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Haiti wants clarification on Trump’s comments, says ambassador

Haitian Ambassador Paul Altidor says he is surprised and disappointed to hear reports that the U.S. president targeted his country with vulgar language in a policy discussion about immigration with members of Congress. Altidor sits down with Judy Woodruff to discuss the historical relationship between the two countries and ask President Trump to engage in a new conversation about Haiti.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now for reaction from one of the nations targeted by President Trump in yesterday's discussion of immigration with members of Congress, I'm joined by the ambassador of Haiti to the United States, Paul Altidor.

    Mr. Ambassador, thank you for being here.

  • Paul Altidor:

    Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure being here.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Your reaction to what you were told and believe the president said yesterday.

  • Paul Altidor:

    Surprise and disappointed that such statements would come out of such a prestigious office like the office of the president of the United States.

    But, again, those statements were alleged to have been made by the president of the United States. Rather than us simply come out and condemn them, which we do condemn, regardless who says them, we did — as a government, we did summon the U.S. charge d'affaires in Haiti to come explain or at least give us some clarity on what was said prior to us jumping into conclusions.

    And, two, I have been actually trying to get some clarity as well from the State Department here in Washington, D.C., as to whether or not the statements were actually made.

    But, again, like I said, regardless if those statements were made, unfortunately, the country of Haiti once again finds itself in the middle of yet another feud that has nothing to do with us as a people, and we wanted to be certain that this issue is clarified.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Did the U.S. diplomat in Haiti speak to your government and have an explanation?

  • Paul Altidor:

    Well, I know this meeting took place earlier this afternoon.

    I have yet to speak with my foreign minister to get all the details about this. But, summoned, we know she came to the Foreign Ministry and discussed with our foreign minister. I have yet to have all the details on what was said.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So you haven't gotten a read yet on what she said?

    What about the U.S. State Department here? You said you have been reaching out to them. Have they responded? What have they said?

  • Paul Altidor:

    So far, we have not received any formal response yet from the State Department. Keep in mind, things have been moving quite — very quickly throughout the day since this news broke out yesterday.

    So, we're hoping between tonight and tomorrow there may be a formal response from the State Department as to what — exactly what was said.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, you don't — you feel you don't have clarity yet on exactly what the president said, or you do?

  • Paul Altidor:

    Well, we know something was said.

    We know, unfortunately, something was said about Haiti and a group of other countries. Again, we condemn the statements. We condemn the unfortunate things that were said, especially on this special occasion.

    Here I am sitting here today talking to you about some regrettable statement when Haiti is mourning, is actually commemorating the earthquake that happened back in 2010.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right. And this is the anniversary of that happening.

  • Paul Altidor:

    Exactly. On this exact date, 300,000 people lost their lives.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Three hundred thousand people.

    Mr. Ambassador, several people have reported from that meeting that the president said, speaking of Haiti, "Why would we want people from Haiti here?"

    If you were to have the chance to talk to President Trump right now, how would you answer him?

  • Paul Altidor:

    Well, first, we hope, if the statements were made by the president of the United States, we would prefer to think he was ill-informed, misinformed about Haitians, the community of — the country of Haiti, because what we're talking about here is a country, a neighbor of the United States with a very long history with the people here.

    Haitians lost their lives. Haitians gave their blood back in 1779 to fight for the independence of this country. So, our history here with the United States goes back a long, long, long way. And to this day, as I'm talking to you, we have Haitians in universities who are professors here. We have Haitians who are driving cabs all throughout this country. We have Haitians taking care of the American elderly. We have Haitians teachers teaching American students.

    In other words, we feel there is misinformation as to who we are as a community. So, in light of what's happened, we're not here to simply condemn the statement. We also, as a government, as a people, to open our arms.

    So, if I'm talking to President Trump today, what we're asking — we're asking two things. One, as a candidate, he did go to Little Haiti in Miami to address the community. So we're inviting him back to come and discover some of those the communities where Haitians live.

    Come to Boston, Mr. President. Come to Miami, Mr. President, and discover the resiliency. Discover exactly what this community of Haitians are doing.

    And since we're also talking about immigration as well, we're hoping the president would take time to meet some of the TPS recipients, to see exactly how much contribution as a community we continue to provide here in this country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you believe the president owes you, owes your country an apology?

  • Paul Altidor:

    If something was said, just if I were to come here and step on your foot accidentally, we just hope this is good manners.

    Again, we don't want to keep this conversation as to who said what. Something was said in the name of Haiti that we find regretful, we find unfortunate, because this fits into a greater narrative as a government we're trying to address, too much stigmas, too much stereotype about the country of Haiti.

    So, we hope this is a new beginning of a new conversation about the country of Haiti and its people.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Ambassador Altidor, I want to ask you, because we were just talking about this, about your own personal experience.

    You came to the United States as a teenager.

  • Paul Altidor:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You came to Boston.

  • Paul Altidor:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Just talk for a moment about what you found when you came the United States?

  • Paul Altidor:

    Well, I came here just like most. This is a typical story of other immigrants who come here.

    I came here in the middle of winter with a T-shirt on my back from Haiti into Boston in the middle of January.

    But what happened? What happened is, just like most other folks who happen — who are fortunate to be here, went to school, got my little part-time job, made it to MIT, and became a Haitian ambassador.

    So, this is our Haitian success story, but also an American story, as far as we're concerned, in part because our two people, our two countries have been living side by side jointly for a very long time.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Your father, you were saying, was a taxi driver in Boston.

  • Paul Altidor:

    That's correct. That's correct.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So he spent a number of years here in Boston, in this country, contributing to the economy of this country, working as someone who brought his family here.

  • Paul Altidor:

    Exactly. Exactly.

    And not only contributing to the economies of this country, but also making a great contribution to the economies of Haiti as well. So, the bottom line, again, we are hoping the American public, including the president and others, get to know us as a community better.

    Too much misinformation is out there. Too much misconception about who we are. So, we're hoping to use this opportunity to engage the American public in a different conversation about who we are as a country, as a people.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, you have certainly begun that conversation right here. And we appreciate it, Ambassador.

  • Paul Altidor:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Ambassador Paul Altidor, thank you.

  • Paul Altidor:

    Thank you very much for having me today.

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