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Haitian Activist Patrick Elie: “Haiti is Controlled by Foreign Governments and Foreign Interests”

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On the first anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti, we go to Port-au-Prince to speak with Patrick Elie, a longtime Haitian democracy activist and Haiti’s former Secretary of State for Public Security. “I don’t think, truly, that the Haitian people have to be pitied or mourned. They have to get true solidarity in their endeavor to rebuild,” Elie says. “We must resist the impulse to rebuild Port-au-Prince the way it was: a city of exclusion, of hyper-concentration and of shanty towns, which contributed very, very much to the high toll that we’ve paid after the earthquake.” [includes rush transcript]

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StoryJul 12, 2010Democracy Now! in Port-au-Prince: Patrick Elie on Haiti Six Months After the Earthquake
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: TRosemond, he won the equivalent of the American Idol competition in Haiti. We saw him when we first went to Haiti right after the earthquake. He was traveling with a large family, making his way out of Port-au-Prince, escaping, as so many Haitians were trying to do, to get away from the terror. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

It’s the first anniversary of the tè tremblé, the earth trembles. That’s Creole for the earthquake. And we go directly to Port-au-Prince, where we’re joined by Patrick Elie, a longtime Haitian democracy activist, Haiti’s former Secretary of State for Public Security. He’s speaking to us from downtown Port-au-Prince in front of the Champ de Mars, just opposite the National Palace, where thousands of Haitians continue to live in a massive tent camp.

It’s good to see you again, Patrick Elie. Can you share your reflections on this first anniversary of the earthquake, especially just where you stand, what you’re looking out over?

PATRICK ELIE: Well, I’m looking at the end of an era, the end of politics for tens of years, if not centuries. And I’m looking at the defeat of that vision. But I’m also looking at the incredible will to live that exists in this country. And to tell you the truth, even though I’m sad today, but I’m not giving up, I’m not discouraged. And I believe the Haitian people will once again surprise the world precisely by its creativity and its will to live, that is unshakable, even by such a monstrous earthquake.

AMY GOODMAN: When we last spoke, we were standing on the rubble of the Montana Hotel, where people were buried underneath. You’re standing in front of the Champ de Mars. Thousands of people remain there. I think this is very hard for people outside of Haiti to understand how still a million people are displaced in Haiti, this after the catastrophe of a quarter of a million at least killed, and now you have cholera on top of this. What has happened in this year?


AMY GOODMAN: Why hasn’t aid come, Patrick?

PATRICK ELIE: Well, first of all, you know, you were dealing with a country that was in very bad shape to start with. And you were dealing with a state that was weak for the mission it must execute. And the earthquake — and paradoxically, the outpour of solidarity — has not made things better in terms of the ability and the will of the state to rise up to the challenge. So, of course, one year later, I believe everybody would have expected to see better result, a more pronounced improvement of the situation. But really what I’m seeing is, if you want, question me, but it’s not at all as bad as it is usually described. I don’t think, truly, that the Haitian people have to be pitied or mourned. They have to get true solidarity in their endeavor to rebuild, and not to rebuild the same.

You know, Port-au-Prince is a city, and a city is a living organism. And Port-au-Prince, as we speak, is trying to relive the same way it was, and that would be a catastrophe for the country. Port-au-Prince has been strangling the rest of this nation, the rest of this country, for decades. It’s time, after the earthquake, to question the whole vision of how Haiti was built. It is time, if you want, to — I don’t want to say to destroy Port-au-Prince, but to put it in its right place in this country. We must resist the impulse to rebuild Port-au-Prince the way it was: a city of exclusion, of hyper-concentration and of shanty towns, which, if you want, contributed very, very much to the high toll that we’ve paid after the earthquake. So, we definitely have to break away from the course we seem to have been taken, which has been to do more of the same. We must do that; otherwise, it’s going to be worse than before.

AMY GOODMAN: Who controls Haiti now? Who is in control of the reconstruction? We were just speaking with Professor Alex Dupuy, who talked about the IHRC, the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, co-chaired by Bill Clinton and the Haitian prime minister Jean-Max Bellerive.

PATRICK ELIE: I believe that at the moment Haiti is controlled by a foreign government and foreign interests, the so-called international community. And I’m afraid that in the month or maybe years to come, it’s going to get even worse, because, as you know, the election did not, if you want, mobilize the Haitian people, and whoever gets elected is going to be a very weak government, very weak president, with very little popular legitimacy. So, the ability of this new leadership to actually mobilize Haitians for reconstruction and be able to engage the international community on a partner-to-partner basis is going to be very, very small.

So, it’s going to take time, but I do believe that the earthquake is also a signal for us to build Haitian democracy on sound foundations, which means the neighborhood committees, the grassroot organization, instead of trying to build a democracy from the top down. That’s how we built our houses in Port-au-Prince, and you saw what happened. So, I believe it’s time for serious soul searching for the nation and to do an assessment of what has been the latest episode in Haiti’s search for democracy, which has lasted at least a quarter of a century with very poor result, as we speak.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring in Jean Saint-Vil and then get your response, Patrick Elie. We’re turning to Canada. He’s in Ottawa, the Haitian writer and activist, his website, godisnotwhite.com.

On this first anniversary of the earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of people, now more than a million — and the country is only 10 million people — and cholera ravaging through the country, Jean Saint-Vil, your thoughts?

JEAN SAINT-VIL: Well, I was listening attentively to Alex Dupuy and Patrick, and they’ve really covered a lot of my thoughts. And I think one of the things that is common in what they’ve said is that there is not evidence that we’ve made that shift. Patrick mentioned that Port-au-Prince is trying to rebuild itself on the same principle that it had built itself before and is — has collapsed. The same thing with the way Alex Dupuy described the international community.

I think that another Haitian author described it pretty well: Edwidge Danticat, who published in the Miami Herald earlier this week an article titled “Haitians Are Tired, But We Are Not Defeated.” I would add that we are sick and tired, but not defeated. As you mentioned, we have lost more than 3,700 Haitians through the cholera brought to Haiti by U.N. troops.

And what we are seeing is, instead of resources being mobilized to deal with protecting human lives, building infrastructures for a new Haiti, instead we’re seeing the international community, which includes the United Nations, mobilizing resources to maintain the status quo. So, my perspective on this is that one year after the earthquake, we are seeing the Haitian population being treated and seen as a threat, rather than as an asset. And to me, that’s the major paradigm shift that must occur if we have to get out of this mess.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you, Alex Dupuy, before we go back to Port-au-Prince with Patrick Elie, about the U.S. official who was in charge of relief efforts following Haiti’s devastating earthquake who has accused a major contractor of shortchanging him for his assistance in securing more than $20 million in reconstruction deals. It was the Haiti Recovery Group he’s suing, and it was Lewis Lucke that the Associated Press was reporting on.

ALEX DUPUY: Well, I don’t know all the specifics of that suit, but what is known is that, of the contracts that have been given out by the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, most of those contracts have gone to U.S. firms. Only two of them went to Haitian firms. And a significant percentage of the contracts that went to U.S. firms went to two firms, according to news reports, with no-bid contracts. So, I am not sure if this is what the suit is targeting, but —

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask — let me ask Jean Saint-Vil. Are you familiar with this case?

JEAN SAINT-VIL: Yes, I have read the report on the web about this. And if I am not mistaken, Mr. Lewis Lucke is actually a former U.S. ambassador to Swaziland, and he was working with the USAID in Haiti. And he’s suing the Haitian company led by Bigio, the Bigio Group [GB Group], which — actually, Bigio is described as the richest man in Haiti, part of the small Haitian elite that controls basically the economic life of Haiti. What’s interesting in this article is that it’s describing that the work that Lewis Lucke has done is really lobbying former U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush for contracts that he was securing for American companies. To me, this is an example of exactly what is wrong with the current model, where non-Haitians have more power than Haitian leaders in Haiti, and the corruption that has been treated in Haiti as if it was, you know, a genetic disease that only affects the Haitian players.

We are seeing that the IHRC, led by Bill Clinton and Jean-Max Bellerive, is actually only led by the international players. People have actually been asking, “Where is the Haitian prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive?” At the last meeting that took place in Dominican Republic, he wasn’t even there. And that’s where the 12 members of the Haitian participants in this commission were saying that contracts are being signed, major decisions are being made, without them being involved. So, basically, the Clinton Global Initiative and Bill Clinton himself, not to talk about all the conflict of interest being the husband of the U.S. Secretary of State — I mean, Haiti is not being led by Haitians, and that’s basically what’s been wrong with the situation since 2004.

AMY GOODMAN: Patrick Elie, I want to come back to you, as you stand there in front of the Champ de Mars, where so many people remain in these refugee camps. And I was wondering if you could give us a history lesson, for those not familiar with Haiti, in its birth out of a slave rebellion, and then what you think needs to happen right now concretely on the ground, as you say your country is being controlled by foreign interests, by foreign governments.

PATRICK ELIE: It is indeed a huge challenge that we’re facing as a people, maybe as big as the one we did face successfully in 1804. And as for, if you want, the vultures descending on Haiti, I believe we evoked that the last time we met on the Montana. And the only people that can prevent that are the Haitians themselves, with the help of foreign friends that keep their vigilance high, because, you know, things are going on that are beyond the back of the people of the world that were so generous toward Haiti and beyond the back of the Haitian people. And really what needs to be done is not easy to map out. To tell you the truth, there is no magic wand.

A lot of the people you see out in the Champ de Mars, they were not living any better before in Cité Soleil and in the different shanty towns. The difference is that now they’re making their presence known, they’re in your face, so to speak. And I hope that they will be able to show both the world outside and the Haitian elite that things have to change. And in a way — and I measure my words — to see these people in the Champ de Mars right smack in front of the National Palace is a positive message. It has to remind anyone who find itself in this ruin of a building, anyone who is living in a five million U.S.-dollar mansion, that these are Haitians, and they have to be, if you want, enfranchised and that their needs and their demands have to be met. So, you know, as they say in Haiti, ”C’est un bien pour un mal,” we’ve exchanged an evil for a message that had to be heard for years and years.

AMY GOODMAN: What, at this point, do you feel needs to be done? Do you feel that the IHRC, that is run by President Clinton, former President Clinton, and Bellerive, should it continue? Should it be dismantled? You talk about a community organizations that could rise up, a changing of Port-au-Prince, but how will this actually happen?

PATRICK ELIE: I do believe that we need something different from the Haitian state as it is, and as it will emerge from this election, to lead the effort in reconstruction. Obviously, there has to be parliamentary representative of the donors, but mostly the Haitian representation should reflect more the Haitian community as it is. It’s not enough to have big-shot lawyers and technicians. The voice of the communities, both of Port-au-Prince but also in the other parts of the country, which represent our way out of this mess, their voices have to be heard also. And to be frank, I have not heard those voices spoken in the reconstruction. So, for me, personally, one of the very encouraging things that emerged from the earthquake was the birth, or the rebirth, of the neighborhood committees. And many of them, I must admit, you know, just organized so that they could profit for the charity. But some of them have remained, and they are, if you want, sketching their way ahead. And the movement has spread away from Port-au-Prince and away from the cities to what we call the lakou, which are the small peasant communities. In my opinion, there lies the future of Haiti and of its democracy, not up in the fancy hotel or the convention centers.

AMY GOODMAN: Patrick Elie, I want to thank you for being with us, Haitian democracy activist, speaking to us from Port-au-Prince. When we come back from break, we will go to Carrefour to speak with the Haitian writer Edwidge Danticat, the Haitian American novelist. Stay with us.

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Haitian Writer Jean Saint-Vil: One Year After Earthquake, Haitian Population Treated as a Threat, Not an Asset

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