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Fact Check: The Truth Behind Biden Once Saying, 'If Haiti Quietly Sunk Into Caribbean' It Wouldn't Matter to US Interests

A white man wearing a black suit talks to people who are holding recorders and microphones. There are other people standing behind the man.
Kathleen R. Beall/Wikimedia Commons

Claim:

In 1994, then-U.S. Sen. Joe Biden said in an interview, “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 to our interests.”

Rating:

Rating: Correct Attribution
Rating: Correct Attribution

Context:

The selected quote is missing key context. Biden was discussing U.S. military intervention around the world and comparing its interests in Haiti to those in other countries, like Bosnia.

 

On March 12, 2024, an archival video of then-U.S. Senator Joe Biden went viral, in which he purportedly said, "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 to our interests."

The video, which was reportedly from 1994, appeared to show Biden sitting in an interview, as by the end of his remarks, someone attempts to interject with a question before the clip cuts.


(Screenshot via X)

Biden did indeed say the above words, though the clip is missing important context. He was discussing reasons for U.S. military intervention into different countries and discussing American interests in Haiti versus Bosnia as an example. As such we rate this as a "Correct Attribution."

The interview took place in September 1994 alongside Republican Rep. Mike Castle, and was conducted by journalist Charlie Rose. The full video is available on Rose's website.

While the clip apparently was intended to show Biden's purported callousness about the people of Haiti, he was actually making a larger point about U.S. interests around the world. At the beginning of the interview, Rose asked Biden, "Senator Biden, is the United States going to invade Haiti, and is that a wise move?" Biden responded, "I don't know, and I think it's probably not wise."

In 1991, Haiti's first popularly elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was overthrown in a military coup. Three years later—and around a week after this interview—the U.S. government under President Bill Clinton would send 20,000 U.S. troops to the country to help restore Aristide to power.

Biden began his response by establishing the consequences of invading Haiti:

My concern is if we invade Haiti is not that we will not be able to very rapidly dispatch the present government there, or the dictatorship that's there. That'll be done quickly and, I think, with very little physical loss of life. But, then we're put in a position not unlike Mike and I faced as Congresspersons in Somalia, where there's a need to then reestablish a government. That's the hard part.

He responded to a question from Rose about whether Clinton would look weak in the eyes of the world were Congress to prevent him from invading Haiti. Biden argued that Clinton would have to make a compelling case for it, and how it would serve U.S. interests (emphasis, ours):

Charlie, it doesn't matter much anymore. The truth of the matter is, no one doubts our power. We don't have a superpower arrangement where we are in — where there's any power in the world that — 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.

[...]

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, in, in, 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.

Later in the interview, Biden talked about being questioned on his lack of support and the racial dynamics behind it, as well as the politics involved in Clinton's decision (emphasis, ours).

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

Biden: [...] 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. So what you have [is] — for example, 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. You can list, throughout our history, circumstances where our, our multi-ethnic community looks to things happening in a constituency that they are from, represent, or feel, having a stake in. [...] 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.

Ultimately, Biden did say the above words about Haiti, but did so to make a point about U.S. interests around the world and whether he supported military intervention into their political affairs.

Sources:

"Bill Clinton Once Enjoyed a Bright Legacy in Haiti. Then the 2010 Earthquake Struck." The Miami Herald, 15 Jan. 2020, https://pulitzercenter.org/stories/bill-clinton-once-enjoyed-bright-legacy-haiti-then-2010-earthquake-struck. Accessed 14 March 2024.

"Milestones: 1993–2000." Office of the Historian. https://history.state.gov/milestones/1993-2000/haiti#:~:text=President%20Clinton%20approved%20Carter's%20mission,entry%20on%20to%20Haitian%20soil. Accessed 14 March 2024.

"Politics in Delaware." Charlie Rose. charlierose.com, https://charlierose.com/videos/25686. Accessed 14 March 2024.