One of the countries that President Trump reportedly derided as a “shithole” during a White House meeting has hired a public relations firm to boost its image in Washington. Mercury, a global public relations firm with a lobbying shop in Washington, is now working for Haiti, according to forms filed with the Justice Department.
Those disclosures say the firm will manage Haiti’s “print, television, radio, and digital media presence by crafting their narrative and amplifying their message … [and]placing stories, booking media appearances, preparing talking points/media advisories.”“It is expressly agreed and understood that the Services under this contract shall not include any lobbying activities (national or local) whatsoever,” the documents read.
Records show that Mercury is the only firm working on Haiti’s behalf in the United States.
Public relations services are needed, says one Haiti expert, so that “its detractors don’t completely obliterate its image and its opportunity to have a good relationship with us.”
“For them, this is image survival more than anything else during the Trump administration,” said Fulton Armstrong, a senior faculty fellow at the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies at American University.
Over the past year, Trump has made disparaging comments about Haiti and the people who live there.
At an Oval Office meeting last year, Trump allegedly said that the roughly 15,000 Haitians who received U.S. visas in 2017 “all have AIDS,” according to The New York Times. The White House denied he used the word “AIDS” to describe people from any country.
The Trump administration, in November, announced it would end temporary protected status for 59,000 Haitians living in the United States. That status was granted after an earthquake devastated Haiti in 2010.
In January, the president wondered aloud during an immigration meeting with lawmakers why immigrants from “shithole countries” are allowed to come into the United States, referring to Haiti, African countries and El Salvador, according to The Washington Post.
“Why do we need more Haitians?” Trump said, sources told the Post. “Take them out.”
On Twitter, Trump denied the account of the meeting, writing that he had “never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country. Never said ‘take them out,’ ” alleging that Democrats fabricated the comments. “I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians.”
The contract with Mercury, which lists Haiti’s ambassador to France as the specific client, is being routed through the firm’s London office.
It is unclear what the total contract is worth, but the U.S. subcontract totals $10,000 for work done from Feb. 15 until the end of December. That fee is an unusually low amount, compared to what firms typically receive when representing foreign government or political parties.
Mercury’s other foreign clients include the Mexican state of Sinaloa — which pays the firm $25,000 per month — and the Gulf state of Qatar, which has a contract worth $120,000 per month.
The Haitian Embassy in Washington did not return an inquiry about whether it is involved in the contract or aware of it. Mercury refused to talk about the contract.
Armstrong — who held posts at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the CIA and the White House — said a well-targeted public relations campaign can do a lot of good for a country’s image.
“If [lobbyists or public relations firms]just sent good information, that was all we needed. Sometimes the lobbyists are so unctuous and what you really want is [just]the information,” he said.
Mercury has three people working on the Haiti account, according to Justice Department disclosures.
The team includes Morris Reid, a partner who works in Washington and London. Reid has a long résumé advising high-level figures and candidates in campaigns, including current presidential candidates in African countries and contenders for leadership roles at the World Health Organization and FIFA, the international soccer governing body. He has also worked for “prime ministers, finance ministers, foreign ministers and health ministers in some of the world’s most prominent emerging markets,” according to his biography on the firm’s website.
Also on the account are Danielle Alvarez, a vice president in Mercury’s Florida offices, and Molly Toomey, a senior vice president whose Mercury bio touts that she has “spent much of her career managing the international profiles of clients in some of the most exciting emerging markets in the world.”