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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher September 24, 2021

Video clips take Biden’s 1994 ‘If Haiti just quietly sunk’ remark out of context

If Your Time is short

  • The clips leave out the context of Biden’s remarks, which compared the U.S. interests in Haiti to those in other countries, such as Bosnia, in a discussion about causes for military intervention.

As thousands of Haitian migrants massed at the Mexican border, trying to enter the United States through Del Rio, Texas, President Joe Biden took heat over his administration’s response.

Video clips from a 1994 interview that are now circulating on social media portray Biden as not even caring about Haiti.

The clips, from an interview with TV host Charlie Rose, were included in a Sept. 23 Instagram post that is labeled "1994."

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

Biden was a senator from Delaware in 1994 and a longtime member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which he later chaired. The clips from the interview seemed to suggest that Biden was callous, or even racist, in his views toward Haiti. 

The clips are not altered, but they leave out much of the context of Biden’s remarks, which concerned the prospect of military intervention in Haiti.

What’s in the clips

The video posted on Instagram pieces together three short snippets of the interview. As Biden speaks, his words also appear on the screen. 

"If Haiti just quietly sunk into the Caribbean, or rose up 300 feet, it wouldn’t matter a whole lot in terms of our interests," Biden, then a U.S. senator from Delaware, says in the first clip. 

In the second clip, he says: "A leading editor of a paper in the Delaware Valley wrote — asked their reporters to come down and talk to me and said, ‘Why is Biden so concerned about Bosnia and not about Haiti? Is it because Blacks are involved in Haiti? Blacks are what’s at stake in Haiti and in Bosnia they are European whites?’"

The third clip mostly repeats the first, as Biden says again: "If Haiti — a God-awful thing to say — just quietly sunk into the Caribbean, or rose up 300 feet, it wouldn’t matter a whole lot in terms of our interests." 

The reference to Bosnia is a clue that the clips leave out the context of Biden’s remarks. 

What was happening in Haiti then

In September 1991, a military coup overthrew the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the first popularly elected president in Haitian history. Three years later, responding to atrocities by the military regime, President Bill Clinton ordered an invasion of Haiti that successfully restored the Aristide government.

Rose’s interview with Biden and then-U.S. Rep. Mike Castle took place seven days before the invasion. He opened by asking Biden: "Is the United States going to invade Haiti, and is that a wise move?"

Biden replied: "I don't know, and I think it's probably not wise."

Later, Rose asked whether Clinton would be weakened "in the eyes of the world" if Congress did not give Clinton the authority to invade Haiti. That’s when Biden replied with the remarks that are included in the Instagram post. He said:

"Charlie, it doesn't matter much anymore. The truth of the matter is, no one doubts our power. … The president of the United States could be turned down tomorrow on almost anything, and no nation in the world is going to say, ‘Aha, the United States is weak.’ No one is going to fool around with the 800-pound gorilla. ... 

"It used to be though if, when you had a situation where you had two competing superpowers, and we fail to enter into a circumstance where there was a third world country — where there was a competition for control of that country and a competition for them being in one camp or the other, then, it had consequences that were real. 

"Quite frankly, if we decided tomorrow to go into anywhere or not go into anywhere, it's not going to change the calculus of NATO; it's not going to change the calculus of the Russians; it's not going to change the calculus of the Chinese; and they're the things that matter to us. 

"The distinction between Bosnia and Haiti, for example: If  some of us are right on Bosnia, that this ethnic cleansing has the potential to rear its ugly head in Ukraine, in Belarus in the former Soviet Union, where they have major arsenals of nuclear weapons, where they have long histories of national wars, where ethnicity dominates, that is of phenomenal potential consequence to the United States.

"If Haiti — a God-awful thing to say — if Haiti just quietly sunk into the Caribbean or rose up 300 feet, it wouldn't matter a whole lot in terms of our interest."

Remark about Black people in Haiti

Later in the interview, there was this exchange, in which Biden referred to Black people in Haiti and the political dynamics behind decisions to deploy U.S. troops abroad:

Rose: "But are you saying then that the president — the only reason that the president might be thinking about invading Haiti is because of politics?"

Biden: "No. … Here, you have a different dynamic, a dynamic we're accustomed to over 200 years. You have a large group, a large constituency in the United States of America looks and says, ‘Now wait a minute. Y'all went into Grenada for 40, 100, 70, not 500 medical students. And here there are thousands of Blacks being persecuted, killed, death squads, and you're not doing anything.' Clearly, Haiti is no more or less in the interest of the United States than Grenada. 

"A leading editor of a paper in the Delaware Valley, asked their reporters to come down and talk to me and said, ‘Why is Biden so concerned about Bosnia, and not about Haiti? Is it because Blacks are involved in Haiti, Blacks are what are at stake in Haiti, and in Bosnia they are Europeans, whites?’ 

"There is that notion abroad, in the Congress, in the country. It's not substantially different than when Lech Walesa came along and all the Poles in the state of Delaware and the United States of America focused, or when Israel is in trouble and the American Jewish community and those who believe strongly in Israel focus. Or — you can list, throughout our history, circumstances where our multi-ethnic community looks to things happening in a constituency that they are from, represent, or feel, having a stake in. …  But, there's a different political dynamic here, and that is that there is a large constituency in America that is saying, 'Hey wait a minute. Is the reason you're not paying attention over there because those folks are Black folks?’''

Rose: "Right."

Biden: "I think Somalia worked that way, don't you, Michael, I mean in terms of how people respond?"

Castle: "I think so."

Our ruling

Video clips in an Instagram post said that Biden said: "If Haiti just quietly sunk into the Caribbean, or rose up 300 feet, it wouldn’t matter a whole lot in terms of our interests."

The clip with that quote is used twice in the post, suggesting a callousness on Biden’s part toward Haiti. 

The full context of his remarks shows Biden was discussing the rationale for a potential U.S. military intervention and arguing that there were greater U.S. interests elsewhere in the world, including in Bosnia.

The post takes Biden’s remarks out of context. We rate it Half True.

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Video clips take Biden’s 1994 ‘If Haiti just quietly sunk’ remark out of context

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