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2010-07-12

Democracy Now! in Port-au-Prince: Patrick Elie on Haiti Six Months After the Earthquake

Guests

Patrick Elie, a longtime Haitian democracy activist and Haiti’s former Secretary of State for Public Security.

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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’s probably this attitude that’s playing a part in the aid not being forthcoming." [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Ti Rosemond. We were with him six months ago, considered the American Idol of Haiti. Six months ago was just days after the earthquake, January 12th, 2010, one of the worst natural disasters in history. Over 300,000 people have died. Yet, since we saw Ti Rosemond after the earthquake — in Creole, known as Terre Tremblée, 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 1,300 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’re 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, well, international press for many years. A hundred eleven guests died, more than 200 people were killed in the earthquake, the people who worked at the hotel. Today it continues to lay 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, or 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 of 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 almost the riches of this country, and as a consequences, the development of the country has been a very unequal. I believe Haiti is now one of the country, if not the country, where you have the most social — the 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 Haitian, a power of nuisance. Haitian 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 strongman of the time and the classes that were its allies to hold power. And they didn’t care what happened in 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 field, when these belonged to US interests, or to migrate to Port-au-Prince. And there, there was no plan to accommodate them, and the result is what you’ve seen, shantytown upon shantytown, no standard for building, a 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: I mean, it wasn’t long after the Haitian earthquake that 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 ten percent 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’s a vicious circle. The powers that be — and I mean by that, the US, France and Canada, but mostly the US — have worked over decades to weaken the Haitian state. And then, now they are using this, this weakness, as a pretense not to, if you want, free the aid or have it go through Haitian authorities. So, that ten percent of aid that has been released, actually, did not — most of it did not go through the Haitian state. And I can say, even though I’m not a specialist, that a lot of it went into things that were not indispensable for reconstruction. As you know, in the beginning, we had the 82nd Airborne being deployed around Haiti and in Haiti. And this cost a lot of money. And all this money is being, if you want to count it, as money that went to help Haiti. So, it gives you a false sense that, you know, already a lot had been done, and we’re not seeing the result on the ground.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you’re saying less than ten percent of the money was released. Much of that was actually to the US military.

PATRICK ELIE: A lot to the US military and to the NGOs. And this is not to disparage what NGOs have done here. But the lack of coordination explains a lot of, you know, the slowness of the process. Mind you, I don’t want to be too severe in my judgment, and especially, you know, I’ve been reading the US press, and as always, they’re clobbering the Haitian authorities. I am not at all saying that we have the best government. I’ve always said that we have a state that is not only weak, but at odds with the nation. But on top of that, the government was even, or the state, 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 percent of public servants died. Ministries collapsed with all their memory — their archives, their computers, etc., etc.

So, we are facing a pharaonic task of rebuilding. Beside, everybody in Haiti seems to agree that we cannot actually rebuild Port-au-Prince as it was. So, aside from building, you have to plan again, plan 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 that, you know, they don’t live on terrain that are 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 have appropriated land which was, especially after, you know, independence and the end of slavery, which would have been common property, and they appropriated vast tract of land, pushing the peasant, the newly freed slave, who didn’t 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’s almost intractable to resolve that through the law. And 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’s going to be done.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, and then we will come back to this discussion. We’re speaking to Patrick Elie. He’s the former Minister of Public Safety here in Haiti. He’s a longtime 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 300,000 people. Many thousands still lie under the rubble. 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.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: That was Manno Charlemagne. He was singing in Haiti at a restaurant called Tap-Tap. Tap-taps in Haiti are the very colorful little trucks that transport people.

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, the War and Peace Report. We are broadcasting from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, from ground zero, from the center of the earthquake six months ago, January 12th, 2010, one of the worst natural catastrophes in human history. Close to 300,000 died. 1.7 million people are displaced in refugee camps.

Where is the money? Billions were promised, close to $11 billion. People everywhere, as we go from camp to camp, is asking, "Where is the aid? Where is the support?" There are many NGOs here. The American Red Cross collected more than a billion dollars. And people continue to ask, "Where is the support? Where is the aid? Why don’t we have better homes than these tarps and these tents?" And they are an able population, wanting to work, wanting to move the rubble. But there is no coordination, they say.

We’re joined by Patrick Elie. He is the former Secretary of Public Security here in Haiti, a longtime pro-democracy activist. In fact, Patrick Elie, where were you on January 12th, six months ago today?

PATRICK ELIE: I was having a drink with some friends, and 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 tarp, except made of a tin roof and four posts. So the house collapsed, but not this. And that’s the reason why, you know, we weren’t crushed, because the house totally collapsed.

AMY GOODMAN: Here, where we are now, the Hotel Montana, the former Hotel Montana, the site of this elite hotel where the elite gathered, the international press, 111 people died. Who knows how many are still in the rubble? More than 200 people died altogether 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 local, who are trying to, if you want, take advantage of the situation to make money, but mostly also to the usual vultures. You know, whenever there is a catastrophe, there are vultures. And on a grand scale like that, there are grand-scale vultures. We’re talking about, you know, the likes of DynCorp or Blackwater, Halliburton. I am sure they are already laying down their plans to take as much as the loot as they can, not caring about whatever they do, what impact it will have on Haiti’s future, and whether or not it will take into account what the Haitian people themselves want. And I don’t know if Haitians and their friends at the international level can match the lobbying power of these large vultures, who are very well connected, as you know, not only in Washington, but, I’d say, you know, internationally.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you see signs of, well, who you call these vultures, these — the mercenary companies that you mentioned, DynCorp, Blackwater, Halliburton — here now?

PATRICK ELIE: I’m not saying I’m seeing them now, you know, but as you know, the reconstruction hasn’t started yet. That’s when you will see the grabbing. But in the first weeks after the earthquake — you know, I almost said the "coup" — we saw mercenaries accompanying some NGOs, and even some journalists, and carrying war weapons without any kind of a license from the Haitian government. You know, it was like we were in a no-man’s land, in an 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 CIRH, many people have raised concerns about, some — a little more than two dozen people, half Haitian, but half not Haitian. It’s headed by the prime minister of Haiti, Jean-Max Bellerive —-

PATRICK ELIE: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: —- and former President Bill Clinton. The only one with the veto power is the president, President Préval.

PATRICK ELIE: Préval, at the moment. But if that structure is kept, it will be the next president.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes.

PATRICK ELIE: You know.

AMY GOODMAN: But the shock of people that there are — and it was originally proposed to have more foreigners than Haitians. And among those that are on this commission are people like Gary Lissade, who was the attorney for the coup leaders in the first coup against Aristide when he was deposed from 1991 to '94, Reginald Boulos, who was — who helped finance the coup. These are the people on this interim so-called reconstruction commission.

PATRICK ELIE: Yes. This gives me pause. But you have to see in what condition these were picked. President Préval has tried always during his second presidency to arrive at decision with consensus. Time will tell whether this was the right approach. But, of course, this worries me personally, because, as you know, I've been involved with Haitian politics for many years now, and I’ve met some of these people. By the way, truth should also —- in the name of truth, I should say that Mr. Lissade, after being the lawyer of the first coup makers, then became President Aristide’s Justice Minister, you know, which is something which always shocked me. But -—

AMY GOODMAN: And you also worked for President Aristide and now are advising President Préval after the earthquake?

PATRICK ELIE: After the earthquake, yes. After 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 — 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. You know, 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. And that’s probably this attitude that’s playing a part in the aid not being forthcoming, you know? Our friends, if they are friends, they should trust us.

And, 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, you know, without any type of shelter, and, you know, 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. You know, after a tragedy like that, you will 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 than 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’ve been to numerous meetings, the last one Saturday, with a federation of neighborhood committee. And they are talking about precisely that: how they’re going to take care of their community.

AMY GOODMAN: Patrick Elie, we’re going to have to leave it there. When we come back, we’ll be in Camp Corail. You’ll be hearing from the refugees themselves.

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, the War and Peace Report. We’re in Haiti, a country still in ruins.

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