A Washington Post report that President Donald Trump called Haiti, El Salvador, and African countries “shithole countries” has drawn international ire and outrage from governments, public figures, and international media alike.
Trump used the term during a meeting on Thursday with bipartisan lawmakers, to ask why immigrants from those countries were coming to the United States. The president denied the report on Friday, but not before lawmakers and staffers in the room confirmed that President Trump, did, indeed, think out loud, “Why do we want all these people from Africa here? They’re shithole countries … We should have more people from Norway.”
Trump has revoked the Temporary Protected Status of Haitians and Salvadorans — both groups here after earthquakes devastated their countries in 2010 and 2001 respectively, and has at times had choice things to say about people from those countries. For instance, in June, according to the New York Times, he said Haitians “all have AIDS.” Since coming into office, Trump has not had much to say about Africa or Africans, other than saying that Nigerians would “never go back to their huts” after seeing the United States and (probably) mispronouncing Namibia (or possibly, really thinking there is a country called “Nambia”) in September.
The countries targeted swiftly reacted to Trump’s comments on Thursday. Or, as the Associated Press deftly put it in a headline, “Africa startled by Trump’s sudden and vulgar attention.”
The African Union is deeply offended by the president’s insult, with the AU spokeswoman telling the Associated Press that the body was “frankly alarmed.”
“Given the historical reality of how many Africans arrived in the United States as slaves, this statement flies in the face of all accepted behavior and practice,” Ebba Kalondo told the news service.
Botswana’s Ministry of International Affairs and Cooperation issued an official statement confirming that they’d called upon the U.S. ambassador there to not only express their displeasure at the implied insult directed at them, but also “enquired from the US Government through the Ambassador, to clarify if Botswana is regarded as a ‘shithole’ country given that there are Botswana nationals residing in the US , and also that some of Botswana may wish to visit the US.”
Jessie Duarte, a senior official with South Africa’s ruling African National Congress was equally indignant: “Ours is not a shithole country. Neither is Haiti or any other country in distress,” she said, according to Reuters.
South Africa’s Daily Maverick mused that, “Casual Friday at the White House is soon to include hoods and tiki torches at this rate.”
U.N. human rights spokesman, Rupert Colville, told reporters in Geneva that Trump’s statement was “racist.”
“There is no other word one can use but racist. You cannot dismiss entire countries and continents as ‘shitholes’, whose entire populations, who are not white, are therefore not welcome,” he said.
In a series of tweets that gave Trump the benefit of the doubt, El Salvador’s Foreign Minister Hugo Martinez emphasized that, “The chief of the work to rebuild the Pentagon was a Salvadoran. A good portion of those who came to rebuild New Orleans after Katrina were Salvadorans.”
Trump’s timing in insulting Haitians is also a raw topic: Friday is the anniversary of the earthquake that has precipitated years of hardship for a country that could ill afford the catastrophic series of events that followed (including a brutal, widespread cholera outbreak triggered by U.N. troops).
Haitian Ambassador to the U.S. Paul Altidor sounded pained when speaking to NPR on Friday morning, saying it was “quite regrettable” that instead of speaking about the country’s recovery efforts, he’d been summoned to comment on “something that is quite sad today.”
Altidor said he was “surprised” and “disappointed” by the statement, for which his government had yet to receive confirmation or explanation, adding that, “Once again, Haiti finds itself in the midst of very negative narrative here in the U.S.”
Norway, for the record, does not seem excited about being name-dropped by Trump — politician Torbjoern Saetre was quick to tweet his response: