The political activist talks about where Haiti stands today, five years after a devastating 7.0 earthquake hit the tiny island nation.
Activist Pierre Labossiere
Tavis: Five years ago today, Haiti was hit by a catastrophic earthquake which killed hundreds of thousands of citizens and left countless others wounded and homeless. The aftershocks of the devastation are still being felt five years later.
Tonight, I’m pleased to be joined by Pierre Labossiere, co-founder of the Haiti Action Committee. He is one of the most respected progressive voices on Haitian politics and a long-time social justice advocate. And Pierre Labossiere, I’m honored to have you on this program.
Pierre Labossiere: With pleasure. Thank you.
Tavis: Let me go right at it. What do you make of Haiti? What is to be made of Haiti five years after this massive earthquake?
Labossiere: You know, it’s a very terrible situation. And particularly, people as we speak now on the streets of Haiti demonstrating. They were demonstrating this morning. They were demonstrating their anger at the fact that so much that could have been done for the people has not been done.
And many people on the streets, many people still don’t have decent shelter and conditions of the country, the economic conditions, have worsened terribly. The earthquake is a terrible natural disaster. However, what has happened to compound the problem has been manmade and there is no excuse for that situation.
Tavis: We’ll come to the manmade problems that have compounded the result of the earthquake, as you mentioned, in a moment. And I suspect many watching are trying to juxtapose what the protests are about five years later with all of the money that was pledged five years ago.
I mean, I don’t remember what the number was. I’m sure you will tell me. But it was a massive amount of money that was pledged toward Haiti after that earthquake.
Labossiere: Precisely. And I’ve heard figures of $11 billion dollars.
Tavis: $11 billion dollars.
Labossiere: $11 billion dollars. And people have said that there have been reports that $6 billion dollars actually made it into the country, but these are figures that are being thrown about. But then when you look at the situation on the ground among the population, people are saying where is that money? Where did it go? Who did it help? And so many of our people are still on the streets and the conditions are so bad. That’s the big question.
And right now, you have actually two Haitian attorneys who have filed a case demanding to fight out regarding the interim commission for the reconstruction of Haiti. And the chairman of that commission is former president Bill Clinton. And they are demanding to know some transparency in terms of what has happened with that money.
Tavis: So we all recall former president Clinton was in charge of this project.
Labossiere: That’s correct.
Tavis: So if $11 billion was pledged and $6 billion, if the numbers are accurate, made it into the country, we don’t have any assessment of where that money might have gone? My question is, five years later, we don’t see anything we can point to that would suggest that some of that money was well spent?
Labossiere: Well, there have been things.
Tavis: Things like…?
Labossiere: There have been certain things. For example, there was money spent on building an industrial park, but people were saying, look, that money should have been for the people, for the people who have lost their homes. There have been some other accounting based on what you read in the press.
But overall, when you look at the situation of those who have lost their homes, people who have been displaced, and the situation in terms of reconstruction, not much has been done. And this is quoting from various newspapers, various publications and various reports about it.
Tavis: Five years later, the cholera outbreak that happened after that earthquake, contained? Better? Same? What do we make of the health conditions?
Labossiere: It’s a terrible situation again. It’s a terrible situation because the cholera outbreak, that was completely neglect by the United Nations who brought their forces. People were infected with cholera and they actually, if I may say that word, did their business, you know, in the water, the main river in Haiti. And people downstream were drinking that water and that’s how the cholera spread.
So instead of focusing resources to deal with that, they were so busy trying to do damage control claiming they had nothing to do with it when all the evidence was pointing that they were responsible for it.
And now there are various figures out there about 850,000 people infected. Some figures are lower, but about 10,000 killed, dead, as a result of that cholera epidemic. So at different times, it flares up again.
And you see massive amounts of money. For example, the U.N. forces that are occupying Haiti, there is a lot of money being spent on the U.N. forces on their presence, but Haiti has so many problems of infrastructure, of healthcare, of schooling, education for our people, that this money could have been better used for our people.
Tavis: You said a couple of things about the U.N. that I want to go back and pick up right quick.
Tavis: Number one, as unintentional as it might have been that U.N. workers were doing their business in the river and folk upstream were drinking that water, five years later, did the U.N. ever make any–was there any recompense for that? Any remuneration there? What happened? Did the U.N. ever step up with anything?
Labossiere: No. That’s a big issue. No, they haven’t done anything because they are saying they have immunity. They spent many years saying that they had nothing to do with it, but then they are saying right now that they have immunity.
Tavis: We didn’t do it, but if we did do it, we have immunity. That’s their position.
Labossiere: We have immunity, exactly, exactly.
Tavis: The second thing about the U.N., you made the comment a moment ago that the U.N. is occupying Haiti. Whenever you use the word occupy, that’s a loaded term. I assume, being the learned man that you are, you use that word deliberately and unapologetically.
Tavis: So when you say the U.N. is “occupying” Haiti, what do you mean by that, Pierre?
Labossiere: What I mean is that Haiti had a stable government. We had a democratic government, the government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and he was elected overwhelmingly by the people. 2004, there was a kidnapping coups where U.S. forces, French and Canadian, came and kidnapped President Aristide.
And it wasn’t just with the President Aristide. It was a coups in the masses of the Haitian people because almost every elected official was dismissed summarily. And this is why I want to present this idea of the problems that Haiti is experiencing now have been so compounded by the manmade disaster of that coups.
That coups really destroyed a lot of the infrastructure of the country. Things that were being done in terms of healthcare for the people, hospitals being built, wood construction, clean drinking water for the population, having a good sanitation system, all of that was destroyed and it was done by an economic sabotage of the country.
And the U.S. blocked funds that were supposed to go and help put this infrastructure into place. So what happened was, when this natural disaster, the earthquake and the hurricanes, when they hit Haiti, then there was nothing there really to be of support to the population.
So the U.N. forces that are there, they are there to maintain the status quo. They’ve been there for the past 10 years and, in 10 years, Haiti has been under the control of the international community, so-called “Friends of Haiti”.
And right now, the situation, the economy conditions for the population of Haiti are worse than they were when Haiti was being ruled by Haitians.
Tavis: Former president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, is now, of course, living back in Haiti.
Labossiere: That’s correct.
Tavis: But I remember what you referred to a moment ago as a U.S.-led coups of Aristide. I remember this well because at the time–Randall Robinson, founder of TransAfrica, wrote about this in a book, so it’s in this text and my name is all in this particular chapter–because Randall knew because I had been talking to him on the phone.
I was in Miami about to board a private plane to go to Haiti to interview President Aristide at the presidential palace. He’d granted me an interview because all this stuff was about to go down.
Aristide grants me an interview, I’m about to hop on this plane to head to Haiti, Port-Au-Prince, to interview him and I got a message from Secretary of State Colin Powell that that might not be a good idea.
I knew Secretary Powell and–these are my words–he was at least concerned enough or kind enough to let me know, Tavis, this is not where you want to be right now ’cause something’s about to go down.
I didn’t get any heads up on what was about to go down, but just from Mr. Powell’s office, Tavis, don’t do this. So the plane never took off, I never left. I’m watching CNN a few minutes later, you know, an hour or so later, I see Aristide is being whisked out of the country by U.S. forces.
The story then and all these years later, as the U.S. government will tell it, is that they did that to save Aristide. That if Aristide had not done that, had he not gone on that plane with the U.S. military forces, he would have been assassinated, killed.
So the U.S. government says we did it to save Aristide and, quite frankly, to save anarchy in the country. Your view and Randall’s view and others’ view all these years later is that it was a U.S.-led coups. Tell me why you feel that way.
Labossiere: Yes, because we, the Haiti Action Committee, I was in Haiti when President Aristide’s inaugural in 2001 and I remember on the way back reading an article from one of the U.S. papers in print quoting a former state department official saying that it will take a coups to get rid of Aristide.
I knew right away something was going to happen. And everything else that was occurring at that time led us, my organization and other people, to see that there would be these preparations for a coups.
So we were very active in trying to stop this from happening, working very closely with a number of the members of the black caucus to try to prevent that, marching, demonstrating in the area against it.
So when it happened, we knew that it wasn’t something that was–they had Haitian faces in the front, but it was really something that was organized by these so-called international communities.
Tavis: So this leads to my exit question, then. Five years after the earthquake with all that we’ve talked about tonight, what is the political situation in Haiti?
How stable politically is the country now, for whatever is going to happen, to put this country where it needs to be, on stable ground, on strong footing? What’s the political situation in Haiti five years later?
Labossiere: Five years later, what we have is still a continuation of the coups. We have a current President Martelly who was put in there by several people have said–Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Martelly is there and he is quite a dictator. He tried to bring the country back to the days of the Duvalier era by…
Tavis: And Baby Doc–was that last year? He died last year? 2014?
Labossiere: Yeah, a couple of months ago.
Tavis: Yeah, yeah. 2014, yeah.
Labossiere: But what brings us hope is the fact that the Haitian people are in the streets. They are protesting. They are demanding their right to vote. They are saying we need to sit around the table. What brings us hope is to see that Haitians can do for self.
For example, we look at UniFA, the University of the Aristide Foundation medical school where President Aristide came back from exile and he reopened the school within six months.
And the school is now a medical school, there is a nursing school, a law school and the first school of physical therapy churning out good people who Haiti needs as opposed to the United Nations forces that have been killing our people, conducting rape, bringing cholera to the country.
So when you contrast the 10 years of democratic interlude in Haiti from 1994 to 2002, you compare that to the 10 years of 2004 to 2014 during which Haiti has been under the occupation of those forces, the U.S., Haiti has received much money during that span of time.
And the situation is very clear. The people are not getting a better life. As a matter of fact, things are worse for our people.
Tavis: I love the people of Haiti. They are resilient more than anybody I can think of on the globe and yet these political and economic and social questions that remain five years after this massive earthquake is why we come back to Haiti as often as we can on this program. Pierre Labossiere, thank you for coming on.
Labossiere: Thank you so much.
Tavis: And for giving us an update on what things in Haiti are like five years after this 7.0 earthquake hit the tiny island nation.
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