"Many walk the streets, some barefoot, balancing on their heads bags containing what belongings they could grab before they fled and clutching plastic containers for water," says Oxfam's Catherine Gluck from Port au Prince, Haiti. "Large numbers are also wearing masks to stop inhaling the thick grey smoke that lingered long after the quake. The masks also offered some protection from the thick stench of dead bodies that lined the streets in the immediate aftermath of the quake and are still turning up wrapped in sheets or pieces of clothing."
Then there are the mind-numbing numbers:
50,000 to 200,000 dead
300,000 living homeless in the streets of Port au Prince
Subject: Breaking News Videos from CNN.com
A working hospital in Haiti
This video of the hospital is incredible, inspiring and a reality
by which to measure what we are doing, and what can be done.
If there were a sparkle in the often horrific blizzard of discouraging
and repetitive media coverage, this is that gem.
* A special note: Amy Goodman and DN crew moved to Haiti and will
cast their superlative coverage from there for the duration, beginning
tomorrow. Today's program honors Dr. King, appropriately. - Ed
An Interview with Randall Robinson
"Well, it's an opportunity, I think, for the American people, at long last,
to learn the full truth about Haiti and about our relationship with Haiti.
They've been caused to know very little about it. And I think progress-
a new beginning starts with the truth."
Democracy Now: January 15, 2010
Randall Robinson, visiting law professor at Pennsylvania State University.
His most recent book is An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, from Revolution to the
Kidnapping of a President. He is the founder and past president of
Just before the program, I spoke with Randall Robinson. He's the founder and
past president of TransAfrica. He's currently a visiting law professor at
Pennsylvania State University, though he goes home to Saint Kitts tomorrow,
where he lives. His most recent book is An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, from
Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President. I began by just asking for his
thoughts about the crisis right now in Haiti.
RANDALL ROBINSON: It's important, in trying to find ways to help, to be
generous and to give, and to give generously. I would like to commend
President Obama for his strong and fast response of a commitment of $100
million. Operations are already underway. I think the world is being
incredibly generous, as I understand the pace of things to be at this point,
the pace of giving. But, of course, as many lives as can possibly be
salvaged need to be salvaged as quickly as possible, and I have every reason
to believe that the administration and others are doing the very best that
they can. As a private citizen, it's my responsibility, and our general
responsibility, to support every effort that's being made to save lives in
AMY GOODMAN: Word is now President Prïval has said they've just
burned-buried 7,000 bodies in a mass grave, but the most important thing
right now is the search equipment, to go in and to save people who are just
hanging on, perhaps who have been crushed, who are hidden in the rubble. And
yet, that has yet to come. Some word is there's a lot of aid at the airport
not able to get through, and then other aid just hasn't come.
RANDALL ROBINSON: Well, that's not surprising. It's hard for things to
function when virtually all of the infrastructure has been destroyed. The
Haitian government is unable to function, I would imagine, because it's
under the same burden that all Haitians are under. The President's home has
been destroyed. It's hard to get from point A to point B, because the roads
are blocked, petrol is not available. Heavy equipment is not yet available.
But in the spirit of konbit, the Haitian Creole word for "collaboration
and cooperation," Haitians are doing everything they can. They are
resilient, industrious, courageous people. They're doing everything they can
to save the lives of their fellows, and they're doing it, thus far, with
very little, because it's taking a while for that kind of assistance to
AMY GOODMAN: President Obama has tapped President Clinton and former
President George W. Bush to coordinate the aid relief to Haiti. I was
wondering your thoughts on that.
RANDALL ROBINSON: Well, Amy, I'm, of course, troubled by that. I don't
think this is the time-neither the time nor the place to discuss those
things that have troubled me for a long time in the history of American
policy towards Haiti. Now the focus must be upon the rescue efforts that are
underway to save lives.
But I hope that this experience, this disaster, causes American media to
take a keener look at Haiti, at the Haitian people, at their wonderful
creativity, at their art, at their culture, and what they've had to bear. It
has been described to the American people as a problem of their own making.
Well, that's simply not the case. Haiti has been, of course, put upon by
outside powers for its whole post-slavery history, from 1804 up until the
Of course, President Bush was responsible for destroying Haitian democracy
in 2004, when he and American forces abducted President Aristide and his
wife, taking them off to Africa, and they are now in South Africa. President
Clinton has largely sponsored a program of economic development that
supports the idea of sweatshops. Haitians in Haiti today make 38 cents an
hour. They don't make a high enough wage to pay for their lunch and
transportation to and from work. But this is the kind of economic program
that President Clinton has supported. I think that is sad, that these two
should be joined in this kind of effort. It sends, I think, the wrong kind
of signal. But that is not what we should focus on now. We should focus on
But in the last analysis, I hope that American media will not just
continue to-the refrain of Haiti being the poorest country in the western
hemisphere, but will come to ask the question, why? What distinguishes Haiti
from the rest of the Caribbean? Why are the other countries, like the
country in which I live, Saint Kitts, middle-income and successful
countries, and Haiti is mired in economic despair? What happened? And who's
had a hand in it? If Haiti has been under a series of serial dictatorship,
who armed the dictators? There are other hands in Haiti's problem. Of course
Haiti is responsible for some of its own failures, but probably not
principally responsible. We need to know that. We need to be told the whole
story of these wonderful, resilient, courageous and industrious people. And
we have not been told that. I would hope that this would be an opportunity
for doing so.
AMY GOODMAN: In talking about President Bush, while most people may not
know the role the US played in the ouster of President Aristide February
29th, 2004, probably what would come to mind when there's any discussion of
relief efforts is Katrina.
RANDALL ROBINSON: Yes. The problem of what happened in February 2004
continues. We had democracy in Haiti, and that democracy was blighted by the
Bush administration. And now President Aristide's party is prohibited from
participating in the electoral process. His party is the largest party in
Haiti. And why should we be so afraid to let his party participate? If
Haitian people don't want them, they won't vote for them. That is the very
essence of democracy, that people get a chance to stand for election, and
the electorate gets a chance to make a decision. But we have obstructed that
process in Haiti. We have done that under the Clinton administration, under
the Bush administration, and that continues under the Obama administration.
And that is indeed unfortunate. I am imploring American media to examine
this in whole part, in ways that media have failed to do so up until now.
AMY GOODMAN: This history, the two crises, the natural catastrophe that is
the earthquake, that the Red Cross is now saying they believe perhaps up to
50,000 people have died-and we're not talking about, you know, just what has
happened in the past, but what is currently happening. Who was just quoted?
Lieutenant General Russel Honorï, the retired general who took charge of
relief efforts in New Orleans, said that aid should have arrived, that said
the US military should have arrived in earthquake-devastated Haiti
twenty-four hours earlier. Of course, as we know, people trapped under
rubble, every minute counts.
RANDALL ROBINSON: Well, I'm not in a position to comment on that. I simply
can't make an assessment of how fast or how slowly they arrived or how soon
they should have arrived. And so, I will withhold comment on that.
AMY GOODMAN: Does it make you nervous to hear about US soldiers on Haitian
soil? If you can share a little more of the history of the United States and
Haiti-or do you think this isn't the time to talk, for example, about 1915
to 1934, the first US Marine occupation, and then-
RANDALL ROBINSON: Well, I should think it would-I should think, Amy, it
would make Haitians nervous under these circumstances. Of course, I'm sure
that they are, understandably, quite happy to see assistance from any
But it was in 1915 that Woodrow Wilson, of course, with a force of
American Marines, invaded and occupied Haiti until 1934. They seized land,
redistributed it to American corporations, took control of the country, ran
the country, collected customs duties for that period of time, and ran the
country as if it were an American possession.
But this has marked the relationship since Toussaint L'Ouverture and an
army of ex-slaves overthrew French rule in 1804. The French exacted, of
course, reparations from the new free black republic of Haiti, bankrupting
the country. The Vatican didn't recognize Haiti until the 1860s. The Western
nations of the world, responding to a call for isolation and embargo from
Thomas Jefferson, imposed sanctions on Haiti that lasted until the
Emancipation Proclamation in the United States, of course followed in the
twentieth century by President Wilson's occupation and then by the
dictatorial blight of Duvaliers, Papa and son, and all of the other military
generals that, of course, were armed by the United States.
And so, Haiti's plight up until this point has been, in some significant
way, attributable to bad and painful American, French and Western policy
that some believe is caused or described, motivated by Toussaint
L'Ouverture's victory over Napoleon. The French have never forgiven the Haitian people for this.
AMY GOODMAN: Former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide said he's ready to
return to help rebuild his country in the wake of the devastating
earthquake. Why can't he just return?
RANDALL ROBINSON: Well, the-I'm not sure what the stated American policy
is, but of course the Bush administration policy was to forbid his return.
But any obstruction of his return by any power would constitute a violation
of international law, a violation of the UN Charter, a violation of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a violation of any number of major UN
human rights conventions. You cannot restrict people either from leaving
their country-citizens, either from leaving their country or returning to
their country. He has every right to return home, should he want to. And one
would hope that no administration, the American administration nor any
other, would stand in the way of his passage home.
AMY GOODMAN: A few nights ago, Naomi Klein was in New York, author of The
Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, and she quoted a Heritage
Foundation press release that came out very soon after the earthquake,
talking about this being an opportunity. That is the question, whether it is
an opportunity, she said, of the corporate vultures hovering over Haiti,
waiting to descend and restructure Haiti, or an opportunity for progressive
Haitians to rebuild their own country, to rebuild Haiti. What are your
thoughts about this?
RANDALL ROBINSON: Well, it's an opportunity, I think, for the American
people to, at long last, learn the full truth about Haiti and about our
relationship with Haiti. They've known-they've been caused to know very
little about it. And I think progress-a new beginning starts with the truth.
That is a truth that has been suppressed for all of these many years. The
American people know almost nothing about what happened in 2004, about the
abduction of President Aristide, about the destruction of Haiti's democracy
as a result of the efforts of both the United States and the French
government. We need to know that.
And in the last analysis, Haitians have at their disposal a vigorous,
creative, industrious and successful community in the United States, in
France, in Canada. The Haitian diaspora is very much engaged with Haiti.
They need to be given an opportunity to help Haiti rebuild itself.
We need to go away from what we've been doing in support, a sort of an
unconditional support, for wealthy Haitians that are running sweatshops in
the country, that pay people appallingly low wages. That is not the way to
any bright future for Haiti. And that is the-of course, the idea that former
President Clinton has been advancing for Haiti. I think it is sad. It can't
work. It won't work. It will brew a further resentment of the United States.
And I think that the only way we can move ahead constructively with Haiti
is to begin by telling the full story of our relationship with Haiti since
1804, what happened in the nineteenth century and what has happened in the
twentieth century, so that Americans will understand at long last that
misery is largely not of its own making. They will learn of a Haitian people
who are quite different from those who have been described to them. And I
think it is at that point we can make the beginning that we need to make and
that is rooted in a policy that is constructive and sensitive and caring and
productive for the United States, as well as for the Haitian people.
AMY GOODMAN: Randall Robinson, founder and past president of TransAfrica. He
fasted almost until death years ago under the Clinton administration to try
to get President Clinton to close Guantanamo. In that case, it was to close
Guantanamo so that Haitian refugees who were trying to escape the coup in
Haiti were able to come into the United States. Randall Robinson's latest
book is called An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, from Revolution to the Kidnapping
of a President.
Homeless Haitians Told Not to Flee to U.S.
By JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
January 19, 2010
MIAMI — America has a message for the millions of Haitians left homeless and destitute by last week’s earthquake: Do not try to come to the United States.
Every day, a United States Air Force cargo plane specially equipped with radio transmitters flies for five hours over the devastated country, broadcasting news and a recorded message from Raymond Joseph, Haiti’s ambassador in Washington.
“Listen, don’t rush on boats to leave the country,” Mr. Joseph says in Creole, according to a transcript released by the Pentagon. “If you do that, we’ll all have even worse problems. Because, I’ll be honest with you: If you think you will reach the U.S. and all the doors will be wide open to you, that’s not at all the case. And they will intercept you right on the water and send you back home where you came from.”
Homeland Security and Defense Department officials say they are taking a hard line to avert a mass exodus from the island that could lead to deaths at sea or a refugee crisis in South Florida. Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, is about 700 miles from Miami.
So far, there has been no sign of Haitians trying to flee the island by boat, United States officials say. Nor has there been a mass exodus of Haitians into the neighboring Dominican Republic, except for about 3,000 injured people who are being treated at hospitals just over the Dominican border, officials there say.
But United States officials say they worry that in the coming weeks, worsening conditions in Haiti could spur an exodus. They have not only started a campaign to persuade Haitians to stay put, but they are also laying plans to scoop up any boats carrying illegal immigrants and send them to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
Department of Homeland Security officials have also transferred 200 illegal immigrants from the Krome Service Processing Center here — a federal jail for people awaiting deportation — to make room for a possible influx of Haitian migrants.
The State Department has also been denying many seriously injured people in Port-au-Prince visas to be transferred to Miami for surgery and treatment, said Dr. William O’Neill, the dean of the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami, which has erected a field hospital near the airport there.
“It’s beyond insane,” Dr. O’Neill said Saturday, having just returned to Miami from Haiti. “It’s bureaucracy at its worse.”
Customs officials have allowed a total of 23 Haitians into the United States on humanitarian grounds for medical treatment, said a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security.
And late Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the United States would allow some orphaned children to enter the country temporarily on an individual basis.
A State Department spokesman, Noel Clay, said the United States had not suspended its visa requirements for Haitians trying to flee the disaster, even though the Department of Homeland Security has halted the deportations of Haitians already in the United States illegally.
“We urge Haitians in Haiti not to put their lives at additional risk by embarking on a dangerous sea voyage,” Mr. Clay said.
In the Dominican Republic, officials have adopted a similar stance. The secretary of foreign relations has ordered only Haitians with medical emergencies allowed into the country, and the Army has established checkpoints on roads leading from the border.
Sandra Severino, a spokeswoman for President Leonel Fernández, said there had not been a huge spike in illegal immigration on the border, and indeed many Haitians already in the Dominican Republic are returning to help their families.
Officials in the Bahamas, which has a large Haitian population, are also keeping a close watch on the seas, but have not noticed a surge in boats carrying refugees, said the deputy prime minister for foreign affairs, T. Brent Symonette. He added that the Bahamas would not repatriate immigrants arriving from Haiti immediately, given the severity of the humanitarian crisis.
Few experts on immigration expect droves of Haitians to take to the seas in flimsy boats right away, though they add that it is hard to predict what will happen in the coming weeks. Most earthquake victims are still struggling to find food and water; they are in no condition to plan and provision a sea voyage. In addition, the Coast Guard currently has five cutters patrolling Haitian waters.
Lt. Commander Chris O’Neil said the Coast Guard had not spotted any boats leaving Haiti with refugees on Monday. “None, zero,” he said, “and no indication of anyone making preparations to do so.” He said anyone caught leaving the island and heading toward Florida would be returned to Haiti.
Ten Things the US Can and Should Do for Haiti
By Bill Quigley - January 14th, 2010
One. Allow all Haitians in the US to work. The number one source of money for poor people in Haiti is the money sent from family and workers in the US back home. Haitians will continue to help themselves if given a chance. Haitians in the US will continue to help when the world community moves on to other problems.
Two. Do not allow US military in Haiti to point their guns at Haitians. Hungry Haitians are not the enemy. Decisions have already been made which will militarize the humanitarian relief - but do not allow the victims to be cast as criminals. Do not demonize the people.
Three. Give Haiti grants as help, not loans. Haiti does not need any more debt. Make sure that the relief given helps Haiti rebuild its public sector so the country can provide its own citizens with basic public services.
Four. Prioritize humanitarian aid to help women, children and the elderly. They are always moved to the back of the line. If they are moved to the back of the line, start at the back.
Five. President Obama can enact Temporary Protected Status for Haitians with the stroke of a pen. Do it. The US has already done it for El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Sudan and Somalia. President Obama should do it on Martin Luther King Day.
Six. Respect Human Rights from Day One. The UN has enacted Guiding Principles for Internally Displaced People. Make them required reading for every official and non-governmental person and organization. Non governmental organizations like charities and international aid groups are extremely powerful in Haiti - they too must respect the human dignity and human rights of all people.
Seven. Apologize to the Haitian people everywhere for Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh
Eight. Release all Haitians in US jails who are not accused of any crimes. Thirty thousand people are facing deportations. No one will be deported to Haiti for years to come. Release them on Martin Luther King day.
Nine. Require that all the non-governmental organizations which raise money in the US be transparent about what they raise, where the money goes, and insist that they be legally accountable to the people of Haiti.
Ten. Treat all Haitians as we ourselves would want to be treated.
Naomi Klein’s “Shock Doctrine and Disaster Capitalism already at work in Hailt
The Heritage Foundation January 13 statement on Haiti originally included this sentence
"In addition to providing immediate humanitarian assistance, the U.S. response to the tragic earthquake in Haiti earthquake offers opportunities to re-shape Haiti’s long-dysfunctional government and economy as well as to improve the public image of the United States in the region."
IMF to Haiti: Freeze Public Wages Richard Kim on 01/15/2010 Nation (online)
Since a devastating earthquake rocked Haiti on Tuesday--killing tens of thousands of people--there's been a lot of well-intentioned chatter and twitter about how to help Haiti. Folks have been donating millions of dollars to Wyclef Jean's Yele Haiti (by texting "YELE" to 501501) or to the Red Cross (by texting "HAITI" to 90999) or to Paul Farmer's extraordinary Partners in Health, among other organizations. I hope these donations continue to pour in, along with more money, food, water, medicine, equipment and doctors and nurses from nations around the world. The Obama administration has pledged at least $100 million in aid and has already sent thousands of soldiers and relief workers. That's a decent start.
But it's also time to stop having a conversation about charity and start having a conversation about justice--about recovery, responsibility and fairness. What the world should be pondering instead is: What is Haiti owed?
Haiti's vulnerability to natural disasters, its food shortages, poverty, deforestation and lack of infrastructure, are not accidental. To say that it is the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere is to miss the point; Haiti was made poor--by France, the United States, Great Britain, other Western powers and by the IMF and the World Bank.
Now, in its attempts to help Haiti, the IMF is pursuing the same kinds of policies that made Haiti a geography of precariousness even before the quake. To great fanfare, the IMF announced a new $100 million loan to Haiti on Thursday. In one crucial way, the loan is a good thing; Haiti is in dire straits and needs a massive cash infusion. But the new loan was made through the IMF's extended credit facility, to which Haiti already has $165 million in debt. Debt relief activists tell me that these loans came with conditions, including raising prices for electricity, refusing pay increases to all public employees except those making minimum wage and keeping inflation low. They say that the new loans would impose these same conditions. In other words, in the face of this latest tragedy, the IMF is still using crisis and debt as leverage to compel neoliberal reforms.
For Haiti, this is history repeated. As historians have documented, the impoverishment of Haiti began in the earliest decades of its independence, when Haiti's slaves and free gens de couleur rallied to liberate the country from the French in 1804. But by 1825, Haiti was living under a new kind of bondage--external debt. In order to keep the French and other Western powers from enforcing an embargo, it agreed to pay 150 million francs in reparations to French slave owners (yes, that's right, freed slaves were forced to compensate their former masters for their liberty). In order to do that, they borrowed millions from French banks and then from the US and Germany. As Alex von Tunzelmann pointed out, "by 1900, it [Haiti] was spending 80 percent of its national budget on repayments."
It took Haiti 122 years, but in 1947 the nation paid off about 60 percent, or 90 million francs, of this debt (it was able to negotiate a reduction in 1838). In 2003, then-President Aristide called on France to pay restitution for this sum--valued in 2003 dollars at over $21 billion. A few months later, he was ousted in a coup d'etat; he claims he left the country under armed pressure from the US.
Then of course there are the structural adjustment policies imposed by the IMF and World Bank in the 1990s. In 1995, for example, the IMF forced Haiti to cut its rice tariff from 35 percent to 3 percent, leading to a massive increase in rice-dumping, the vast majority of which came from the United States. As a 2008 Jubilee USA report notes, although the country had once been a net exporter of rice, "by 2005, three out of every four plates of rice eaten in Haiti came from the US." During this period, USAID invested heavily in Haiti, but this "charity" came not in the form of grants to develop Haiti's agricultural infrastructure, but in direct food aid, furthering Haiti's dependence on foreign assistance while also funneling money back to US agribusiness.
A 2008 report from the Center for International Policy points out that in 2003, Haiti spent $57.4 million to service its debt, while total foreign assistance for education, health care and other services was a mere $39.21 million. In other words, under a system of putative benevolence, Haiti paid back more than it received. As Paul Farmer noted in our pages after hurricanes whipped the country in 2008, Haiti is "a veritable graveyard of development projects."
So what can activists do in addition to donating to a charity? One long-term objective is to get the IMF to forgive all $265 million of Haiti's debt (that's the $165 million outstanding, plus the $100 million issued this week). In the short term, Haiti's IMF loans could be restructured to come from the IMF's rapid credit facility, which doesn't impose conditions like keeping wages and inflation down.
Indeed, debt relief is essential to Haiti's future. It recently had about $1.2 billion in debt canceled, but it still owes about $891 million, all of which was lent to the country from 2004 onward. $429 million of that debt is held by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), to whom Haiti is scheduled to make $10 million in payments next year. Obviously, that's money better spent on saving Haitian lives and rebuilding the country in the months ahead; the cancellation of the entire sum would free up precious capital. The US controls about 30 percent of the bank's shares; Latin American and Caribbean countries hold just over 50 percent. Notably, the IDB's loans come from its fund for special operations (i.e. the IDB's donor nations and funds from loans that have been paid back), not from IDB's bonds. Hence, the total amount could be forgiven without impacting the IDB's triple-A credit rating.