Tavis: Tonight, though, we will begin our conversation about the ongoing struggles in Haiti six months later. The earthquake, of course, ravaged that Caribbean nation then. No one has done more coverage on the story since then than “The Miami Herald.” John Yearwood has been directing that coverage as world editor for the paper and joins us tonight from Miami. John, good to have you on this program.
John Yearwood: Thanks for having me on, Tavis.
Tavis: I think the general consensus is, and I’m curious as to whether or not you feel the same way, the general consensus, as I read it, at least, six months later is that the aid to Haiti has not been fast enough and not far-reaching enough, but what’s your take on it?
Yearwood: I think you’ve got it quite right, Tavis, and that’s not only what you’re saying, what I’m saying, that’s what the Haitians are telling us, and indeed that’s what the U.S. government is saying. Everyone is really frustrated at the pace of the aid coming into Haiti on all levels.
It isn’t just food aid we’re talking about but also now the money that is supposed to be coming in from international donors. In fact, President Clinton was talking about that last weekend to our own Jacqueline Charles, in which I said he’s going to be literally picking up the phone and making some calls and trying to get things moving.
Tavis: How is it that one juxtaposes all the aid, all the money, all the attention, all the resources that were directed at Haiti six months ago with how comparatively little has been done? What gives?
Yearwood: Well, when you look at Haiti, Tavis, it’s a country that was having a really serious strain on resources of all kinds well before the earthquake. Now comes the earthquake, which really demolished any semblance of any sense of normalcy, any sense of an effective government on the ground, and what you’re seeing now is some of that play out, which explains why things have been so slow.
But interestingly enough, President Clinton, going back to President Clinton again, he was saying today at an event in Port-au-Prince that if you compare where Haiti is to the Southeast Asian tsunamis, that Haiti is not doing too badly, although I think his assessment may be just a little bit rosy.
Tavis: Yeah. I think that assessment sounds a little rosy to me. The role that President Clinton has played, for those who have not been following this, has been what? Why have we referenced Clinton’s name so many times in this conversation already?
Yearwood: Well, that tells you something. It tells you that it seems that the Haitian government in and of itself is having some difficulty breaking through, and when I say that I mean that if you look at what’s happening on the international scene, and as I mentioned earlier, even in terms of the aid coming in, the Haitian government is having a very difficult time trying to get that money in.
If you look at other elements of the reconstruction, they’re having problems, whether it’s the prime minister or whether it’s the president, getting the international community to go along.
So here comes someone like President Clinton, who has the international stature to literally go in there and kick some tires to make things happen, and he to some extent is doing that. That largely is what Haiti needs – someone who comes in and can work with the government to make things happen.
It’s been six months; there’s been a lot that needed to have happened over that six months. Some of it has happened, but certainly there’s a great deal that’s left to be done and President Clinton, his name keeps coming up because he’s someone who can help the government get to where it needs to get to.
Tavis: I hear your point that the government in Haiti had its troubles and turmoils and travails even before the earthquake hit; I get that. What I think some of us are still wrestling with, though, is how it is that a particular government or institution, whatever it might have been, could pledge something six months ago and that pledge not have arrived yet. What’s the paper uncovering about the gap between what people said they were going to do and what in fact they have done on the ground.
Yearwood: Tavis, that’s something that we were really – I wouldn’t say worried, but certainly concerned about going in with all of our reporting at the beginning, because if you look at the history of Haiti and you look at some of the other major catastrophes that have happened down there – I reference particularly to the number of hurricanes that Haiti had a few years ago – the international community came in in a big way and said, “We’re going to pledge hundreds of millions of dollars to get Haiti up and running again.”
Most of that money never arrived, so we were looking very closely to see if we’ll see the same pattern bear out in this case, and sad but true, we are seeing it. Although I had a conversation with the prime minister about this not too long ago in which he says that they’re giving some of the country somewhat of a pass because they have to get through their bureaucratic institutions in order to get the money there.
But still, it’s taken a lot longer than anyone would have liked and certainly if you talk to Haitians who are in any of the 1,300 or so camps on the ground throughout Port-au-Prince and elsewhere, they’re saying that this money just isn’t getting here fast enough, the government isn’t moving quickly enough to get us whether it’s long-term permanent housing or getting us in some cases the most basic enough food to eat.
Tavis: To your point about basic food to eat, so what is not being done, what’s not happening, to what extent is life being stalled in Haiti six months later because of the impasse in the aid reaching the nation?
Yearwood: Well, you mentioned food. That’s one of the real basic things. But we’re in the midst of this hurricane season and a lot of people are saying that Haitians really need to be living in far more permanent housing than they are living in right now. There’s still a number of tents scattered around Port-au-Prince and elsewhere in Haiti.
There needs to be something done to get people moving into permanent housing. If the money that a lot of people had pledged, the international community had pledged had come in and come in more quickly, you probably would have seen a much faster pace in getting people out and moving.
So that’s one key and very visible impact of not having the resources that were pledged to come into Haiti, and we’re all looking to see okay, when is that going to start happening?
Tavis: What are the chances – you referenced President Clinton in this conversation earlier and there’s some dispute about this. The head of the U.N. says that to his mind or to his research, about 60 percent of those pledges are on their way. President Clinton says that only 10 percent, that’s his number, that about 10 percent of the aid has actually been received on the ground.
So we have this little debate here about what the actual percentage is, but to your point we know not enough has been done. Here’s the question: What’s the danger, since you mentioned now that we’re in hurricane season, and not just hurricane season but it obviously is just a matter of time, it’s called life, before there’s another catastrophe, another crisis on the world stage.
You are the world editor at “The Miami Herald,” so what are the chances that we’re going to forget about Haiti, that this aid never will get there, that they’re going to be written off the next time another major catastrophe hits someplace around the world and all of our attention gets diverted there?
Yearwood: Tavis, that’s a really good point in terms of the diversion of national and international attention. Whether I talk to Haitians here in south Florida or I talk to Haitians on the ground in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere, that’s their really big concern – how long will it be before the world moves on to the next catastrophe?
For whatever it’s worth, I think if you look at what’s happening, the world is still paying some attention to Haiti, partly because what happened there was just so dire and so extreme. So Haiti still has the world’s attention, but if you look at other things that are happening, people were telling me after the situation in the Gulf, will Haiti then get off the front pages? Will what’s happening in the Gulf and the problems that are being faced by the people in Louisiana, Alabama and parts of Florida, will all that kick Haiti off the front page?
In some cases it has, although I’m pleased to say here at the “The Miami Herald,” for us that’s a local story and Haiti means a great deal to us, so we’ve been focusing like a lightning bolt on Haiti for the entire six months. In fact, I don’t think there’s been a single day since the earthquake struck that we have not had someone on the ground in Haiti.
So at least we’re paying attention, but I think what Haitians would tell you is that they are really concerned and really worried that the wider international community would start shifting its focus. If you look at, as you referenced earlier, the aid that is supposed to come in, they’re concerned that if the international community shifts its focus even more, that aid is never going to get there.
So they’re hoping that here, on this, the six-month anniversary, that the bump, if you will, that came with this attention that Haiti is getting from you and other major networks, that that would help the international donors get the necessary aid to Haiti as quickly as possible.
Tavis: Let me ask you two other very quick questions, and I’ll let you run. Question number one – how has this crisis – every crisis presents an opportunity or a series of opportunities, I think, if looked at the right way – what have we done with this opportunity presented to us to rethink our policy toward Haiti?
I’m talking now specifically about those seeking asylum, about those trying to come here, escaping a brutal regime. Talk to me about this whole wet-foot, dry-foot policy that we all know. I’ve been discussing this for years, of course, thinking that it’s just – my own sense is that it’s been so wrong, our policy for how we treat Haitians trying to get to this country; Haitians as compared to Cubans.
But what’s happened in the six months, politically, where these issues are concerned?
Yearwood: Well, one thing, it’s interesting that we’re doing this interview today, Tavis, on the six-month anniversary, because just a few hours ago the immigration authorities announced that for Haitians who have wanted TPS, temporary protected status, and haven’t had enough time to apply for it, that they’re extending the deadline another six months.
By the way, TPS is something that Haitians have been asking for, the local political leaders have been pushing for, for years before the earthquake, and shortly after the earthquake the U.S. government finally announced that they were going to grant temporary protected status.
So now they’re talking about giving Haitians who have not been applying for it in the numbers that the U.S. would have liked an extra six months to do so. But going back to your larger, more broader question, I think one thing that I have noticed is that there’s a little bit more compassion, I think, on the part of the U.S. government toward Haiti and toward the policy that the U.S. is espousing in Haiti.
One of the things that a lot of Haitians would tell you that meant a lot to them is when President Obama said, “We will be there for as long as it takes, and we’ll do whatever it takes to get Haiti on its feet again,” and I may not be quoting him exactly but at least words to that effect.
Haitians are looking at that to say, “Okay, Mr. President, we’ll take you at your word. Let’s see how we can work together to build a Haiti that’s much better than the Haiti that was in existence on the morning of January 11th.
Tavis: I hear your point about the compassion. It just troubles me that – more than troubles me – that it took the loss of a couple hundred thousand lives to see that U.S. compassion come to bear in terms of changing our policy, but I digress. That’s my point, not yours.
Finally, right quick, what’s your sense of how the Haitian people are feeling about this situation six months later? Tell me about what your sense is of how they’re coping right about now.
Yearwood: Well, one of the things that I say a lot about the Haitian people is that – and I’ve been there now four times since the earthquake – is that the Haitian people bend, but they don’t break. What they’re saying largely is, look, we’ve been here for a long time. You look at what’s happened – we’ve been through catastrophe after catastrophe, but we keep coming back, and we keep coming back because it’s a country and it’s a people that has a lot of faith and a lot of hope.
What I personally pick up every time I go there, I come back even more hopefully, interestingly enough, in the midst of this grim situation than it was before I arrived, but Haitians are a very hopeful people and they’re looking towards this six-month anniversary hoping that it would ultimately get people moving toward helping them make Haiti a much better place.
Tavis: He’s the world editor for “The Miami Herald.” His name is John Yearwood. John, good to have you on the program. Thanks for sharing your insights.
Yearwood: Thank you, Tavis. Great to be on with you.
[Walmart – Save money. Live better.]
Announcer: Nationwide Insurance proudly supports Tavis Smiley. Tavis and Nationwide Insurance – working to improve financial literacy and the economic empowerment that comes with it. Nationwide is on your side.
And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.