International donors have committed $9.9 billion for the reconstruction of earthquake-ravaged Haiti over the next several years. Over fifty nations and international organizations made the pledges at a UN donor conference after the Haitian government unveiled a long-awaited rebuilding plan. It’s unclear how much of the pledges come from previous commitments and how much will actually be delivered. We hear from Haitians protesting outside the conference and speak to Haitian radio host and activist Roger Leduc, as well as Kim Ives of the newspaper Haiti Liberté. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: International donors have committed $9.9 billion for the reconstruction of earthquake-ravaged Haiti over the next several years. Meeting at the United Nations on Wednesday, over fifty nations and international organizations made the pledges after the Haitian government unveiled a long-awaited rebuilding plan.
Haitian President René Préval thanked the international community on behalf of his country.
PRESIDENT RENÉ PRÉVAL: [translated] Today it has been demonstrated that the international community will continue to support Haiti over the long term, and it will meet the needs that this disaster has caused. Now, the contributions have been made both by small countries, small contributions, and also major contributions by larger countries. This is a heartfelt effort, and it demonstrates that Haiti is not on its own. And we express, on behalf of the Haitian people, thank you. The international community has done its part. The Haitian people today must do their part.
JUAN GONZALEZ: It’s unclear how much of the pledges come from previous commitments and how much will actually be delivered. A previous UN appeal for $1.4 billion in immediate humanitarian aid for Haiti has only been half-met. The $9.9 billion amount also falls short of the $11.5 billion sought by the Haitian government to implement its rebuilding plan.
Instead of flowing directly to the Haitian government, the aid will be managed by a proposed Interim Haiti Recovery Commission co-chaired by former President Bill Clinton and Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive. The Obama administration has yet to commit any direct aid to the Haitian government, which is facing a major budget shortfall.
AMY GOODMAN: Some Haitian community groups have raised concerns about the reconstruction process, saying their voices have been excluded. As diplomats gathered inside the UN Wednesday, a group of Haitian protesters held a rally outside. Democracy Now! was there and played some of the comments of the demonstrators.
PROTESTER 1: Hey, hey, Obama!
PROTESTERS: Haiti is not for sale!
PROTESTER 1: Hey, hey, CIA!
PROTESTERS: Haiti is not for sale!
PROTESTER 1: Hey, hey, Ban Ki-moon!
PROTESTERS: Haiti is not for sale!
PROTESTER 1: Hey, hey, Hillary Clinton!
PROTESTERS: Haiti is not for sale!
PROTESTER 2: I’m here to tell the UN and all its crew, I would say, that yes, we want help, because we’ve been in a very big trauma. But that’s not a pretext for reconstruction to be made in the interest of people who want to occupy us and not in our interest.
PROTESTER 3: You know, we need — you know, poor people need a hospital, need water, need a good house, because you see what happened last time? Everybody is still suffering, you know? So we come here to come to tell President Préval, you know, wake up. You know, Haiti not for sale. You know, Haiti for Haitian people.
PROTESTER 4: When we got our freedom back from France, we were charged reparations for freeing ourselves. And I think it’s in the tune of $15 billion right now. We want that money back, because that money should not have ever been taken from us to begin with. And that’s to cripple the nation of Haiti. So that’s why we want reparations.
PROTESTER 5: I want all the people to be involved, including the leader of the people. He’s still in South Africa, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
PROTESTER 3: This president, President Aristide, he was elected, you know? So George Bush pulled him out, OK? How George Bush pull him out? George Bush go in Haiti and then send him to South Africa. We want him coming back to Haiti.
PROTESTER 5: [inaudible] of two coups d’état from two Bushes. So I don’t know what reason Bush went to Haiti today, what he’s going to say to the people in Haiti, because everybody in Haiti, they know that George Bush sent the Marines in Haiti and kidnapped the President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
PROTESTER 4: We do not want Haiti to be rebuilt on their image. We don’t want to be a US colony. We don’t want to be a US commonwealth. We want to be a self-determined people.
PROTESTER 2: While they’re giving them the money — I mean, promising them the money in the right hand, in the left hand they’re saying that they’re too corrupted to be able to manage the money. Excuse me, I just saw Obama going to Afghanistan just a day ago. Why? To give money to too corrupted you know what. And I didn’t hear that word being said about you know who from Afghanistan. So they’re more corrupted than Préval will ever be corrupted. There’s not much money in Haiti for people to be that corrupted about, OK? So double standard, I never could buy that.
AMY GOODMAN: Haitians protesting outside the United Nations donor conference on Haiti. Thanks to Democracy Now! producers Aaron Maté and Nicole Salazar.
For more here, we’re joined by two guests. Roger Leduc was outside. He’s a radio host and activist with the Haitian Coalition to Support the Struggle in Haiti, known as KAKOLA. And Kim Ives is a journalist with the newspaper Haiti Liberté.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Roger, you were outside. The response to, well, the ultimate decision yesterday of these countries and international organizations, $10 billion over three years?
ROGER LEDUC: It sounds an awful lot of money, but in fact, when you go through the details of it, it’s going to be much of the same thing, and it’s going to be hampered by the different agencies and mechanisms to dole out money to small countries. And we know what that means. We know that more than half of this money is going to be retained by the technicians from the donor countries. And we know that most of the money is going to go to NGOs that they sponsor in Haiti, which means the same thing, that the Haitian government, as feeble as it is, will only get one cent out of every dollar given to Haiti.
And in the state of despair that the population is in, this is bad news, even though we do not really support the presidency of Mr. Préval and his government, given the total — the way they did not respond responsibly to the crisis. But in principle, the Haitian government should be at the center of the planning in the distribution of the financial assistance.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, that was one of the points, it seemed to me, that several of the speakers at the UN meeting made, that in the past most of the aid had funneled through independent or non-governmental organizations, and there was no master plan for a sort of development in Haiti and that this is going to be different this time. That was one of the points that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made. Kim, any credibility to that viewpoint, that this is really a Haitian government plan that’s going to be administered and — well, not by the government directly, because they’re going to have this recovery institute, but that this is — in essence, the international community is implementing the plan of the Haitian government?
KIM IVES: Well, as I guess Casey Stengel said, it’s déjà vu all over again. We’ve seen the same thing so many times — billions, millions given, conference on conference, and same thing, it’s all promises. As Clinton said yesterday, from the fundraising he did last year, only 30 percent was actually delivered on. They say this time they’re going to put up a website so they’ll try to shame the people who make pledges and don’t honor them through the internet. You know, that’s not a very big rap on the knuckles.
I think, yeah, it’s essentially NGOs. It’s a — what they call in French a “sauve qui peut.” Everybody comes in, does their own thing, and they say, OK, we’re going to marshal all these people together and have them coordinated through this commission, which is, in fact, a US-run commission. In fact, this whole conference is the takeover, the final consummation of the takeover of Haiti by the US. I mean, of course, you have handmaidens like Canada and Santa Domingo involved, but most of it is a US-run show. The World Bank is going to be deciding who gets the money. It will be given to a commission which has thirteen foreign members, and seven Haitians there as tokens. And then the actual implementation by the Haitian government will be overseen again by foreigners. So it’s a takeover of Haiti.
AMY GOODMAN: Kim Ives, I wanted to ask you about former President Bill Clinton, now the UN special envoy to Haiti. Last month he publicly apologized for forcing Haiti to drop tariffs on imported subsidized US rice during his time in office. The policy wiped out Haitian rice farming and seriously damaged Haiti’s ability to be self-sufficient. Well, Clinton apologized at a hearing last month before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
BILL CLINTON: Since 1981, the United States has followed a policy, until the last year or so when we started rethinking it, that we rich countries that produce a lot of food should sell it to poor countries and relieve them of the burden of producing their own food, so, thank goodness, they can leap directly into the industrial era. It has not worked. It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake. It was a mistake that I was a party to. I am not pointing the finger at anybody. I did that. I have to live every day with the consequences of the lost capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people, because of what I did. Nobody else.
AMY GOODMAN: That was former President Bill Clinton speaking last month. Well, on Wednesday, Kim Ives asked Bill Clinton about his change of heart at the donors conference.
KIM IVES: But what about the change in your thinking to have you issue your apology the other day about the food policies?
BILL CLINTON: Oh, I just think that, you know, there’s a movement all around the world now. It was first — I first saw Bob Zoellick say the same thing, the head of the World Bank, where he said, you know, starting in 1981, the wealthy agricultural producing countries genuinely believed that they and the emerging agricultural powers in Brazil and Argentina, which are the only two places that have, parenthetically, increased wheat yields per acre, grain yields per acre in the last decade, because they’re the only places with more than twenty feet of topsoil, that they really believed for twenty years that if you moved agricultural production there and then facilitated its introduction into poorer places, you would free those places to get aid to skip agricultural development and go straight into an industrial era.
And it’s failed everywhere it’s been tried. And you just can’t take the food chain out of production. And it also undermines a lot of the culture, the fabric of life, the sense of self-determination. And I have been involved for several years in agricultural products, principally in Rwanda, Malawi, other places in Africa, and now increasingly in Latin America, and I see this.
So we genuinely thought we were helping Haiti when we restored President Aristide, made a commitment to help rebuild the infrastructure through the Army Corps of Engineers there, and do a lot of other things. And we made this devil’s bargain on rice. And it wasn’t the right thing to do. We should have continued to work to help them be self-sufficient in agriculture. And we — that’s a lot of what we’re doing now. We’re thinking about how can we get the coffee production up, how can we get other kinds of — the mango production up — we had an announcement on that yesterday —- the avocados, lots of other things. And so -—
KIM IVES: What about the return of Aristide, which has been asked for by demonstrations even right across the street today?
BILL CLINTON: Well, that’s not in my purview. That’s up to the Haitians, including those that aren’t demonstrating.
AMY GOODMAN: That was President Clinton being questioned by Kim Ives. Kim Ives in the studios with us, along with Roger Leduc, who is a radio host and activist with KAKOLA, the Haitian Coalition to Support the Struggle in Haiti. Juan?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Kim, that repudiation by Clinton of his previous policies is really a stunning statement, because, in effect, he is in large part renouncing even NAFTA, even though he hasn’t said it, because obviously NAFTA had a major impact on agriculture in Mexico, where millions of people were thrown off their farms because they couldn’t compete with American corn flooding the country. Your sense of whether the possibility of policies like this actually being implemented?
KIM IVES: Well, that’s just it, Juan. I think it’s a lot of bluff. We have to remember, we’re not in the age of Bush anymore, with all the chest pounding and, you know, America first and capitalism first. This is Slick Willie, and they come with the message. They know the sensitivity of the Haitian community — I can say of the progressive American community, too — to all these maneuvers. And so they know the language. We hear the word “solidarity.” We hear the word “sovereignty.” We hear the word — we hear all the right words. But once again, to me, it’s total smoke.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And Roger, I wanted to ask you, in terms of the role of the Haitian government, you mentioned that obviously the government had failed in the early — in the aftermath. There have been calls, for instance, for some transparency in what happened to the original aid that came into the country. Your sense of your faith in the ability of the Haitian government to be a major partner in the distribution and the execution of this aid?
ROGER LEDUC: There is no faith at all. What I was referring to was the principle of recognizing a government that was voted in by the people of Haiti, even though the government failed miserably, not only just in terms of its response to the disaster, but even before that. What Préval applied himself to do was to gather the political class and put them in his pocket and then deliver it to the international community, mostly the United States government, so they could do whatever they needed to do with Haiti.
With the disaster, the program that they already had in mind to capture Haiti’s state, can be accelerated. If they were going to do it in ten years, this disaster is really a boon, a godsend, for everybody, actually, for the reactionary, for the imperial powers, and also for Haitian progressives who want to take the opportunity to do something and establish public forums throughout Haiti and build a national popular grassroots movement to say, “Hey, we’re here, and we need to be involved. We must be involved. This is our country. And no reconstruction of Haiti, no building of Haiti, can be done without us.”
This is the key moment here. After the carnival of conferences and the beautiful show of universal support, now this is serious business. Are we going to let them take hold of our country for thirty, forty years, as they’ve done since 1915? Or are we going to step up to the plate and, you know, go through the usual nonsense, secondary contradictions, that we have among us and really build a national front and do the right thing?