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Clinton: U.S. Committed to Haiti’s Recovery

January 14, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Jim Lehrer speaks with former President Bill Clinton about the U.S. response to the Haitian earthquake, and its pledge to provide $100 million in aid.

JIM LEHRER: And former President Clinton joins us now from his office in New York City.

Mr. President, welcome.

BILL CLINTON: Thank you, Jim.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. President, what’s it going to take for Haiti to survive this tragedy?

BILL CLINTON: Well, first, I think the — the whole world is pulling for them, but we need to recognize that the most urgent thing we can do now is get them through the next week to 10 days. We have to find the living and the dead, and we have to take care of both.

Unless someone is part of a search-and-rescue team or a medical team, the best thing they can do for the next week to 10 days is send cash, even if it’s five or 10 dollars, because what we need is food, water, medical supplies, and shelter.

The United States military has done a great job of taking over the airport. They’re working closely with the U.N. security forces, MINUSTAH. The State Department and AID are working very well. And thank goodness the American Embassy was unharmed.

But the government has been damaged. And our U.N. office has been decimated there. We still have 150 people buried who have not been found. We did get someone out alive today, thank God.

But we need to focus on this now. I set up a, for my U.N. office, a Web site — that’s — just to move money into medical supplies. And, in the last day, we have gotten something like $4 million on it, people spending, sending less than $100 on average.

Or they can text Haiti to 20222 and give $10. That’s the most important thing now. Then, when that’s over, we will have to complete the relief efforts and we will start recovery and reconstruction. Haiti has a plan. It will have to be amended to take account of what has happened.

But we will have the government reconstituted soon. We will have the U.N. mission reconstituted soon. I talked today to Haiti’s other main donors on the phone. They’re still committed. I met with 50 of the big nongovernmental organizations and investor groups that had promised to help. They’re still committed. But we have got to get them through the trauma of these next few days first.

JIM LEHRER: Who’s in charge of all this, Mr. President? Is the Haitian government able to manage all of this that you have just described, or is somebody else going to have to do it?

BILL CLINTON: Well, the problem is, we’re doing it sort of one thing after another now in a cooperative way, because the Haitian government, the presidential palace was destroyed. The parliament building was badly damaged. They’re still missing senior members of parliament. They’re still missing ministers of the government.

And the U.N., in all probability, had its greatest loss of life in the whole history of the United Nations. We still have 150 people under the rubble unaccounted for. So, the Americans have been great, from the president on down. I can’t thank them enough.

And we are working — the U.N., Mr. Edmond Mulet, who was the predecessor of Mr. Annabi, the current head of our mission there, has gone down. For the next couple of days, he’s going to have to worry about pulling people out of the rubble.

Then we will stand up the U.N. again. We have got the — some working space for the president and prime minister now around the airport. And, meanwhile, I’m staying on the phone here just trying to take one issue after, another along with my deputy, Dr. Paul Farmer, whom you know, who’s…


BILL CLINTON: … worked in Haiti for 25 years. And we’re just trying to deal with these things one after another.

I don’t know that anybody’s in charge, but everybody’s trying to be pretty responsible. And we’re working hard at this.

JIM LEHRER: Do you have the feeling at this point that the will is there in all of these disparate groups and entities to get this thing done, and get the — get these people found, and do all of the — not the long-term reconstruction, but the immediate work that needs to be done?

BILL CLINTON: Yes, but there are significant just practical problems.

For example, the port’s capacity is badly damaged, because they can’t lift things off of ships. So, if we’re going to bring in things by boat, we have got to be able to lift off the things by boats, either by putting them in a smaller boat and taking them to shore and lifting them up, or having the crane capacity on the ships itself.

We have an enormous amount of really good equipment that’s capable of moving debris and clearing streets, but it was put to use primarily clearing out the clogged waterways in Haiti. So, a lot of it wasn’t available. And now they can hardly navigate the streets to get there.

So, these physical problems are going to be dealt with one by one by the U.N. forces there that are largely whole, the military forces, and by the American military helping them and others coming in. The Chinese have sent a search-and-rescue team. The Russians are sending two big helicopters. People from all over the region are helping.

And there’s a remarkable spirit there of just trying to save as many lives as possible and care for the people that are wounded and meet basic human needs. We will just have to work through this. But, every day, five new things come up, so we just have to figure out who to call for help and how to deal with them.

JIM LEHRER: Well, like the airport problem, there — what, there were 11 planes circling for a long time, and they finally closed the airport for a while, because these planes that were — had all these kinds of things that you were talking about, plus people, couldn’t land. Has that been resolved, do you think? Or can it be resolved?

BILL CLINTON: Well, I don’t think it can be resolved entirely.

You know, we have airport delays at very sophisticated, big American airports. What happens is, more planes want to land than can be landed in an orderly fashion right now. I just hope that the people that want to bring those planes in there understand that, right now, all they need are search-and-rescue teams, medical teams, and food, water, medical supplies, and shelter.

And we’re trying to do some more on the protection and figure out what we can do to get some lighting there at night. But that’s it. We have got to get through this emergency period. Then — and somewhere, a week from now, 10 days from now, we will be more concentrated on removing the debris that’s not covering human beings.

And then we will begin to implement the plan again. And, by then, we will have the Haiti government reconstituted. We will have the U.N. reconstituted. This is — I don’t think — it’s very hard to imagine what happened here.

I mean, our U.N. office was in a hotel that collapsed, five stories. There are still 150 people who are buried under that debris, people that we all knew and worked with. I mean, and Haitian families are still trying to figure out what happened to their family members.

We have got bodies and no refrigeration capacity. Haitians bury their dead. I — I hope that we can get some refrigeration ships and some other capacity there with generators that will operate, so we can preserve as many people who have been killed for their loved ones as possible.

Otherwise, public health demands will require mass burial, and all we will be able to do is take pictures and let people know where their loved ones are.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. President, I know it’s hard to…

BILL CLINTON: This is a big problem.


I know it’s hard to look ahead at this point, but your — based on your intimate knowledge of Haiti, for years now, and your position as the U.N. special envoy, when you look ahead, once you get past these first phases that you were talking about, do you believe that Haiti can, in fact, move through this and survive and follow the plan that you and others have devised?

BILL CLINTON: Yes, I do. I do because…

JIM LEHRER: What do you have that confidence? What gives you the confidence?

BILL CLINTON: Several things.

Number one, this — the Haitian government has greater capacity than ever before. Number two, the Haitian Diaspora community is committed to helping, and they are more welcome than ever before. The parliament just approved dual citizenship for the Haitian diaspora.

Keep in mind, look at the United States. Haitian-Americans are approximately 1 percent of our African-American population, 11 percent of our doctors. We have got Haitian-Americans who are dying to go down there and invest and build a future.

The third thing is, the neighbors of Haiti care more than ever before. When I restored President Aristide 15 years ago in 1995, Argentina was about the only neighbor that really cared at the time. Now, when we had an investment conference there, there were more people there from Latin America and the Caribbean than from the U.S., Canada, France, all of Europe and all of Asia combined. They care.

And, finally, we have the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, and the whole U.N. system totally committed to this. And, again, I can’t say enough for the commitment that President Obama has made.

And, you know, Hillary canceled her trip to Asia to come back and work on this. We have loved Haiti for 35 years now. And she’s — she’s distraught about it, but committed and on the job, staying there all weekend to work. The AID director, Mr. Shah, is doing a good job.

We’re going to get through this, and I think there will be even more determination to honor the plan they have — it’s not my economic plan. It’s theirs.

JIM LEHRER: Not yours. OK.

BILL CLINTON: Their government has embraced it. And — but we have got to help them with the living and the dead right now.

And if we do this right, and they feel the support of people around the world and next door, then I think you will see us resuming at an even more rapid rate the implementation of this plan.

JIM LEHRER: All right.

Mr. President, thank you very much for talking to us.

BILL CLINTON: Thank you, Jim.