SOLANGE ECHEVERRIA’s interview with reporter Kevin Pina aired on Flashpoints on September 24, 2004
SOLANGE ECHEVERRIA: Hurricane Jeanne’s wrath continued to wreak havoc in Haiti, with hundreds of thousands of homeless, over 1,100 dead, and over 1,200 still missing. And these numbers continue to rise. The calamitous combination of nature’s fury and political upheaval has been relentless and the human cost inhumane. Once again, Kevin Pina joins us for a quick update. I know that you are coming down with the flu, so I appreciate this. Can you give us a quick update in terms of what is going on there, the potential for disease, infections, what’s going on there?
Kevin Pina: Well the relief efforts are proceeding slowly. There’s just disaster upon disaster, and most of this has to do with lack of infrastructure in the North of Haiti; we discussed the reasons for that last night.* Hospital Justimieme, which is the largest hospital in the North, in that particular area, in Cap Haitien, caught fire yesterday afternoon, more than 400 most of them children, patients, were forced to evacuate the building. Half of the hospital which, as I said, which is the largest hospital in that entire region has burned. It’s not clear what the cause of the fire was, but there just seems to be disaster upon disaster. Most of it seems to be occurring because of lack of infrastructure, lack of experienced people on the ground who have experience with relief work, people who can handle and process this devastating event.
I’ve received several very disturbing calls today, in a different story. I want to emphasize that I don,t have final confirmation on this but spoke with some family members who have relatives who are political prisoners, Lavalas political prisoners, who were in the prison in Gonaives, and they are concerned, because they are telling me that their loved ones were never released, and they may have drowned in their jail cells, which of course would be just another dimension to this incredible tragedy. I want to emphasize again that we have reporters who are on the ground there now who are looking at this seriously, trying to get to these family members, trying to make inquiries with the local police in Gonaives. The local police, of course, who are being run by the former military, and by the self-appointed Mayor, Butteur Metayer, who was called by Colin Powell a “gangster and a “thug, so it would not surprise a lot of observers if indeed when this flood hit, that Lavalas political prisoners, who were being held in a prison in Gonaives, were never released.
Solange: Can you talk to us about the humanitarian issues, the human cost in Haiti, in a country that is trying so, so hard to maintain its dignity. Can you talk about that; what is it that people need the most there?
Kevin: It’s really hard to judge, because there really is no watchdog organization on the ground to ensure that aid is going to get to the people who need it. There’s already questions being raised, scandals are already brewing around organizations that are raising money in the name of flood victims. Everybody’s falling all over themselves to start an organization, to get part of the money and the aid that they know is going to come in, and this includes people like the Group of 184, which was the opposition against Aristide, and the Democratic Convergence led by Evans Paul; even political parties are now forming their own relief agencies in the hopes that some of this aid will be funnelled through their groups. And, as I said, there’s already a few scandals brewing, and I think that in the months to come we,re going to see a lot of scandals come out of the relief efforts that are happening on the ground. The most credible organizations at this moment who are on the ground in Cap Haitien and Gonaives are the American Friends Service Committee [who I know have a presence there now], of course the International Red Cross, as well as the United Nations who are leading their own effort as well.
Solange: Thank you Kevin for keeping us posted. If people wanted to send any kind of help, where would they go?
Kevin: They could go to www.haitiaction.net; there’s a link for an organization called the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund; I forgot to mention them, they also do have a presence in the North and are working with grassroots organizations.
* On Wednesday, September 23, Pina said this about the lack of infrastructure: “U.N. efforts to aid the victims are being hindered by the political climate, meaning the former military, which the United Nations allowed to take several townships over the past month, have driven out the local police, so it’s a very difficult security situation on the ground for relief workers, NGOs…The Disaster Preparedness Network which was built with USAID financing over the last two years, with a contract with the American Development Foundation, was completely and utterly destroyed by the forced ouster of democratically elected President Jean Bertrand Aristide on February 29th. [This] has not helped efforts at all in terms of getting relief to the victims. ”