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2010-01-15

Earthquake Survivors Dying as Aid Struggles to Reach Haiti

Guests

Dahoud Andre, Haitian community activist and the host of a Haitian radio broadcast called Lakou New York.

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The distribution of humanitarian supplies to Haiti is being hampered by infrastructure damage, blocked roads and severed communication lines. Reports are that those who survived Tuesday’s massive earthquake are now dying in huge numbers, and clean water, food and medical supplies are desperately needed. Dead bodies lie everywhere on the streets, and the Red Cross says it has run out of body bags. The Red Cross in Port-au-Prince estimates the dead at 50,000. Three million more — one third of Haiti’s population — had been hurt or left homeless. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: It’s been two-and-a-half days since Haiti was devastated by a massive 7.0-magnitude earthquake, and aid has yet to reach most survivors in the capital Port-au-Prince.

The distribution of humanitarian supplies from around the world is being hampered by infrastructure damage, blocked roads and severed communication lines. The BBC reports those that survived the massive earthquake are now dying in huge numbers, and clean water, food and medical supplies are desperately needed.

Casualty estimates from the disaster are still unknown, but the Red Cross in Port-au-Prince estimates the dead at 45,000 to 50,000. Three million more — one third of Haiti’s population — has been hurt or left homeless. Dead bodies lie everywhere on the streets, and the Red Cross says it has run out of body bags. President René Préval said 7,000 people had already been buried in a massive grave.

Thousands of people were believed to still be trapped more than forty-eight hours after the quake, and in many areas Haitians are digging with their bare hands in an attempt to find the missing.

AMY GOODMAN: In our Democracy Now! studio, we’re joined now by Dahoud Andre. He is a Haitian community activist and the host of a Haitian radio broadcast called Lakou New York.

We welcome you to Democracy Now! What are you hearing from people here in New York, Haitians here — there are over 100,000 — and from Haiti?

DAHOUD ANDRE: Thank you, Amy and Juan, for inviting us to speak.

What we are hearing is that the — and this is what we’ve been telling our listeners since Wednesday — is that the Haiti that all of us knew, it no longer exists, that in Port-au-Prince, devastation is everywhere, dead bodies are everywhere. For the first time yesterday, we were able to make contact with a journalist who used to be our correspondent in Cité Soleil, and he told us that throughout Port-au-Prince dead bodies — the stench is just everywhere.

And overnight, we’ve seen reports that people have been — begun protesting the inaction of the government by blocking the streets with dead bodies, as people could see in the video footage.

We, in the community over here in New York, it’s just massive confusion. People are trying to find out what happened to their families, and no communication lines exist at this time for people to speak. The most common way people made contact was through cellular telephones. And the major companies, they’re not functioning since the day of the earthquake — Digicel, Voila, Haitel. Haitel and Voila worked for a while, but right now it’s — we’re only able to make contact through the internet or the rare people who happen to have a satellite phone.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Dahoud, in terms of the government, you’re saying — I mean, clearly the earthquake was centered in Port-au-Prince and the areas to the south, but the rest of the country was largely spared. The government has made no effort to mobilize folks from other parts of the country to assist in Port-au-Prince?

DAHOUD ANDRE: This is the problem, and this is why we’re saying that, and this is the message we’re giving to the community, that we must and we will rebuild the country. But we cannot rebuild the dysfunctional state that existed prior to this earthquake. What you can see in the footage is that people are, by themselves, with their bare hands, trying to remove rubble.

We had one — we’ve had a lot of listeners call in with stories that will make you cry. And one of them was one of our listeners. Her cousin, his wife came home to find the house crumbled, and her husband and her two babies were inside. She could hear them from under the rubble, but could do nothing. There is no 911 that you can call. There is no mobilized national guard.

The government, even like you said, the rest of the country — I have to tell you, everywhere in the country was hit, but Port-au-Prince was the most hit. Jacmel is in pretty bad shape, as well, where, we found out yesterday, thousands of people are at a stadium, a soccer stadium, with no water, no food and no sanitary. They’re using the bathroom around the place where they are. So we expect that very soon people will be getting sick over there. But the northern part was not so affected. So, as you said, it’s possible there could be a national mobilization, but this is not the direction that the government seems to be going.

The President was absent for two days. Nobody knew where he was. There were rumors that he was killed, that he was at the hospital in Canapé Vert. He was absent. And so, up to now, there has been no leadership provided, in terms of saying this is what the problem is, this is what we have left as resource that we’re going to use to rebuild.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Let me ask you about another sensitive issue, which is the question of the Dominican Republic. How has the Dominican government, which would be in the easiest position to provide some kind of assistance, since it has a large land border with Haiti — what has been the response of the Dominican government to try to assist Haitians?

DAHOUD ANDRE: We haven’t heard any. We’ve seen the charts on the internet, which government is giving what. We’ve seen nothing from the Dominican government. As you must know, that it’s a very contentious relationship between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. And a lot of racism exists, a lot of discrimination towards Haitians, which many Dominicans consider black while they are not black. That’s what they believe, of course.

But our efforts in the community so far, a collaboration that we have between our radio station program Lakou New York, Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees, exactly is using that channel with MUDHA, Sonia Pierre, the Movement of Dominican Haitian Women. And there’s a group that tried to get over the border by land, because the airport’s still closed in Port-au-Prince, to try to bring some relief.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you able to do that, bring medical relief?

DAHOUD ANDRE: We sent some stuff yesterday with — the process that we’ve taken since 2004 with Mapou, 2008 after the four hurricanes, has been to make a small effort, but something that is assured to get there. And we had worked — we have worked in the past with the Cuban doctors in Haiti, who’ve suggested what are the most immediate things in terms of basic first-aid supplies, basic sanitary supplies, that are needed. And what we do is we send people via airplane, a group of people, with suitcases, extra baggages, that — but that reaches those doctors at the time, and they bring it, because what we found, you guys can remember, in 2008 there was a big drive in New York City. A lot of stuff was collected that spent months rotting in the Armory in Brooklyn.

JUAN GONZALEZ: That was after the hurricane.

DAHOUD ANDRE: After the four hurricanes in 2008.

AMY GOODMAN: This was Red Cross?

DAHOUD ANDRE: This was a big drive that New York City did, where the Governor Paterson had promised to send the material by plane. Then he said he didn’t say that; he only promised storage and to receive it. And months passed. Some of the material that could have been used to save people’s lives rotted.

AMY GOODMAN: Ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide spoke out yesterday from exile in South Africa. He was standing with his wife, the former First Lady Mildred Aristide. President Aristide said he wants to return to Haiti.

    JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: As we all know, many people remain buried under tons of rubble and debris, waiting to be rescued. When we think of their suffering, we feel deeply and profoundly that we should be there, in Haiti, with them, trying our best to prevent death. As far as we are concerned, we are ready to leave today, tomorrow, at any time, to join the people of Haiti, to share in their suffering, help rebuild the country, moving from misery to poverty with dignity.

    The spirit of Ubuntu, that once led Haiti to emerge as the first independent black nation in 1804, helped Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador attain liberty, and inspired our forefathers to shed their blood for the United States’ independence, cannot die. Today, this spirit of solidarity must and will empower all of us to rebuild Haiti.

AMY GOODMAN: President Aristide wants to return to Haiti. Dahoud Andre with Lakou New York, which is a radio broadcast, which means “Community,” your response?

DAHOUD ANDRE: We believe President Aristide should be in Haiti right now. And we joked that President Aristide should come back to Haiti; if he cannot get the passport from Préval, should come back in the trunk of a car through the Dominican border or — as Zelaya did —-

AMY GOODMAN: In Honduras.

DAHOUD ANDRE: —- or by ship, because we think that today his presence would be a rallying presence in getting Haitians together to rebuild. We have to say, despite the coup, despite the six years now that have passed since, President Aristide remains very popular in the country. And many people — for January 1st, our reporter in the north of the country traveled throughout the town of Cap-Haitien to get reactions from the poor in the streets. And this is what they were saying, that if President Aristide was here, our 1st of January would not happen like this. Real or not, there is hope. There is an expectation that President Aristide had tried to help the country. He was not allowed to help the country as much as he would have liked. Not all of us agree 100 percent on that, but we believe that he remains a rallying force that can help the country to rebuild.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Dahoud Andre, who is a community activist, Haitian community activist in Brooklyn, host of the radio broadcast Lakou in New York.

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