all of which are part of an overarching strategy to reinforce key institutions of government such as the police, judiciary and the legislature. Without these institutions being free from mismanagement, corruption and ineffectiveness, it will be difficult for Haiti to have long-term stability. Together with these institutions, we are training officials, funding projects, developing improved technology and infrastructure, supporting their increased presence in the community and reinforcing their responsibilities to the public.

Jean in Washington, DC writes:

Dear Ambassador Sanderson,

In the last couple years, Haiti has cooperated with the United States in the fight against drug trafficking by allowing DEA agents to work jointly with the Haitian police and by extraditing alleged drug traffickers arrested in Haiti to stand trial in the United States.  However, it is my understanding that the money seized with the drug traffickers are forfeited to the United States government (a rich country) as opposed to the Haitian government (a very poor country).  I suppose the main reasons why the United States seeks extradition of the alleged drug traffickers as opposed to have them faced justice in Haiti are because of Haiti’s dysfunctional judicial system and rampant corruption.     

However, if the United States is in fact taking ownership of the seized properties, do you think it would be a better and more rational policy for the Haitian government, which has original jurisdiction over the accused, to retain possession and ownership of the seized and forfeited properties, so that the Haitian government can use that funds to improve its abilities to investigate and prosecute drug traffickers, and thus improving its rule of law, the basic tenet of any democratic country. 

I look forward to your response. 

Best regards.

Ambassador Sanderson:

Jean, you raised two key issues in your question – corruption and drug trafficking.. These are both shared concerns of ours and the Government of Haiti’s, and we are working closely together, sharing information, resources and procedures to fight this scourge which affects both our peoples. In fact, I just had a meeting with president Preval last night on how we can work closer together to get the drug dealers. The international community, including the United States, is already contributing a great deal of assistance towards reform of the justice sector, and we are starting to see improvements in prosecution and arrest of drug traffickers – at sea, within the country and across the border.

Annilus in New York writes:

What kind of "Support for Justice Sector Reform" will the US provide to Haiti and how and where will that "support" be implemented?

Ambassador Sanderson:

Hi, Annilus. Justice sector reform is already being implemented, and has always been a key part of our assistance here. Since 2004, we have contributed more than $60 million in support of the Haitian National Police – equipment, training, building police stations, and other needs to put them in better access to the population. In 2005, we sent over 800 justice officials, including judges and other judicial officials, on training programs for good governance, human rights training and legal reform. Recently we inaugurated “Kay Jistis” in Cité Soleil with the Haitian government – a center for legal aid servcies funded by the American people under the $20 million Haiti Stabilization Initiative.

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