We speak with Stéphane Vincent, a Haitian citizen journalist who is helping the BBC to cover the aftermath of the devastating August 14 earthquake for the BBC and says the destruction in Les Cayes is reminiscent of the 2010 earthquake that struck the country. “To relive that again was very heart-wrenching,” he says. “The people have been feeling left out and abandoned by government.” Vincent co-wrote a BBC article on “The forgotten villages cut off from help.”
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go now to Port-au-Prince, where we’re joined by the Haitian citizen journalist Stéphane Vincent. You co-wrote a piece for the BBC headlined “The forgotten villages cut off from help.” You have made your way from the epicenter to the capital, Port-au-Prince, Stéphane. Can you describe what you’ve been seeing?
STÉPHANE VINCENT: Good morning, Amy. And thank you for having me here.
I’ve been back in Port-au-Prince for the past 48 hours. We went to Les Cayes — I, along the BBC News team — on Monday. We flew, because at first it wasn’t safe to drive to Les Cayes, which is about — Les Cayes is about a three-hour drive from the capital of Port-au-Prince. So, we hopped on a flight for about 30 minutes to get to the epicenter of the earthquake. And upon arrival, it was disastrous to see, especially for me, having survived the 2010 earthquake. And it sort of brought back all the emotional and mental sequels to sort of live that again. I mean, there are certain disasters you go through, you’d think you’d go through them once in a lifetime. To relive that again was very heart-wrenching.
And so far, we’ve gone around the south, whether it be the main city of Les Cayes or the other communes around the department. And the main observation has been that, as opposed to what many people may believe, the city of Les Cayes hasn’t been as destroyed as we may think. I mean, we would say that out of seven houses, six, seven houses, you would find one that’s been destroyed. However, the major impact is in the — what we call the communal sections, which are small villages and towns in the outskirts of Les Cayes, where you would find a good 95, 96% rate of destruction. You literally drive around villages for 10, 20, 30 minutes, and you’d only see collapsed homes, churches, schools, you know, different types of buildings.
And the people right now, the people in the city of Les Cayes or the communes have mostly been receiving help; however, the help gets stuck in these main areas, and the people most affected, in the outskirts of the south, haven’t been receiving help. And this has been the case for several reasons. First of all, the people that come to give help, they come based on what they get from the news, and so they rush to the main towns and the main cities to help. And secondly, we’ve had Hurricane Grace. And because of the hurricane, rivers came down and cut off some of these villages from the main towns and the main cities. So, cars, aid hasn’t been able to be driven to these people. And you had cases where, at first, there would be a group of young people who are able to swim. They would carry over the water a little bit of aid, but that hasn’t been sufficient.
AMY GOODMAN: You quote someone in your piece, Stéphane, saying, “Do I have to scream to get the government’s attention, or are we being left to die?” If you can also compare this to what happened — I mean, the earthquake obviously was far worse in 2010. You’re a survivor of that earthquake. I remember covering President Clinton in Port-au-Prince as he said, “The most important things to me now are my daughter’s wedding and the recovery of Haiti.” And yet, what actually happened now is you have many people who, still suffering from that earthquake, dealing with this.
STÉPHANE VINCENT: Yes. That statement that I quoted in the BBC piece was a statement made by this lady called Margaret Maurice in this area called Marceline. So, Marceline is a little village out in Camp-Perrin, where the previous doctor we spoke to, her family is from. And Marceline has been one of the hardest-hit areas of the south. And throughout the entire greater south, whether it be in the Nippes department in the south or even in the Grand’Anse department, the theme is recurrent: The people have been feeling left out and abandoned by government. I remember the following day after the passing of Hurricane Grace, we went to visit a camp in Les Cayes, Lande de Gabion, and you had these people that were telling us that they spent the night sleeping standing up, because it was raining, they had heavy winds. And they felt as though they’ve been left by the government.
And one interesting thing that happened is that we can make this contrast. The government has decided to centralize aid to avoid what happened in 2010, to ensure an equitable distribution of aid. But on the other hand, the population that’s on the ground suffering, they’re saying, “No, we don’t want help to go through government, because we don’t want them to take the aid and do whatever they want with it, give it to their own people. We want the organizations that are helping to come and give us the aid directly.” That’s one thing. And the second observation with that —
AMY GOODMAN: We have 20 seconds, Stéphane.
STÉPHANE VINCENT: Yes. In contrast to 2010, there has been little international presence. Haitians have really been getting help from other local organizations. It’s mostly been a thing where brothers and sisters are helping each other so far. So, the focus needs to be put on the outskirts of the south department so that aid can get to these people —
AMY GOODMAN: Stéphane Vincent, I want to thank you so much for being with us.
STÉPHANE VINCENT: — especially — yes.
AMY GOODMAN: A Haitian citizen journalist helping to cover the Haiti earthquake for the BBC. We’ll link to your piece, “The forgotten villages cut off from help.” I’m Amy Goodman. Stay safe.