Ambassador to Haiti: Who Is Michele Sison?

Wednesday, August 23, 2017
Michele Sison

Michele Sison was nominated to be U.S. ambassador to Haiti by President Donald Trump on July 20, 2017. Sison, who has been deputy permanent representative to the United Nations since December 2014, succeeds Peter Mulrean, who served in Port-au-Prince from October 2015 to February 2017.

 

In her role at the United Nations, just a month before her nomination, Sison made it clear that the Trump administration did not intend to contribute to a UN trust fund to fight Haiti’s cholera epidemic because the U.S. had already contributed more than $100 million to the anti-cholera effort. It is widely believed that cholera was inadvertently introduced into Haiti by UN peacekeepers from Nepal in October 2010.

 

Born May 27, 1959, in Arlington, Virginia, Michele Jeanne Sison is the first Filipino-American ambassador from the United States. Her mother is Veronica Travers Sison. Her father, Pastor Bravo Sison, originally from the province of Pangasinan in the Philippines, earned a master's degree from Harvard Law School and eventually spent 25 years with the World Bank, retiring as director for public affairs in its Asia Division. She has two sisters, Victoria and Cynthia. Sison earned her BA in Political Science from Wellesley College in 1981 and also studied at the London School of Economics.

 

Sison joined the State Department in 1982 and served early career postings as a consular official in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, from 1982 to 1984; Lomé, Togo, from 1984 to 1988; Cotonou, Benin, from 1988 to 1991; Douala, Cameroon, from 1991 to 1993; and Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, from 1993 to 1996. Sison served as consul general at the U.S. consulate in Chennai, India, from 1996 to 1999. 

 

She was deputy chief of mission and chargé d’affaires at the U.S. embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, from 1999 to 2002. Just one month before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Sison met with Taliban officials to try to secure the release of American aid workers who had been arrested in Afghanistan for allegedly showing a Christian video to an Afghan family. The following March, Sison was out jogging and waved to embassy employee Barbara Green and her 17-year-old daughter, Kristen Wormsley, who drove by on their way to church. Shortly thereafter, the two were killed in a grenade attack on the church.

 

In Washington, Sison served as principal deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of South Asian Affairs from 2002 to 2004, after which she was appointed ambassador to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where she served from July 2004 to January 2008, putting a strong emphasis on promoting trade with the Dubai dictatorship, a strategy she referred to as “massive corporate diplomacy.”

 

From the UAE she went to Lebanon, serving in Beirut as chargé d’affaires ad interim starting in February and as ambassador from June 2008 to August 2010. Her tour in Lebanon was a demanding one right from the start, as she had to deal with numerous controversial issues. For example, in April 2008, she sent a cable to the State Department explaining that Lebanon’s telecommunications minister, Marwan Hamadeh, had complained that Hezbollah (which held elected seats in the national legislature and a cabinet position) had set up its own fiber optic telecom network, which, in Sison’s words, “covers the Palestinian camps, and the Hezbollah training camps in the Bekaa, and is penetrating deep into the Christian Metn and Kesrwan areas.” On June 18, 2008, she was involved in a particularly unpleasant incident, when her motorcade in the southern Lebanon town of Nabatiyah was stoned by anti-American pro-Hezbollah militants.

 

After her tour in Lebanon, Sison served as assistant chief of mission for Law Enforcement and Rule of Law Assistance in Baghdad, Iraq. She also served stateside as director of Career Development and Assignments in the Bureau of Human Resources from 2010 to 2011.

 

Sison returned to South Asia to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka and Maldives from September 2012 to December 2014.

 

As U.S. deputy representative to the United Nations, Sison again found herself in the thick of the action, particularly in 2016 when the Obama administration clashed with the Russian government over the war in Syria. In March 2017, she accused the government of South Sudan of conducting a “scorched earth campaign” that used man-made famine as a tactic in that country’s civil war.

 

Sison has two daughters, Alexandra and Jessica; she and their father, Jeffrey J. Hawkins, are divorced. She speaks fluent French, basic Haitian Creole, and Arabic.

-David Wallechinsky, Matt Bewig

 

To Learn More:

State Department Biography

Trump To Nominate Maryland Native, Career Diplomat, As Ambassador To Haiti (by Tyler Waldman, WBAL)

An Interview with Michele J. Sison, U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Republic of Maldives (by Dana Schneider, The Politic)

Statement Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (2014)

State Department Cables 2002-2010 (WikiLeaks)

Comments

Jacquelyn Williams 3 weeks ago
Very best wishes to new Ambassador Sison and a warm invitation for her to visit Cange in the Plateau Central where Partners in Health was begun under Drs. Paul Farmer and Jim Kim. We have a promising artisans' center which will shortly be directed by two young men from Cange who have been trained for two years in Jacmel.

Leave a comment