Oldspeak: “1.9 million people displaced/homeless, no rebuilding plans to house them. 11 billion dollars in aid pledged, but less than a billion released. Very little money actually goes to Haitians, most of it goes to the U.S. Army/Foreign Non-Gov’t Organizations. 4 “free-enterprize zones” created; touted as the key to the reconstruction plan, but facilitate the continued exploitation of Haitians via sweatshop work for unlivable wages.”
From Amy Goodman @ Democracy Now:
Haiti remains a nation in ruins, six months after one of the world’s worst natural disasters killed more than 300,000 people. Thousands of bodies still lay under rubble. We begin today’s show in Port-Au-Prince outside what remains of the Montana Hotel where some 200 people died in the earthquake. We speak to Patrick Elie, a longtime Haitian democracy activist and Haiti’s former Secretary of State for Public Security.
“We are a people who can fend for ourselves,” Elie said. “We have a vision of where we want to go so we do need friends but we don’t need people to think for us or to pity us and that is probably this attitude that is playing a part in the aid not being forthcoming.”
Patrick Elie, a longtime Haitian democracy activist and Haiti’s former Secretary of State for Public Security.
AMY GOODMAN:Six months ago was just days after the earthquake, January 12, 2010. One of the worst natural disasters in history. Over 300,000 people have died. Yet, since the earthquake in Creole, known as Terre Tremble, the earth trembled, not much has changed. Thousands of people remain under the rubble. The rubble has hardly been moved. 1.7 million people are homeless. There are more than 1300 official refugee camps. Hundreds more dotting the country. People under tarps, under tents, outside their homes on baking plateaus, waiting, waiting for something to change here in Haiti. Today we will be speaking with a human rights attorney. We will go to one of those camps. But first, we are going to speak with the former Secretary of State for Public Affairs, a longtime pro-democracy activist. We are standing in the ruins of the Montana Hotel. Just behind me, one part of that hotel that was the site of international press for many years. 111 guests died, more than 200 people were killed in the earthquake, people who worked at the hotel. Today it continues to lie in ruins. Our guest is Patrick Elie We welcome you to Democracy Now!
PATRICK ELIE: Thank you for the invitation.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you first talk about your country?
PATRICK ELIE: Yes. As you know, maybe a lot of the American public don’t know, Haiti has had a very difficult history, having emerged from slavery and colonialism through a war against the most powerful countries at the time. And since then, for a lot of its history, Haiti has been almost blockaded, or at least isolated and faced the hostility of the powerful countries of the time. On top of that, Haitian revolution after independence did not actually bring what the people of Haiti expected from it. What happened is that a minority seized most of the riches and as a consequence, the development of the country has been a very unequal. I believe Haiti is now one of the countries where you have the most social divide, is the widest, and probably as a consequence of that, the Haitian state is very weak, has always been after independence and has mostly, for the majority of Haitians, the power of [inaduible]. Haitians have never had a chance to collaborate with their state. And even though dictatorship after dictatorship took power in Haiti, what they brought was not order, but chaos. It seems like a paradox, but the Haitian system had only one objective, was for the strong man at the time and the classes that were his allies, to hold power. They didn’t care what happened on the periphery of power. And we are actually in the reconstruction, and even before that, you could say that the horrible toll of the earthquake, even though its magnitude was serious, but that toll is the result of the behavior of the Haitian state, often allied with foreign power, to disenfranchise the majority of the Haitian people and, if you want, impoverish the peasants who had no choice but to either migrate toward the DR and the Cuban cane fields when these belonged to U.S. interests, or to migrate to Port-au-Prince. And there, there was no plan to accommodate them, and the result is what you have seen, shantytown upon shantytown, no standards for building, very high population density, and that’s why when the earthquake struck we had so much damage and more than the damage, so much loss of life.
AMY GOODMAN: It wasn’t long after the Haitian earthquake there was an earthquake in Chile. It was hundreds of times stronger than the Haitian earthquake and yet hundreds of times fewer people died, less than 300 people died. In Haiti it was close to 300,000. Now I want to ask you about the aid. There has been close to $11 billion promised. Haiti hasn’t seen even 10% of that. Why is that?
PATRICK ELIE: Well, you might point to the bureaucracy of, you know, the international donors; but also I think that the weakness of the Haitian state also explains that. You see, it is a vicious circle. The powers that be—and I mean by that, the U.S., France, and Canada—but mostly the U.S., have worked over decades to weaken the Haitian state. And then now they are using this weakness as a pretense, not to free the aid or have it go through Haitian authorities. So, that 10% of aid that has been released actually, most of it did not go through the Haitian state. And I can say, even though I am not a specialist, that a lot of it went into things that were not indispensable for reconstruction. As you know, in the beginning we have 82nd Airborne being deployed around Haiti and in Haiti. These cost a lot of money and all this money, if you want to count it, is money that went to help Haiti. So, it gives you a false sense that, you know, already a lot had been done and we are not seeing the result on the ground.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you’re saying, less than 10% of the money was released and much of that was actually to the U.S. military?
PATRICK ELIE: A lot to the U.S. military and to the NGO’s. And this is not to disparage what the NGO’s have done here. But the lack of coordination explains a lot of the slowness of the process. Mind you, I don’t want to be too severe in my judgment, and especially I have been reading the U.S. press and as always, they’re clobbering the Haitian authorities. I am not at all saying that we have the best government. I have always said we have a state that is not only weak but apart with the nation. But on top of that, the government—or the State was weakened more by the earthquake itself because the earthquake hit not a remote part of Haiti but right smack in the middle of the administrative, political, and economic center of the country. As a result, about 17% of public servants died, ministries collapsed with all of their memory, their archives, their computers, etc. So, we are facing a pharaonic task of rebuilding. Besides, everybody in Haiti seems to agree we cannot actually rebuild Port-au-Prince as it was. So, aside from building, you have to plan again differently. This involves some heart wrenching decisions that have to be made.
AMY GOODMAN: Like?
PATRICK ELIE: Like, you know, are you going to displace people? Are you going to, for example, using eminent domain, expropriate people so they don’t live on terrain that is inherently weak. Or, are you going to, as I say, expropriate people and already, you know, the troubles are starting. Land tenure in Haiti is total chaos. This is also the result of the behavior of the Haitian elites over centuries. They appropriated land which was, especially after independence and the end of slavery which would have been common property, and they appropriated vast tracts of land, pushing the peasants—the newly freed slaves who did not want to work on the plantation system anymore—to the mountains, you know, which would also help to explain the deforestation. And now, of course, there is a lot of discussion about who owns what piece of land. And it is almost intractable to resolve that through the law. I don’t know if the Haitian state is going to be forceful enough given the size of the problem, to actually by decree, decide what is going to be done.
AMY GOODMAN: We are going to break and we will come back to this discussion. We are speaking to Patrick Elie. He is the former Minister of Public Safety here in Haiti. He is a long time pro-democracy activist. A country here, Haiti, that is still in ruins, six months after the earthquake, one of the worst natural disasters in history, killed close to three hundred thousands of people, many thousands still lie under the rubble. Most of it has not been moved. 1.7 million people are displaced. There are well over 1,300 official refugee camps, hundreds of unofficial ones. We’ll be back with Patrick Elie in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We are broadcasting from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, from ground zero, the center of the earthquake six months ago, January 12, 2010. One of the worst natural catastrophes in human history. Close to 300,000 died, 1.7 million people are displaced in the refugee camps, and where is the money? People everywhere, as we go from camp to camp is asking, where is the support? There are many NGO’s, the American Red Cross collected more than a billion dollars and people continue to ask where is the support, where is the aide, why don’t we have better homes vendees tarps and tents. They are and able population, wanting to work and move rubble. But there is no coordination, they say. We are joined by Patrick Elie, former secretary for public security here in Haiti, a longtime pro-democracy activists. In fact, Patrick Elie, where you six months ago today?
PATRICK ELIE I was having a drink with some friends. Fortunately under a very light structure. So, the house collapsed, but the structure did not because it was simply, you know, kind of like a tart, especially made of tin roof—kind of like a tarp, a tin roof and four posts. The house collapsed in not this, and that is the reason why we were not crushed because the House totally collapse.
AMY GOODMAN: Here where we are now, the Hotel Montana, the former Hotel Montana, the site of the elite hotel where the elite gathered, international press. 111 people died, who knows how many are still in the rubble. More than 200 people died all together with the workers who are here, and we are standing in its remains. Patrick Elie, you have referred to the vultures. Who do you mean?
PATRICK ELIE Well, I mean both the local who are trying to—if you want to take advantage of the situation to make money, but mostly also to the usual vultures. Whenever there is a catastrophe, there are vultures. On the grand scale like that, there are grandscale vultures. Talking about the likes of—Dyncorp, Blackwater, Halliburton—I am sure they are already laying down their plans to take as much of the loot as they can, not caring about what ever they do, what impact it will have on Haiti’s future. And whether or not we take into account whether the Haitian people themselves want. And I don’t know, if Haitians and their friend’s at the international level, can match your lobbying power of these large vultures, who are very well connected, as you know, not only in Washington but I would say internationally.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you see signs of who you call these vultures, the mercenary companies that you mentioned, Dyncorp, Blackwater, Halliburton, here now?
PATRICK ELIE I am not saying I am seeing them now. But as you know, the reconstruction hasn’t started yet. That is when you will see the grabbing. But, in the first weeks after the earthquake—I almost said the coup—we saw mercenaries accompanying some NGOs and even some journalists and carrying war weapons without any kind of license from the Haitian government. It was like we were in a no-man’s land, in a open country. So, this I saw as a sign of what might come if Haitians and Haiti’s friends are not vigilant, are not watchful.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you, you mentioned the coup. The interim commission to reconstruct Haiti, known as the C-I-R-H, many people have raised concerns about, a little more than two dozen people, half Haitian but half not Haitian. It is headed by the Prime Minister of Haiti, Jean-Max Bellerive, and former President Bill Clinton. The only one with the veto power is the president, Preval.
PATRICK ELIE Preval, at the moment. But if that structure is kept, it will be the next president.
AMY GOODMAN: But the shock of people that there are—and it was originally proposed to have more foreigners than Haitians—and among those who are on the commission are people like Gary Lissad, who was the attorney for the coup leaders in the first crew against Aristide when he was deposed in 1991 to 1994 and Reginald Boulos who helped finance the coup. These are the people in the interim so-called reconstruction commission.
PATRICK ELIE Yes, this gives me pause. But you have to see in what conditions these were picked. President Preval has tried always during his second presidency to arrive at a decision with consensus. Time will tell whether this was the right approach. But of course, this worries me personally because, as you know, I have been involved with Haitian politics for many years now and I’ve met some of these people. By the way, in the name of truth, I should say that Mr. Lissad, after being the lawyer of the first coup makers, then became President Aristide’s Justice Minister, which is something which always shocked me.
AMY GOODMAN: And you also worked for President Aristide and now are advising presidents Preval after the earthquake?
PATRICK ELIEAfter the earthquake, even though I tried before to keep strictly my autonomy, but after the earthquake I thought that it was imperative that I help as much as I can.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think is most important for people to understand right now? People who are watching and listening to and reading this broadcast all over the world?
PATRICK ELIE I think the most important thing is the resilience, the courage, and the discipline of the Haitian people. I would have given up after the earthquake given the size of the destruction, if not for the behavior of the Haitian people. And that’s what people have to understand: We are a people who can fend for ourselves. We have a vision of where we want to go. So we do need friends but we don’t need people to think for us, or to pity us. That is probably the attitude that’s playing a part in the aid not being forthcoming. Our friends, if they are friends, should trust us.
You know, people say nothing has changed. Not enough has changed after the earthquake, but some things have changed. The first days, people were living out in the streets without anything, without any type of shelter. And completely in chaos and disorder. Now camps have been organized very often by the people themselves. A lot is mentioned about the breakdown of security. After a tragedy like that, you always have some form a breakdown of security and a camp environment is not conducive to the best type of security. But, things are a lot less bad that is being described, not because of the Haitian police or because of the UNPOL or the minister, but because people have started organizing themselves and taking care of their security themselves. Since the earthquake, one thing that has given me some hope is that the movement of neighborhood committee has sprung up again, and I have been to numerous meetings, the last one Saturday, with a federation of neighborhood committee. And they are talking about precisely that, how they are going to take care of their community.
AMY GOODMAN: Patrick Elie, we are going to have to leave it there. When we come back, we will be in camp Corail. You will be hearing from the refugees themselves. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, the war and peace report. We are in Haiti, a country still in ruins.