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2010-01-19

"Haiti is Shaken to the Core": Amy Goodman Reports from Port-au-Prince

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"Haiti is devastated as if a bomb, many bombs, exploded throughout Port-au-Prince and beyond, where help has not arrived at all," reports Amy Goodman on her travels outside of Port-au-Prince to the epicenter of the earthquake. "The smell of death hangs in the air." [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

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

JUAN GONZALEZ: We’re here with Danny Glover, actor and activist. But we have been able to reach Amy Goodman in Haiti in Port-au-Prince, and she joins us now by telephone.

Welcome, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to be with you both, with you, Juan, with you, Dan. I’m also here with Sharif Abdel Kouddous.

Democracy Now! made it down to Haiti this weekend. And it has been — well, let’s use the Creole word. It’s tè tremblé, which means the earth trembles. That’s Creole for “earthquake.” Or in French, tremblement de terre, right? The trembling of the earth. Haiti is shaken to the core. It is devastated, as if a bomb, many bombs, exploded throughout Port-au-Prince. And it goes beyond, where help has not yet arrived at all, though I don’t want to make it sound like there is much help in Port-au-Prince at this point.

The smell of death hangs in the air everywhere. People who are [inaudible] masks, or they just use bandanas or kerchiefs. You know when you’re passing a house that has dead bodies in it. We just were racing along the road to try to get a connection to be able to speak with you. Signs in English, because that’s what people think aid workers will respond to, say along one building, “Dead bodies inside." Along another — and we’re in the capital of Haiti, we’re in Port-au-Prince, where, if there are any services, most of the service are — another sign said, "We need help. We need water. We need food.” And this is the situation all over Haiti.

I was just speaking with a doctor, doctors who came in from Denver Children’s Hospital and local hospitals in Colorado to somehow give relief. And he said when they came into the airport, they were shocked by the massive tents. Those tents contained aid, and also he said they were filled with soldiers, with doctors, with aid workers. And he said he could only think, why here? Why at the airport? Why not going out through Haiti?

And what we did yesterday is what few journalists have done: we left Port-au-Prince, and we went along the coast to Carrefour and to Léogâne. This is the epicenter. This is where the United Nations issued its statement, saying they acknowledge 90 percent of the buildings were down, that thousands of people were dead. But, they said, unless they could ensure security, they would not be providing aid there. Now, this is tremendously frightening.

As we passed through the epicenter, a young man hailed down our car, and he said, “Please, we see some helicopters overhead, but they don’t stop here. We have no aid. We have no food.”

And then moving into Léogâne, this old city of dignity, the city where the church is the church where Jean-Jacques Dessalines was married, that’s about to celebrate its 500th anniversary, a grief-stricken priest outside said, “Please help us.” It is in shambles. The steeple is buried in the rocks below. And the most frightening is when you see people digging with their bare hands or with mallets or with hammers, trying to get their loved ones out of the building. That is the image of Léogâne.

We talked to a young man who was there digging through cement. Imagine your porch, and you take your bare hands or a mallet. And he is digging. He’s covered in dust, in cement dust. And we asked him, “What are you digging for?” And he said, “My grandfather.” He said, “My grandfather.” We asked how he knew he was there, because he had made a circle, and he was digging within this circle. But, of course, while he was standing at our level, this was the second floor, not the first. And he said that his grandfather had gone into the kitchen to get his grandmother something to eat, and that’s when the earthquake struck, the tè tremblé, he said. And that’s why he knew just where his grandfather was. And he had been digging for hours, in fact had just dug out his neighbor, a woman who was twenty-five years old, formed that same circle. And she was on the couch where she had rested after preparing dinner. And they had just brought her body out. The smell was overwhelming.

People everywhere, pulling at us. “Come to my house.” “No, to mine, to mine.” We went to a house. Again, remember, it’s as if we are looking at a bomb-scape. And we don’t even know where one house ends and another begins. And a group of young and old men and boys are standing at this house, and they show us to climb in the rubble. And we get up. And they have climbed, again made that circle, and they had smashed through it with mallets, with their hands, with hammers. And we saw the bassinet. They had just pulled out a one-year-old boy and buried him in the reeds, in the reeds next to the girl of twenty-five, some other young people, and where the young man’s grandfather would hopefully be, if he could find his body and bury him with dignity.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Amy —-

AMY GOODMAN: These are the scenes of Haiti.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Amy, I’d like to ask you, it’s been now almost exactly a week since the quake. What about the living? There are about a hundred -— there’s 130,000 people in Léogâne. Are they getting water? Are they getting any kind of assistance to be able to stay alive?

AMY GOODMAN: They are getting almost no help. We went from one family to another, and they said, continually, their lives are in the hands of God. The UN itself made the statement about security. And we wanted to know what was it they were referring to. We walk freely from one place to another. The people desperate, but certainly peaceful.

You know, Juan, what it looks like, where people are, they have formed — and it’s remarkable. As Sister Mary Finnick said to us, where — in Port-au-Prince at a place called Matthew 25, it was a hospitality house that has now become a house of hospitality for over a thousand people on the soccer field next door. There are camps, refugee camps, all over. In Léogâne, some are smaller, some are larger. We would look behind cars, and people had erected with sheets and with anything that could protect them from the sun. You would look inside, and there would be many women, children, men laying on sheets on the ground — if they were lucky, they had been able to drag out mattresses — on chairs, on car seats. And they’re there, wherever you go. And in the main plaza, you have more than a thousand people who are gathered. And all they ask for, they ask for food, they ask for water. They ask for search and rescue equipment, although, of course, at this point it is hard to imagine that people could survive.

But, you know, Juan, sometimes they can. As we went through the airport on Sunday, a woman was being brought in — people are brought in on doors, carried in by sheets. You’ll see sometimes, if you’re lucky, the — a woman was being put on a plane to Miami, and we asked where had she come from. And they said, from the Caribe market, you know, a shopping place in Port-au-Prince. She had just been pulled out on Saturday morning. That’s Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. She was surrounded by her sisters, and she was being put on a plane. She is one of the lucky ones.

The stories of people hearing the moaning, day after day — their babies, their mothers, their fathers, their grandparents. They are simply asking for the support of a civilized world. And to be told that the UN is concerned about security before they’ll give aid, this is what is of grave concern to people.

You know, it’s interesting. I asked the mayor of Léogâne — I asked the mayor what he would think — what he thought first of President Obama calling on President Bush and President Clinton, the three of them standing side by side, saying they wanted to show the face of unity, past and present presidents, that they were together in this effort to help save Haiti. I asked Mayor Santos of Léogâne, what would he think of President Aristide returning home? He has spoken, you know, from South Africa. He has spoken and said he wants to come back. The Aristide Foundation is providing medical care and working with doctors here in Haiti, but the First Family from 2004 wants to return. What did he think of President Aristide standing, like Bush, Clinton and Obama did, with President Préval in a face of unity, in bringing hope to the people? And even he, who would not necessarily have supported Aristide in the past, Mayor Santos, said it would be a sign of hope to have that unified front, that people are looking for some help.

And when I said, you know, President Obama, talking about how he would save Haiti, I think what we have witnessed here — for example, at Matthew 25 in Delmas in Port-au-Prince — that’s a neighborhood. And Matthew 25, this hospitality house, is actually taking off on the adage Matthew 25: “Whatsoever you do unto the least of my brothers and sisters, you do unto me.” The people who are working around the clock here, what they have shown us, in talking with the Haitians here, is not — I think we’re talking about anarchy of the government, but incredible communal strength of the community. These refugee camps, these smaller and larger camps that number in the thousands, they are organized communities. At night they’ll put rocks across the street. If you didn’t know these communities, you’d say, “What’s going on here? Right? Are these, you know, anarchists? Are they violent? Are they menacing?” They are protecting their communities and those within. And they don’t want those from outside to come in, especially at night. It’s remarkably organized at the local level, among neighborhoods, people helping each other.

That’s what Sister Mary Finnick talked about. She said, when aid workers, when all the big journalists finally get here, they’ll be talking about the riots, because people are so desperate after a week. What do you think will happen if you bring out a pallet and there are so many more people than the food that’s being provided? She said, “But what’s not told is, in these first days, when the people showed all of their remarkable Haitian courage, courage and strength, and helped each other through these desperate times.” Sharif and I —-

JUAN GONZALEZ: Amy -—

AMY GOODMAN: Yes.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Amy, the issue that you raised about people who are needing medical care, unfortunately, the US government is not providing very many visas for people to leave for medical care in the United States. The most badly hurt people, who obviously are not going to be able to get the kind of medical care they need in the — in Haiti right now. Possibly even the Dominican Republic is heavily taxed right now as a result of taking in many injured. But I’d like to ask, Danny, your reaction, what you’re hearing from Amy’s report?

DANNY GLOVER: Well, I’m not surprised. I’m certainly dismayed. I’ve been a Goodwill Ambassador for the UNICEF and the UNICEF family for more than twelve years. And I think it’s disgusting, in the way in which the United Nations has approached this. I think they’ve allowed this country to dictate the playing field and what’s happening in Haiti — this country, the United States.

And I think that the selection of both Clinton and both of Bush is disappointing. Both of them had some hand in the current democratization of Haiti, had some hand in the kind of neoliberal policies that have governed the development of Haiti over the last two decades. Some hand, they’ve both had in that. So I’m dismayed at this. And why not have called in President Carter, someone who is familiar with the ideals around humanitarian help?

So I think that, that like I said before, what is so clear is that what we see now, in some sense, is a picture not only of the short-term response to what has happened in Haiti, but perhaps what we’ll see in terms of the long-range response. And that’s what we have to be — as citizens, we have to be concerned about.

We have to understand that this resiliency, this resiliency and power and this strength that the Haitian people have garnished up themselves, is nothing that’s mystique. It doesn’t come out of some place else. It comes from the courage that they’ve exhibited over the last 500 years, or the 200 years since their independence.

We have to find a way in which we find a way here, as progressives and people of consciousness, to support Haitian people, to support them developing. They’ve already set aside and began to develop their systems of protection and honoring their past and honoring themselves. They’ve already set aside that. Now it’s our role to play as citizens here and demand accountability, demand that we find — we demand that we have to find out where that money is going, why those supplies have not gotten to those people in the places like Léogâne, Jacmel and every other place, and why they haven’t gotten it there. It’s a week after.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Danny Glover, actor and activist, I want to thank you for being with us. I know you’ve got to go, so we’re going to take a break, and we’re going to keep Amy on the line, and then we’ll also be talking with Eve Ensler in the next segment. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a moment.

[break]

JUAN GONZALEZ: We’re still on the line with Amy Goodman and with Sharif Abdel Kouddous, who are in Port-au-Prince.

Amy, I’m wondering if Sharif can tell us about some of what he has seen and what he’s been reporting while he’s been there.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Hi, Juan. Thank you for bringing me on.

You know, it’s hard to describe, really, the extent of the destruction here in Haiti, here in Port-au-Prince, where we’re speaking to you from. You drive and drive along the roads, and buildings are pancaked on top of each other, just completely destroyed. And even those ones that are still standing have huge cracks in them. They’re not structurally sound. We don’t know how Haiti will be rebuilt.

You know, with us in our group is the longtime journalist Kim Ives, and he said Haiti is like Gaza. And he couldn’t be more true. There’s tent cities everywhere. There’s refugees of the earthquake everywhere in Haiti, in Port-au-Prince. And there’s a real problem with the aid distribution here.

You know, we spoke with an aid worker here at the Matthew 25 House, and she described to us how there’s these red zones where the UN and larger aid agencies are not allowed to go. They need security clearance. They need an armed escort. And when the UN does come through, it really looks like an occupying force. These are soldiers. They’re heavily armed. They have helmets. They rush by, their sirens on. They quickly distribute aid and then leave. And it’s not seen — they’re not interacting with people of the community. They’re not interacting with people who can distribute aid effectively in neighborhoods around Port-au-Prince.

And I just want to describe a story that I think is extremely illustrative of the problem. Yesterday, when we were in Léogâne, we were — we came to an area where a helicopter from a Mormon charity had landed. It was on the ground, and there was Haitians all around, young and old, waiting for food to be handed out. This helicopter took off, off the ground, and began throwing the food down at the Haitians. It did not distribute it when it was on the ground. They threw the food from the air. These were packets of bread that they were throwing. It ignited just fury and indignation on the ground by the people there. They began screaming. One man started crying. He said, “We are a proud people. We are not dogs for you to throw bones at.” It was a scene that I will never forget. And it really illustrates the problem with aid distribution here and the relief efforts here, that they are — they are not seen as people. As Haitians keep saying, they say, “This can happen to anybody. How would you like to be treated in this way?”

And right here at the Matthew 25 House last night, there was a group of doctors from Denver who came here, who organized themselves. They came. They’re on the ground, in the streets. This is what’s needed. There’s plenty of doctors at the airport and plenty of aid pallets there, but they’re not where it’s needed. And these folks came here. They performed an amputation right in front of us for a young Haitian man in his twenties. They amputated the lower part of his left leg. And they’re taking care of hundreds of people in a soccer field out back from where we’re speaking to you right now. It’s also serving as a shelter for people who have lost their homes, which is a vast majority people living in Port-au-Prince.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Amy, I’d like to ask you about the international response, because most of the attention here is focusing on the American rescue groups that are going down, and understandably, because it’s American press. But there is a huge outpouring from other parts of the world, isn’t there? From Turkey, from China, from all parts of Latin America? Could you talk about that?

AMY GOODMAN: Juan, just before I say that, I just wanted to say we witnessed last night an amputation, doctors from Denver Children’s Hospital amputating the leg of a man in his twenties, a young man. And at the same time that we watched his foot being sawed off, the head of this community came up to me and said a woman just died because her amputation didn’t happen soon enough. It’s hard to be thankful as you watch an amputation take place, but the numbers of amputations — the numbers of unnecessary deaths simply because of the time that people have waited.

The aid coming in from all over the world — and we’ll see what happens now. President Préval has handed over control of the airport to the United States, to the US military. But China came in very early on. Cuba has been here. The first stop we made was at a hospital called Hospital La Paix, and there, Hospital of Peace. It’s Cuban doctors working with Haitian doctors and many Cuban-trained Haitian doctors, working at, well, as efficient a system you could possibly have under these utterly dire circumstances. And these Cuban doctors in the main plaza outside of the palace, you know, which has gone down, Cuban doctors have set up tents to help people. Yes, aid is coming in from all over. Last night a Dominican food supply came into this house near the soccer field, delivering hundreds of food packets.

But I have to say, one of our — one of the very sad moments was when we first came in. I had gotten a call from Eve Ensler, our guest who’s in the studio with you, and I — and it’s painful for me to even say this in her hearing because of this tremendous loss. She called me — I think we talked at 2:00 in the morning — before we came in on Sunday, and said, “Please, try to find my friend. Try to find Myriam Merlet,” who was more than a friend to Eve Ensler, but to so many women in this devastated community. And she gave us an area, not even an address, because she didn’t know it. But we went to that area in Paco. It is not a poor area like Cité Soleil, but it is down. It is on a hill. And it is an entire community under rubble. And we made it to her house as the sun was setting.

And there was a group of people who were sitting across the street crying. And we said, “Myriam Merlet, do you know which is her house?” And they pointed, and they said, “We’ve just pulled her body up, and we have brought it down the street.” I looked around and asked if there was family. They said, yes, her sister Ertha, Ertha Merlet, and she was sitting in the middle of the group weeping. And we asked her if she could bring us to the makeshift grave site. It was just down through the rubble. They had dug a deep, deep hole and covered the casket a bit. And Ertha talked about her beloved sister.

But we have someone who knew her like a sister, as well, and it’s Eve Ensler. And I want to say, Eve, yesterday when we passed the Ministry of Women, where she worked, it is completely devastated. It’s hard to see there was even a, you know, high-story building there.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Eve Ensler, Myriam Merlet was a Chief of Staff of the Haitian Ministry. She was a good friend of yours. Could you tell us about her and your experiences with her when you’ve been in Haiti?

EVE ENSLER: Yes. First, I just want to thank you, Amy, so much for going and finding Myriam. It means so much to many of us.

Myriam was a — she was a light. She was a force of Haiti. She was one of the great feminists. She was a radical feminist. We joked often about the fact that it was wild that she and Marie-Laurence, who’s the Minister of Women, were actually in power, that we had radical feminists in power. She was a woman who left Haiti in the ’70s and then went back to fight and to stand up and to bring about social change and progression and fight for racial freedoms and equality and for gender freedom and equality.

And I had the fortune of meeting Myriam and becoming in touch with her in 2001, when she brought The Vagina Monologues to Haiti and really began to work with V-Day as a sister in the movement, and then was there a year ago when we —- they did The Vagina Monologues in a huge performance there in Port-au-Prince and in Cap-Haïtien and where we met with many women who Myriam supported, the Ministry of Women supported. And we were able, after that visit, to do a joint project with the Women’s Ministry to open the first Haiti Sorority Safe House, V-Day Safe House, with Myriam and Marie-Laurence in Haiti.

And I will say that I think one of the things I feel most sorry about, and it’s really being echoed by what Amy is saying, is just I don’t understand why relief hasn’t gotten there faster and why we haven’t gotten workers there faster who can dig people out. It just seems strange and -—

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, we’d like to go to this tape that Amy did down there, this clip just — well, this clip of her.

    MYRIAM MERLET: [translated] It’s with a lot of emotion that we are here today in New Orleans, when we know what New Orleans means to black people here and especially after Katrina. We bring all our sorority and affection to our sisters here in New Orleans. We are here to talk about the work that we do in Haiti at the ministry, and especially with the support of the V-Day Foundation. This work started a long time ago with non-governmental women’s organizations, with lack — because they were lacking resources, were never able to open a shelter for abused women in Haiti. And now we are really proud to be able to say that we are going to have our first safe house in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

JUAN GONZALEZ: That was Myriam Merlet, the former Chief of Staff of the Haitian Ministry of Women, who was killed in the earthquake last week. Eve Ensler, could you — that particular speech that she gave there, could you tell us about it?

EVE ENSLER: Well, that was in V-Day at our tenth anniversary at the Superdome in New Orleans, when women reclaimed the Superdome and transformed the suffering. And I can’t but think of the connections and the parallels between what happened in Katrina and what is happening in Haiti right now, you know, the slow recovery, the people not getting there in time, people not getting people food, people not getting water, so that people end up feeling panicked and getting violent and then being accused of being looters. All the same language seems to be being used right now.

But I must say about Myriam, there are so many extraordinary women in Haiti, forces of nature and resilience who know full well what to do with the country’s future. And I think what Danny was saying earlier, how this recovery happens will create the path for what comes after. And we must — must — put women in the center of everything that happens. Their voices must be heard and must be the people who determine the future of Haiti. The outside world can no longer determine — the dependence, the control, everything that’s been there in the — this is an opportunity for us to support the Haitians to take back their country, to have a vision of the future of their country, and to put women in the center of that envisioning.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And I’d like to get, for the last minute, Amy, your last words.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, on the issue of Myriam Merlet, and I know the head of the — you are looking for, Eve, still the —-

EVE ENSLER: We found her just now. Right before I got on, I found out that the Women’s -— the minister is alive. I just got a call, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Oh, well, that is beautiful to hear.

EVE ENSLER: Yes, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: And that is so lucky. And right now, though, we are — it is absolutely critical that people understand that the life of Haiti is at stake, that the aid that flows in, the kind of work that has to be done with community organizations, with the UN not working — and this is one of the biggest complaints, the international aid agencies being afraid of the people, as opposed to working with the community leaders who can distribute the aid, who can empower the people in their communities. That’s what’s going to make the future of Haiti stronger.

Danny said he had questions about the Bush-Clinton choice in aiding Haiti. President Obama talked about rebuilding and reconstructing. For the United States, we’ll add a third R: redemption. The US has had a very sordid history with Haiti, keeping it down, this first slave-rebellion-born black country, the first black republic. And we can turn this around by respecting the people of Haiti.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Amy, thanks for that, and stay safe. And we’ll get more reports from you. That does it for today’s program. Eve Ensler, thank you for joining us.

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