the quake

She was Haiti's prime minister from 2008 to 2009. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted on Feb. 26, 2010.

What is it about Haitian history that seems to leave the political culture in this state?

I was a history teacher at the university before becoming prime minister. I was teaching mostly history of the Caribbean, but also the link to the history of Europe. I don't like to dwell on history, but I have a passion for history, and I think history explains a lot of things.

I think our own history, what happened at the time of independence and what happened throughout the 19th century in terms of, first, the model that was chosen by the first Haitian states was the military model, that really was in the plan that the French had for the colony. It was a very militarized colony, of course. When you're bringing slaves from Africa, you have somehow to watch them constantly. ...

So first, that was the model that was adopted by the first Haitians, ... and for the whole 19th century, we only had military chiefs of states. They all came from the military. ... The fact that only the chief has all the rights and all the powers gave us a tradition of all the prejudice that came with the colonial times. It was not a good mixture for maybe what I call transcendence. Maybe. I don't know.

A civil society based on laws: That's what you mean by transcendence, where one acts according to principles --

Exactly. Values. Values.

-- rather than self-interest.

Rather than self-interest. In other words, how can we be above ourselves and look at a country which at that time had 450,000 people and today has 10 million on the same territory, where over 70 percent lives in absolutely abominable conditions? This can no longer continue, and if an earthquake should be really the opportunity that we think [about] all this, and exactly get the time to go above our own sterile divisions and conflicts that never led us anywhere.

Do you believe that that will be enough of a wakeup call given the sort of character of the political culture that you describe?

Shall I be absolutely honest? I'm scared, really. I see it coming from below, because I believe that the people in the streets have behaved admirably well. They've shown their resilience, which is something that has gone through history also, because the mass of the people after our independence … established themselves with their own mode of living, of understanding nation, of believing in God, of interpretation of nature, of illness, of death.

And they've created their own way of living, their own culture. And it was sufficient to survive. But there is a very, very important anthropologist who wrote a book. His name is Michel-Rolph Trouillot. He said, "Since birth, the state and the nation went in opposite directions, and it's been very hard throughout history to reconcile their views and to build the confidence that is necessary to build a nation and a state." And I think he was pretty right in his interpretation of our situation.

How did you see this character play out in the days after the quake, the character both of the people and of the government?

I've said in an interview to the French magazine that there was a lack of leadership, and I was not talking about just the government. I was talking about everyone. I understand the shock. I mean, I myself, I haven't processed what happened -- so many deaths, so many friends that died. You still have something that keeps you from sleeping at night.

And since there are aftershocks, you're constantly reminded of the magnitude of this catastrophe. But when I said it, I was saying, "Hey, why don't the church, the civil society, the political parties say something to the people?" I mean, this thing is happening, and you see nobody's talking.

I didn't want to be on the scene, either. I was expelled by the government, and I didn't want to be in a position where anything that I'm criticizing is because I'm bitter. I have absolutely no bitterness. I understand very well what happened, but I'm saying, "My God." Right away I said, "We're going to have at least 200,000 dead, and we have to talk to the survivors.," because grief is a process, and when you see people close to you die, and they're picked up by trucks and they're going to dump them in wherever place with no feeling for what it means to bury your dead, we have to talk to the people. And this is something to me, no matter what the excuses are -- and perhaps they are valid excuses -- but it doesn't take a month to say, because you have to understand that language has a symbolic power, and this power has to be exercised at that particular time.

And it makes a difference to the people, because it's going to take a long time. The healing process and the grieving process are going to be long. We're not going to be able to heal all our scars. It's going to be difficult, you see.

And you're worried.

In the streets, people were left to their own devices. So they say: "All right, we're survivors. We have to live, and we have to organize ourselves where we can." And there were no riots -- perhaps here and there. And it's normal that there are fights over food that was distributed.

But I'll say it again: I think the people behaved admirably well under those circumstances, alone with whatever was left of their belongings, which was probably fairly limited, having lost their clothes, people, family, friends, parents, their belongings, their house, their jobs.

And at the same time, when the chief of the country doesn't speak, who can speak? Because in a circumstance like this, you're expecting somebody to say something, and then you rally and you talk because you have some guidance, and you have somebody above you who spoke before you.

You say that no leader took the podium. It wasn't just the president. Explain.

I was expecting other sectors of society, but I understand, as I just said, that if the president doesn't speak, well, who feels entitled to speak? At the same time, I also understand that all the other sectors were hit hard. But I was thinking maybe the churches, the private sector, strong organization of civil society, the university -- all the elite of this country who has their say in what's going on. But there was a lot of silence.

Why do you think the elite of this country was silent?

I understand the shock, as I said. But is that sufficient? Is that enough of an explanation?

Is it tied, do you think, to the failure of transcendence, the failure that you think is embedded in part of the history of the country?

You see, probably. But at the same time, I only think of my country in terms of paradox. I think we're a very paradoxical country, and it's a key to me in the prism of reality to understand what goes on. We've always been paradoxical. We're the country with the highest rate of illiteracy but with the most dynamic and creative, literary sector. In 2009, I don't know how many international prizes our writers got.

We're the country with the worst indicators in everything except in the creative side. There are artists, painters everywhere, probably the most in this region not to say in the world, in spite of poverty, in spite of everything.

We never had a war, yet we have, considering, an incredible diaspora, which supports this country more than any bilateral or multilateral aid. So we have to always deal with the two sides of paradox, and maybe that's also an explanation.

Where were you when the quake struck? Can you describe what you went through, what you saw as you moved into the rest of the city? ...

That [day] I had a meeting at the Soros Foundation. ... I was on the second floor, and it was frightening, really frightening. The first thing that struck me was the noise. You know, you hear this sound coming stronger and stronger, even before the shake. And at first I didn't realize at all we were in an earthquake.

When it started to shake and everything in the apartment fell -- you know, I have a lot of books, so all the books, all the paintings, all the glasses, everything started to break. And I said, "It's an earthquake." And we were, the three of us, in the apartment. My friend went under a door, under the structure of the house, and he told me: "Get up, Michèle. Get up." I could not. I could not put my feet on the floor to get up.

So I stayed where I was [for] what seemed like an eternity. But I was haunted by one thing: my grandson. He lived with my daughter, ... but I know my grandson would want his nana, and I was obsessed because I know the house was so poorly built that something maybe happened.

It was the first time since June 2008 that I took to the street alone with no security, nothing. I rushed out of the apartment. It was difficult because the door was blocked by all the things that had fallen off.

And I managed to get out, and I rushed out in the streets alone, really running, because I said, "My grandson is going to die." And I don't know how fast I rushed to that apartment, but on the street people recognized me and said: "Prime minister, it's very serious. My daughter died. My son died. Can you come and help?" I said, "Listen, I will come after, because I'm scared my grandson is dead."

So on the way I was seeing houses and hearing left and right collapsing, people getting out. You know, it's the image that I remember from when the World Trade Center collapsed, all those people coming with this white dust on themselves. And I said, "My God, something horrible happened in the country."

What were the sounds that you heard?

That's a good point, because even from my apartment, which is on the second floor, the first thing I saw was the dust -- you know, the dust, when I look at the balcony, the dust and then the sound of people really crying out "Help!" in Creole, "Au secours! Anmwe! Anmwe!" And I said, "My God, it's bad."

So I rushed out. And fortunately I found my grandson out in the streets. The building had not apparently collapsed, so I knew they were safe. So at that time, I worried about the people that were left in the foundation, my daughter and all the rest. I sent a guy who I knew, who was in the car. I said, "Go tell Babette, my daughter, that her son is OK, that I'm OK, and come tell me what happened to the foundation," because fortunately, when we were building it in 2000, I had asked the engineer, "Please give us some solid foundation, because we're going to have a lot of people in this building, and we cannot be responsible for any damage." I was really thinking of hurricanes, I must say, because I've seen hurricanes destroy houses also.

It was apocalyptic then -- the street, the dust. Was there blood?

There was blood. There were people in tears. There were people crying that friends or family or daughters are under the rubbles. "Can somebody help?" And at the time I didn't worry about my apartment, because I didn't know what had happened. That day I slept where I was, and it's only the day after I took to the street alone again, walking, no security, nothing. ...

So I took to the street, and it's a good distance from my apartment, so as I walked in the streets, people were rushing to me, first of all, to find out that I was alive, and second, to tell me of their own miseries. And I got a sense of the extent of the damages. I had not seen yet the palace, all the ministries that had collapsed.

But I got a sense, because people were coming to me and telling me. One day some writers, I hope, will make a story of all those millions of individual stories that people were telling out in the street. And I sensed that there was a strong desire to talk, to talk. People wanted to talk. I was in the street, and usually it would have taken me half an hour to get to my apartment. It took me close to two hours, because every step, you meet someone. People stopped their cars, came down, asked me about myself, my family, but also wanting to tell their own stories. "What happened?" "What's going to happen?," also.

What did you say?

I don't know. It's an opportunity for us to get together to save our country.

But that's not what you said at that moment.

Yeah, at the moment I said: "Yeah, maybe it's time to think of what the future's going to be. Maybe it's time to think, but let's think of the survivors first." And I knew that people were going to die, because I know we didn't have the equipment to save the lives that could have been saved, because I knew there was so much concrete. When I saw, you know, all these roofs on the floor, I said, "My God, if there are people under there, it's not with a hammer and mask that you're going to remove of all those rubbles."

And when you cry every day because of a disaster of that magnitude, it's because you really feel it deep down that something horrible happened. And until today, I'm not out of it.

Have you cried?

No, you know, because there are so many stories that come until today. Sometimes they are nice stories of how people survived, but sometimes they are so -- even today, just before I came here, someone was telling me that his cousin, a girl, 19, was amputated of both legs. Nineteen years old.

And what can you say except that, "All right, we can try to see if we can find prostheses," you know? Give some comfort. But every day you hear those stories of people you had never seen since who come with their sometimes happy stories, too, I must say, but sometimes very sad stories.

I do remember after 9/11 and being in New York and the absolute need to talk.




For weeks and weeks.

Absolutely. And we meet people and they talk, and they talk, and they talk, you know. I went to several camps, and they talk. People talk, and they tell their stories, and they're happy to see you. And they're happy that you're alive, but they want to talk. And I understand that. It's part of the grieving process.

You talk about not crying. It's evident to me that a lot of people are not yet at that point of crying. Do you understand that?

I don't know if people are not crying.

But there have been articles in the papers in the U.S. about Haitians not ready yet to cry. The first stage has been shock.

Yes. I believe the shock was tremendous, and if we have ceremonies, grieving ceremonies, people will cry. People cry a lot in funerals, because we always have some kind of veneration for the death. It's in our culture. It's very strong in the voodoo culture, in the Catholic culture. ...

In the time that you were prime minister, what kind of discussions were there about disaster preparedness?

I arrived as prime minister in the middle of hurricane season -- four in a row in less than two weeks. That was really a bad time. Gonaïves was once again underwater. Actually, I was not even ratified by the Senate yet. I remember very well, because it was my mother's birthday, Sept. 2. I was installed Sept. 5, and that was when Ana really hit Gonaïves hard.

Hurricane Ana.

Hurricane Ana. … The president had told me, "Michèle, why don't you try to go to Gonaïves?" And I was with the former prime minister, Jacques-Édouard Alexis, who is a native of Gonaïves, and we took the ward together to go to see how the people were. Again, it's a matter of being present there, having a presence.

We couldn't reach Gonaïves. And actually, in our convoy, two of the cars were wiped out by the flood that was coming down the mountain, so we couldn't reach Gonaïves. We came back, but really under heavy, heavy rain. And we realized that once again, in less than four years, Gonaïves was once again flooded. …

So the first thing we did was the president had a meeting with the international community to see what could be done to reconnect the country geographically, because over 10 bridges had collapsed, so there was no way for people to go back and forth by road. And since the sea was still very agitated, it was very difficult to go by boat, either. So with the help of the international community, all transportation was by helicopter, and all the food that was distributed at the time by the Americans, the Canadians, the French, the Dominicans was by -- water, food for all those people who were totally isolated. So we had a meeting with the international community trying to figure out how they could help.

And this was a meeting of the Cabinet.

This was a Cabinet [meeting]. ... So we had a meeting about how could we work on a risk plan, a risk map. But we were really thinking floods and hurricanes. And this unit was financed and set up by the European Union so that we could gather information from the satellite and, with the sophistication of today, with the IT and everything, draw maps of risk and everything.

So we had a meeting with this woman. Her name was Gina Porcena. She was the head of the CNIGS [National Center of Geospatial Information]. We were discussing hurricanes, bridge collapse, what can we do for Gonaïves or for the rest of the country that is the most susceptible to be flooded or hit by hurricanes.

And I remember very well Gina raising her hands and saying: "Mr. President, I understand that we are discussing hurricanes, and it's important considering what's happening now, mostly in Gonaïves and surroundings. But I must tell you that there's a greater risk also in terms of earthquakes. You know that the Canadians had put a seismograph from Tiburon, which is the southwest tip of the island, up to here in Port-au-Prince, and there is intense activity, and anytime we can be hit by major earthquake."

Now, the president answered: "All right, I understand. However, we're not going to worry about that now, because -- can you imagine? -- we have no bridges. Gonaïves has water up to the waist of the people. Let's deal with one thing at a time." And I must say that all the ministers, including myself, we never thought at the time, to be very honest, that we were going to be hit so soon by such a major earthquake.

But Ms. Porcena's warning was clear.

She was very clear. ...

Did it come up again?

It came up several times by a guy who is an engineer and a geologist called Claude Prepetit, who works at the Bureau des Mines, the Mine[s and Energy] Bureau.

So he's a government employee.

A government employee under the Ministry of Public Works, [Transport] and Communication. And my God, I would say for the past two years [the media] has had TV programs, newspaper articles, newspaper interviews about the danger. He wouldn't say imminent because the span of probabilities is really large. I can witness that he warned several times about that.

Do you remember what he said exactly?

He said that being a geologist -- the same thing that Gina had said -- there are signs of intense activities, and more than that, they give the explanations about the faults and the tectonic plates. ... But it's not easy to predict when it's going to happen. But if you look at the history and you see that there's been long years and perhaps not only decades but centuries, then you should be even more worried about the probability of having one.

Because the pressure is built up.

Exactly, exactly. And he said that we should be very worried, because that's where the plates really go in opposite directions. You know, I'm not a scientist along those lines, but I remember the articles, and it must be in 2009 that he had an article, and the title was "Are We Sitting on a Bomb?" -- how do you say --

"Are We Sitting on a Powder Keg?"

"On a Powder Keg." That's the title of the article. You know, that's 2009.

Extraordinary. Just a few months ago.

Yes, yes.

And he predicted that there was likely to be an earthquake of --

He said 8.5.

It wasn't even that strong.


Can you imagine 8.5, what that would have done to Haiti?

You know, these types of catastrophes are not just natural catastrophes.

And what happened to Gina, ... who had given the warnings?

Consider once again the irony: She died in her office that collapsed. And we didn't have the capacity to remove the rubble and save her life, so she stayed there a couple of days. ...

What was your opinion of the response of the international community to the earthquake?

From my standpoint, I think we should salute. We should say thank you, and loud, because the response was unbelievable in terms of the mobilization and solidarity and concern that was shown immediately by countries worldwide.

I even saw on my computer elephants in Thailand having in their truck baskets saying, "For Haiti," and collecting funds for Haiti. We have absolutely no kind of relationship with Thailand. ... This type of mobilization and concern was extremely moving to us Haitians, that we were able to raise so much attention. That's one thing.

Now, what was on the ground, you know, maybe a different story -- how the food was distributed, how long it took to reach to the people. But again, I don't want to blame. I think sometimes it's too easy to blame people.

Maybe too early.

Too early, you know, because I think that they've done what they could. Like, for instance, the Americans. There's been criticism about the fact that they took over the airport. But that was a good thing. You see, we have an airport, first of all, that has one runway, no taxiways, and there are no other major international airports. There is a small airport in Port-au-Prince that can only take Learjets.

And that's quite a ways away.

So our power people were in no condition to run an airport with 50, 100 planes a day, and there were going to be major accidents if the U.S. had not volunteered to say: "Hey, we're bringing food there, 50 planes, 100 planes a day. Can we run the airport?" And to me, that was the thing to do.

There was talk about lack of coordination of all the aid that came in, that it wasn't being well distributed. There were complaints about the lack of food distribution, that it was done in a way that caused fights. And there was talk about equipment, medical supplies and even doctors being at the airport without anybody moving them. Talk about that.

I've heard a lot of people complaining about the fact that in spite of this incredible mobilization, which, again, we are very thankful for, there was so little coordination in the distribution of all the aid that was coming, whether it be food, water or medical supply. It seems to be true.

But again, I don't want to be too hasteful in blaming, first, because MINUSTAH's head died tragically. Can you imagine the whole upper staff of MINUSTAH [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti] dying in the collapsing of their headquarters, [Hédi] Annabi and his secretary, his assistant and all the political advisers and technical advisers of MINUSTAH? And that's why Mr. [Edmond] Mulet was rapidly sent by [U.N. Secretary-General] Ban Ki-moon again, since he was there before Annabi.

He had a sense of the country to see what could be done, but I think himself was at a loss. What do you do in such a disaster and chaos? We have no people. All the people you could have called to coordinate are dead. So I understand the chaos that was there. And on the other side, I understand people complaining.

And second, the government, you know, the palace, all the ministries, the court of justice, the foreign minister, the mayor's office -- everybody at a loss, everybody. The Parliament, the headquarters of the police, you know, it takes days to revamp all these and say, "All right, we are on top of things, and we're going to start coordination." So it's true that I understand both sides, if you want.

My personal feeling is that reaction should have been more rapid. When you lead a country, you are responsible, and your responsibility, no matter how hard you've been hit, no matter what you've lost, you have to re-establish yourself as quick as possible to say you're in responsibility of leadership, and it's for you to take over.

Now, I also understand when this does not happen, because the circumstances were really horrible. But it took too long. It took too long, you know. And if you make a tour of the camps, if you talk to people in the streets, they're going to tell you their frustrations. They're going to tell you, "We don't understand." And if only they have spoken to us, explaining this is what's happening; we don't have people. Our people lost their close family. They've lost their houses. They've lost their belongings. We are in a very difficult situation. We cannot react as fast as the situation demands, but talk.


Communicate. Tell the people what's happening. They would understand. You see, but this lack of communication is terrible. You know, after the hurricanes, I had just, as I said, been installed [as prime minister]. We had a press conference every day, and I called all the ministers, all of them. "Let's sit around the table, and each one of you, you're going to talk in your capacity. What is the health minister doing? What is the public works minister doing? What is the interior minister doing? What is the finance minister doing? All those things that people are sending from the diaspora, who is going to be at the reception? Are we going to pay taxes on that? What are the issues that we should communicate to the people?"

Has the president gone before the nation? We're now six weeks, almost, from the event.

I think that when he was leaving to go to the UNASUR [Union of South American Nations], which was a month after the earthquake, he gave a press conference at the airport, just like he gave one when he came back from Mexico the day before yesterday.

... There are hundreds of these camps spotted around Port-au-Prince, and there are many others in the countryside. Some of the conditions in these camps, that isn't sustainable. And so what is happening there?

I saw the camps. And it's horrible, you know. I was coming from Pétionville last evening, and [it] was maybe 9:00, 9:30. And I saw people in the streets, you know, taking their bath naked. You know, we are a very dignified people, and it hurts. It hurts. Now, I know that the government, the president himself, has nominated people responsible of commissions -- commission for relocation, a commission for reconstruction, a commission for food distribution.

But I have not been contacted, and I have not got in touch with them. So I cannot tell you on a day-to-day basis what they are doing to solve these problems. But I know that these commissions have been created. What I can say from being outside, I don't see any improvements except that perhaps the U.S. has distributed a lot of tents. The government perhaps also.

But we are going to get into the rainy season. As a matter of fact, God probably has pity on us, because it should have started already. And that's going to be horrible. And you know, with all these rubbles being also on the mountains or on the slopes, even when there are no rubbles and the rainy season starts, you can see all the garbage that it drains down to the capital. I'm very scared that we're going to be facing more difficult situations.

I talked to a doctor who works for Partners in Health, Dr. Louise Ivers, who yesterday said that she sees an increase in diarrhea, conjunctivitis, and she says there's 40,000 people living in that camp with inadequate sanitation.

The whole city is camps all scattered everywhere. Every little piece of land [that] is left free turns into a camp. Sometimes they have, I don't know, 100 people. I've heard of the one close to the residence of the U.S. ambassador, 70,000 people; the one at the airport, 40,000 people. People having to eat, drink and have their natural, you know, besoins [urges] -- how are they going to deal with that in the long run?

I don't have the solutions. A couple of friends and myself went to Google Earth to figure out is there a wasteland, unoccupied land around Port-au-Prince. I know that from experience from other catastrophes that relocation of people is a big issue.

You know, it's never been easy. It might be counterproductive, but at the same time, if you're thinking about reconstruction, you cannot leave the people on the Champs de Mars or on the Place de Pétionville, on the squares and in all the public places. You have to think of someplace to put them, even if it's temporary.

Again, I know it's not easy, but I've seen on the greater metropolitan area, from Ganthier, which is in the south, to Gantier, which is in the east, northeast, and Gressier which is in the south, large pieces of land; Kwadèbouke [Croix-des-Bouquets], which is right there, 10 kilometers from Port-au-Prince, where you could do something decent.

Couldn't you set up camps outside the city and provide water so that if there's a breakout of disease --

Absolutely. You can have sanitation.

-- people would have a choice of where to go?

You can have water; you can have solar energy.

Is that happening? Is anybody doing that?

I haven't heard of it. But maybe they are thinking of it and haven't done the necessary steps yet.

When this happened, you went back to the books to look at other earthquakes. You were interested in why this happened here, so many deaths. Talk about that.

When the earthquake happened and I saw the intensity and the magnitude of the catastrophe and I knew that in recent history there's been catastrophe of that magnitude in Indonesia, in Pakistan and way back, I went to look for the documentation, and there is a very good article on what happened in Pakistan, in Aceh in Indonesia, in Jakarta. And I went as far as Macedonia, which was in the '60s. And in Skopje, the capital, only one church was left standing. In other words, the whole city was destroyed.

Macedonia was an 8.0 or something?

Macedonia was an 8.1. But of course, in terms of number of dead, it was not close to what we had here. ... But what I was intrigued by is the reconstruction process. ... What they did, of course, was to create a body, an agency for reconstruction that was created by the government. The government was in it, and they had also several paragovernmental entities that were also part of that reconstruction agency. And that was really the one to conceive of the reconstruction with all the military risk studies that were made, and also how to reconstruct the capital having in mind also one thing which is very important to me, [which] is the memory of what was there before, because I believe there should be a link between what was there, what we call in French "architectural memory." There should be a link between the old and the new. And that's something that I was also looking for.

In Guatemala in '76, what was interesting is that the government realized, with the studies that were made, that there was going to be aftershocks for at least a year. Even since our earthquake, there's been two major earthquakes in Guatemala -- 6.1 in the past two weeks -- and nobody died.

And Guatemala reconstructed. And at one point, they studied the city and moved part of it on a different area so that it was not sitting on the fault.

In 2008 there was an earthquake in Peru, 8.5 I think -- either 8.5 or 8.3. Eighty-five thousand houses collapsed, and there were five dead. Five.

That means there is an education; there is communication. There is warning so that people know it could happen anytime, and this is what you're supposed to do. And this is how, even if you live in the impoverished neighborhoods, this is what you are supposed to do. There's been earthquake in Guadalupe, a tiny island close to Montserrat, where there is a volcano that burst out even recently. Every single month in some school there are drills with the kids. "This is what you should do if there is an earthquake." Tiny little kids. "This is what you should do if there is an earthquake. There's going to be a siren. And once you hear the siren, this is what you're going to do." Do you see?

So there are measures. Maybe you cannot have a death toll of zero, but 300,000 people? My God.

When you were in government, was there ever a thought of enforcing a building code for schools at least, or hospitals?

After the school collapsed -- that was in November -- after the school collapsed, since, by law, it is the municipal entities -- the mayor's office -- which are supposed to give the construction permits with the Ministry of Public Works, so the president had called on all the municipalities throughout the country to tell them: "You see what happened with that school? It's because they allowed people to build anywhere with no norms."

No code.

No codes. "So we're going to make a review of all the laws that exist on construction codes, and we're going to discuss about your responsibilities as mayors who give the permit so that you'll be more careful from now on."

This was President [René] Préval.

Yes. And that was in December 2008.

And what happened?

That was done. I think there was a three-day [meeting]. I participated in the last session. There was a three-day meeting at the national palace with all the mayors for three days, and I know that they made a compilation of all the laws that exist on the codes of construction, and there were debates with the mayor. I participated in the last one, again. And that was a wrap-up of what had been done in the two previous days. But I don't know if that was put to practice, you see.

It must not have been. Ninety-seven percent of the schools collapsed.

That's right.

... What should the international community and the United States do for Haiti?

First, I think what should we do, we Haitians? Because I don't think any foreign country can come and run this country in our place. It would be a disaster.

There's talk of having Bill Clinton run Haiti.

I have a lot of respect for President Clinton, but I don't think he will accept to come and run Haiti in lieu of Haitians. But it's a good thing that he's been designated by the secretary-general [as U.N. special envoy to Haiti]. So that's the first thing, you know.

But we are in that paradox. We cannot rebuild our country alone. We don't have the resources; we don't have the technical expertise; we don't have the financial means.

Even with the diaspora.

Even with the diaspora. Even with the diaspora. Because the diaspora sends $1 billion and over, but that's family money. It goes to families so that they pay schools, because most schools here are private, and parents know that an education is the way out, and they will really do anything they can to send their kids to school even if they themselves have never been to schools. So the funds from the diaspora go to consumptions. So actually, it goes back to the states.

So what is it that needs to be done? I mean, where do you begin? You say that Haiti can't rebuild alone.


So it needs help from the United States. What should the United States then do for Haiti?

Now, either we're talking theoretically, or we're talking about what's going on. If I take what's going on and not my own dreams, I know that they're working on the PDNA. It's the Post Disaster Needs Assessment, which is mostly done by international experts. I've learned that there are 150 international experts that are working now on the PDNA.

And the idea, from what I gather from the government, is that the PDNA will be the basis for the New York conference at the end of this month for the rebuilding effort. So that means that they believe that in the next 12 days, they will come up with a plan that will say what to do.

So I don't know what's being done. I know that every sector is working with some international experts in infrastructure, housing, what have you, all sectors. I'm not involved, so I'm only hearing what's in the streets. So, to me, that's the scheme that is being followed.

Now, me, if I'm thinking out loud, first of all, I would really start thinking about decentralization. I've read a document from the U.S. Senate that kind of downplays decentralization. They say that it's true that from the account they have, close to 600,000 people went back to the provinces. But to them, they will come back soon. Of course, they will come back, as nothing is done where they've gone. But that's the whole idea: What can be done where they've gone?

It's a major opportunity for the country for investment, not just for aid, because aid will not develop Haiti. I've said it, and repeatedly said it: Foreign investment will develop Haiti. Of course, the aid can go as support to the government, which is also something that we've said. ... Right after the earthquake, when we realized that the fiscal entity had collapsed, the ministries had collapsed, including the ministry of finance, the customs were hit, the airport was hit, we said, "Listen, we have to figure out that for the next six months, there's going to be zero revenues in this country, public revenues."

So we have to negotiate with the donor community, including the IMF, International Monetary Fund, with whom the government has in a call for monitoring the public expenses and also monitoring the debt-relief process. We should have an accord with them, seeing that the government needs support to pay the public sector, to pay all the 65,000 civil servants, but also the operational fund to run the government, and that should be done right away, you know, just like we sent some messages to the minister of justice. When you have 300,000 dead people in a country, you have to have death certificates. I mean, how about insurances? How about people who had their pension? How are you going start doing that before the racketeers get in and start trying to create all kinds of disruptions in the processes?

They didn't listen to us. But at least I have a peace of mind that I sent the messages. And these are the things that should have been done. And then let's start thinking about urban planning of other regions, territory planning of other regions, because today we should be building other airports in the country, international airports.

What legal frame should there be ... for an investment to be secured, so that we can come and know that their money, their investment, is not going to be wasted? But they know that airports should be built; housing should be built; schools, health centers should be built; investment in agriculture, because we should be producing food in this country. ...

In your view -- given the history of refusing to recognize the country for six decades, for meddling in its internal affairs, for supporting the Duvaliers as pawns in the Cold War, for embargos of one type or another through the '90s and into the early part of this last decade -- does the United States have a historical obligation of some kind to help Haiti, do you believe?


What is that obligation?

... It's not just the Americans. All the superpowers were involved in the history of Haiti since colonial times: the French, the British, and when the U.S. became independent. ... You know, it's very interesting when you read American history and you read about, you know, the Boston Tea Party and all these sugar taxes that were put. Most of the things came from the [Haitian] economy -- you know, the molasses, the sugar that were smuggled in the United States. So it's very interesting. I have a real passion for history, so I go digging into books to see how related we were to the superpowers.

Economically tied together.

Absolutely. Spain, Great Britain, the U.S. after its independence. And it took 60 years for the U.S. to accept Haiti's independence officially, only after Abraham Lincoln emancipated the slaves.

I understand he had a Haitian barber.

Yeah. That's what I've heard. So it's not just the U.S. I think Haiti deserves to be helped. Maybe it's too strong of a word to say that there's a moral obligation. I don't think people should be morally obligated. But I think we deserve to be listened to. We deserve to be helped. Moreover, we deserve that, because we cannot come out of this alone.

posted march 30, 2010

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