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Haiti Cholera Outbreak Reaches Port-au-Prince, Congress Continues to Block Release of Aid Funds

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In Haiti, a cholera outbreak has reached the capital Port-au-Prince, where more than a million people are still homeless and living in crowded tent cities following January’s deadly earthquake. Meanwhile in Washington, Congress has put up another obstacle to delivering the $1.15 billion in reconstruction money it promised to Haiti back in March. We go to Port-au-Prince to speak with Jonathan Katz, Haiti correspondent for the Associated Press, and we are joined by Haitian American writer Edwidge Danticat. [includes rush transcript]

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

JUAN GONZALEZ: In Haiti, a cholera outbreak has reached the capital of Port-au-Prince, where more than a million people are still homeless and living in crowded tent cities following January’s deadly earthquake. With some 600 confirmed deaths from cholera in the past three weeks, Haiti’s Health Ministry has announced a state of emergency, saying the disease poses a threat to the security of the nation’s entire population of just under ten million.

International Federation of the Red Cross spokesman Matthew Cochrane fears the situation could get worse.

MATTHEW COCHRANE: It’s not so much how bad the situation is as how bad we fear it could become. Until now, the situation has really been contained in Artibonite and in a couple of other departments north of Port-au-Prince. The concern now, specifically with cases now being confirmed within the city, is that the situation will really expand. The government today has acknowledged that this is a countrywide crisis.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Meanwhile, here in the United States, Congress has put up another obstacle to delivering the $1.15 billion in reconstruction money it promised to Haiti back in March. According to a report from the Associated Press, the funds are being held up because of stipulations by lawmakers like Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma that Haiti first has to prove its commitment to fighting corruption.

For more on Haiti, I’m joined now by two guests. Jonathan Katz is the Haiti correspondent for the Associated Press, joining us via Democracy Now! video stream from Port-au-Prince. And here in New York, we’re joined by the Haitian American writer Edwidge Danticat. Her latest book is Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work.

Welcome, both, to Democracy Now! I’d like to start with Jonathan Katz. Let’s begin with you. What’s the latest on this cholera outbreak in Port-au-Prince?

JONATHAN KATZ: Well, cholera has now been confirmed in Port-au-Prince. There are cases that have been confirmed to have originated [inaudible] here. I was down in the slum of Cité Soleil yesterday, and I can tell you that the disease seems to be spreading very rapidly through that neighborhood. It’s claiming lives. There’s a lot of people coming in every [inaudible] possibly can to the hospital that’s there, and there are more treatment centers being set up. There’s a lot of concern that there’s going to be a surge of cases here in the capital as the disease spreads. And so far, over the last 24, 48 hours, that seems to be what’s happened.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And what kind of progress has been made in terms of getting clean water to especially the thousands and thousands that are still in tent communities since the earthquake?

JONATHAN KATZ: You know, it’s a little uneven. It’s not the same for every single tent camp, and it’s certainly not easy for people who are living in the neighborhoods still, as well. Some of the tent camps are getting water. They’ve been getting water for a while, because it’s been provided directly by NGOs, both local and foreign, especially foreign. But there is a systemic problem in Port-au-Prince and all across Haiti of getting people clean water. And essentially, in a place like Cité Soleil or other slums along the water line [inaudible] that are up the hills, [inaudible] there’s been no clean water for years, and that’s a serious problem as the cholera outbreak spreads.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And this delay in the more than $1 billion of funds that Congress has promised, or that the federal government has promised to Haiti?

JONATHAN KATZ: There’s actually been some movement on that this week. The State Department is now saying that the first tranche of about $120 million has moved to Treasury and is going to be headed to a reconstruction fund that’s administered by the World Bank and requires the endorsement of the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission, which is run by former president Bill Clinton. That should be happening in the next couple of days. That’s the first movement, really, of the money getting close to actually going to Haiti that we’ve seen since it was promised seven months ago. And, of course, it’s going to be about ten months since the earthquake, tomorrow, actually. It’s going to be interesting to see if this first payment goes through. But even with that, that’s about one-tenth of the money.

And the money that was promised at the donors’ conference on March 31st was supposed to be for fiscal year 2010, which ended with end of September and the beginning of October. So there have been a lot — the last roadblock that was put up was a required check to see if they could ensure that there wouldn’t be money lost to corruption. It’s fairly standard procedure, and it’s written into the bill, but it’s not clear why it took so long for that provision to come up and be dealt with. But there were so many problems and so many delays with getting the appropriate bills through Congress in the first place, and then dealing between Congress and the State Department, that people here have been waiting for a very, very long time. And even with this first money coming through, for some people it’s already too late.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Jonathan Katz, I’d like to thank you, Haiti correspondent for the Associated Press, for giving us that update.

And now we’re joined here in the studio by Edwidge Danticat, a Haitian American novelist. Her latest book is Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work.


EDWIDGE DANTICAT: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.

JUAN GONZALEZ: When you hear these reports — and obviously you’re in touch with many people that you know still in Haiti — your reaction to this whole now new stage of crisis in Haiti of the cholera epidemic?

EDWIDGE DANTICAT: Well, it’s terribly sad and terribly alarming, because we’re approaching a year now into this disaster, and it seems like an ever-evolving emergency. At the same time, you know, there are wonderful people on the ground who are doing — you know, wonderful Haitian and others who are doing their best to contain this. But it just seems like it’s just getting harder and harder all the time for the one-and-a-half million or so people who are homeless, who are somewhat vulnerable to things like this cholera outbreak.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And there hasn’t been, here in the United States, a whole lot of movement by the federal government to, for instance, even make it easier for those — some Haitians who have fled since then, those who are still here in the country, to get some kind of a regularization of their status here, that I know there’s a big movement in Florida and some other places to find a way for a more humanitarian policy toward Haitians coming to the United States, especially in light of what’s happened in the earthquake. Your sense of how our government has been responding to the crisis?

EDWIDGE DANTICAT: Well, it was good to hear, you know, Jonathan talk about the movement of that money, because often when you talk to the layperson, men and women on the street, they often say to me, you know, “Haiti got all this money.” And I think people aren’t aware that, you know, a lot — even the money pledged, a lot of it is debt relief, it’s consultants, and often goes back. You know, when they talk about corruption, you know, this money that’s pledged by all these places often goes back to the country that had pledged them.

In terms of the reception of people who come here, we had some movement finally on the TPS issue after the earthquake, but it remains to see whether it will be renewed after the 18 months from January 12th, and —

JUAN GONZALEZ: And TPS, for those who don’t know?

EDWIDGE DANTICAT: Temporary protective status for Haitians who were already here before the earthquake. But we’ve had cases in Florida, for example, where people who have escaped the —- you know, who survived the earthquake, ended up in detention, you know, after coming here. So, it’s still -— I mean, the treatment of the way Haitians, even survivors of the earthquake, are received are still — is still mired in the general, I think, confusion of immigration and very much needed immigration reform in this country.

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