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Ambassador: ‘We’re Going to Have Some Order in Haiti’

January 15, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Haiti's ambassador to the U.S., Raymond Joseph, discusses how the Haitian government is responding to the crisis even though many of its workers are quake victims as well.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And how is the Haitian government, its officials among the quake victims and its main buildings severely damaged, responding to this crisis?

For that, we go to Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, Raymond Joseph.

Mr. Ambassador, we know that a memorandum of understanding was announced today between the U.S. and Haiti to temporarily take over your main airport. We know there will be 10,000 U.S. troops there by Monday. Is your government essentially turning over management of this crisis to the U.S.?

RAYMOND JOSEPH: Well, I don’t know whether they’re turning management of the crisis to the U.S.

I know they are turning management of the airport to the U.S. And this is really needed, because the tower at the airport fell, and we had no way of controlling airspace. In that — from there, to go and say that they are turning the whole management of the crisis to the U.S., I think is going a little bit too far.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well…

RAYMOND JOSEPH: The government has also set up a crisis unit not too far from the airport as of yesterday. And the various ministers who went unaccounted for now are being found. And we — it might take us a little time to get things moving, but I think the Haitian government is taking steps to respond, especially in the field of security.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Secretary of State Clinton, of course, is coming to Haiti tomorrow to Port-au-Prince. What do you look to her to do?

RAYMOND JOSEPH: I am looking — first of all, it is symbolic gesture.

You know, she was out in Asia, and she canceled the trip out there and got back to Washington and is focusing on Haiti. For her to come down to Haiti, together with the administrator of USAID, is a way of telling us, you are important for us. You are a priority for us. We understand what you are going through, and we are showing that we care.

Moreover, her presence in Haiti will help to paper over any hard feelings, you know, friction that may have occurred between some people who were in charge of the airport in Port-au-Prince and who now see that this is going into American hands.

But they should know that it is a temporary situation, just to help us get through this hard period. It doesn’t mean — it doesn’t mean Americans taking over Haiti.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mentioned friction, hard feelings. Can you elaborate on that?

RAYMOND JOSEPH: I know that some people — you know, for the past two days, there were problems that planes could not land at the airport. And I understand that, as you said, today, there is a memorandum of understanding that was signed.

That had to be worked out, because some of the airport officials thought they were still in control, but, you know, in control in what way? Now that the — the U.S. Airborne and other units are coming, U.S. 82nd Airborne, and they have more equipment and more experience to deal with the situation like that, it is a way of saying, OK, you know, let go.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mr. Ambassador, one final quick, quick question. And that is, we hear so many descriptions of the desperation, people begging for food. We — we know that we have seen nothing but terrible scenes.

Give us your personal sense of — of what this is like for the Haitian people.

RAYMOND JOSEPH: Well, it’s not only the Haitian people that act that way in a crisis. We saw what happened at Katrina — in Katrina — during Katrina here. We saw what happened when the tsunami hit in Southeast Asia.

We saw how people tried to loot, and they had to put some order. I think the humans being in general who are facing a crisis of the stomach, of the throat, or whatever else will grab, unless you place some security to have some water.

But, in general, I think the people of Haiti have been pretty courageous and have worked together quite a bit. It’s now three days. Desperation starts to kick in. However, I expect that, with proper security, the people will react properly.

And I think I see a silver lining in what has happened. The chaos of Port-au-Prince, a city that was built for 50,000 and now houses more than two million, I’m quite sure it’s not going to be rebuilt the same way again. We will have some order in Haiti.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ambassador Raymond Joseph, thank you very much.

RAYMOND JOSEPH: Thank you.