Haiti and Chile Earthquakes

Briefing on the Situation in Haiti by Secretary of State Clinton, January 15, 2010

Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–January 15, 2010.

SECRETARY CLINTON: I want to take a moment first to thank the American people who have been extraordinarily generous in the amount of support that they have shown for the people of Haiti during this devastating period.

Through a State Department partnership with the Red Cross and mGive, we’ve raised more than $10 million from more than 1 million donors through our SMS Haiti relief campaign. It has become the single largest mobile donation campaign ever. One hundred percent of the proceeds go directly to the Red Cross for their activities on the ground in Haiti. But the devastation is far greater than we could have imagined, so please keep texting Haiti, H-a-i-t-i, to 90999 where $10 will be charged to your cell phone.

I’m also pleased to announce a new tool on state.gov for those searching for loved ones in Haiti, or for those who have information. You can find the Person Finder – that’s the Person Finder – on www.state.gov/Haitiquake, H-a-i-t-i-q-u-a-k-e. And more information will be posted soon.

I also have decided after consulting with President Obama and others in our government that I will be traveling to Haiti tomorrow with USAID Administrator Dr. Raj Shah. We will be meeting with President Preval and other members of the Haitian Government along with the members of the U.S. Government team on the ground, including our civilian and military leaders. We will also be conveying very directly and personally to the Haitian people our long-term, unwavering support, solidarity, and sympathies to reinforce President Obama’s message yesterday that they are not facing this crisis alone.

I will also be able to see firsthand the ongoing efforts and deployment of U.S. Government personnel and resources for maximum impact to support the vital lifesaving relief and recovery efforts. We have an incredibly robust and complex set of relationships on the ground in Haiti not only among the various components of the United States Government, but many of our NGOs, representatives of our faith communities, as well as the United Nations, the international partners, and aid organizations. And I want to have an opportunity to consult with a number of those as well.

As you can imagine, details are still coming together. We will get them to you as soon as they can be confirmed. But lastly, and perhaps it can’t be said often enough, our hearts and our prayers are with the people of Haiti, the brave rescue workers that are there on the ground literally working around the clock – we had some wonderfully heartwarming stories today of people being rescued from the rubble alive and well – and to reiterate the support that we feel for all of those who are caught up in this disaster.

And finally, let me just say a word about our Embassy team. They have been extraordinary, working without stop. They bear the responsibility for the 45,000 or so American citizens there. They are obviously coping with their own losses and worries. But through it all, they’ve exhibited the utmost professionalism and I’m very, very grateful and very proud of them.

So I’d be glad to take some questions. Andrea.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you know Haiti well; you’ve been there often going back over decades. What do you think you can learn by going yourself tomorrow? What do you want to not only convey to them, but bring back?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, three things. First, I’ll be taking supplies with me and I’ll be taking some people who will stay on the ground there. This is a convenient, efficient way to get both into Haiti. I will be bringing out some American citizens who are waiting for evacuation. So there are some very tangible reasons for this.

I will also be meeting with President Preval, who has expressed a great interest in having me come. And I know him. We, as you know, had a very close working relationship established with President Preval and his government, an effort headed up by my chief of staff and counselor Cheryl Mills, but which was, again, a whole-of-government enterprise. And so we perhaps as well, or maybe in some cases better than the rest of our government, kind of know what the plans were, understand what the president and his team are up against. And the Haitian Government is the authority in Haiti, but they clearly are asking for appropriate help, which we are providing.

And finally, it’s been my experience over many years now that those of us here who have a lot of the responsibility for executing our policy, including myself, Dr. Shah, Counselor Mills, and others, really can add to our understanding and cut through any misunderstanding that might be afoot by face-to-face contact. And it also gives us a chance to report back to our international partners as well. I’ve spoken to a number of foreign ministers and heads of state who are asking questions about how things are operating and what they can do to contribute, and it just gives you a level of credibility in this implementation phase that we’re finding ourselves in.

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton —


QUESTION: — how concerned are you about the possibility that, as people now live on the streets for several days, don’t have food, water, shelter, and are surrounded by corpses – in some cases of their loved ones – that their sort of anguish may turn to rage, and given the limited capacities of the Haitian Government, that the sporadic looting that one has seen may get significantly worse? And what can the U.S. Government do to try to forestall that?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Arshad, I think it’s understandable when human beings are as distressed and stressed as the Haitians are, when they’ve suffered such grievous losses and they’re still experiencing aftershocks – there were more today – that it is an extremely anxious environment. And add to that the difficulty of loved ones still trapped in rubble, inadequate food, water, medical supplies; you can certainly relate to the challenges that the people of Haiti face.

I think that everyone agrees that up until that point the matters have been well in hand. But there’s a process of grieving, which includes anger. If you look at the stages of grief, that is a stage that is just part of the human DNA.

We think that the UN peacekeepers are doing an excellent job. They have about 7,000 peacekeepers. They’re on the streets. They’re patrolling. They are primarily responsible for law and order. But they need help.

The Haitian police force has been severely impacted. We get varying estimates of how many are actually left and able to be on the streets themselves. We do have American military assets that we have put at the disposal of MINUSTAH, the peacekeeping force. Our three-star general on the ground, General Keen, is personally acquainted over a number of years with the Brazilian general in charge, and they’re cooperating in every way they can.

But this is a very tough situation, and that’s why we’re trying to move as quickly as possible to remedy the underlying causes that might give rise to people being desperate. But we’re aware that there are all kinds of potential problems on the horizon that we’re trying to be prepared to help the Haitian Government deal with.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary?


QUESTION: Based on what you’ve been told about how the situation has developed, just say in the last day or so, do you think that conditions will actually get worse in the days ahead, or do you think that the corner is being turned?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Bob, I think every hour that goes by, we get more resources on the ground and more people deployed to act on what is required in the face of this very large disaster scene, so I think we’re making a lot of progress. But it kind of goes back to Arshad’s question: Is our progress fast enough for the people who have been without food or water or who are sitting there with a severely injured relative? I mean, I think if you and I were in that situation, it wouldn’t be fast enough no matter how fast we were moving. So I think any fair assessment that I could make would show that the United States Government, the international community, the NGOs, everybody is really stepping up and we’re making a lot of progress.

It’s just a race against time. It’s a race against time in the search-and-rescue missions. It’s a race against time to establish some means for clearing the roads so that more supplies can get in. But boy, everybody is pushing as hard as they can. So I think we’re making a lot of progress. I just want to make sure we move as quickly and effectively as we can.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you – the United States has been giving money and aid to Haiti for development for decades, and every time something happens, there’s a crisis and the money seems to have – you seem to take one step forward and kind of five steps back. And now, as you look to not only the search and rescue but the long-term recovery of Haiti, what can be different this time to make sure that Haiti can stand on its own two feet?

And you have this fragile political situation with the government. Even though, as you say, it’s in authority, it still is very fragile and weak. How can the government kind of stand up and assert authority especially now that President Aristide is saying that he’d like to return, he’d like to help his people and bring supplies? But certainly as divisive a figure as he is, this could sow a lot of discontent, because as you’ve said, the people are angry, the people are scared, the people are nervous. Do you think this is the right time for him to be returning?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, let me just take it one day at a time here. Our immediate need right now is to do what is required in the search-and-rescue phase and then the transitioning to a physical recovery effort – clearing the rubble, getting more – getting some field hospitals and helping to restock the hospitals that are still standing, the kind of nuts-and-bolts humanitarian assistance, disaster relief work that has to go on now.

But I would say from my perspective, having turned a lot of our attention in this Administration to how we could effectively work with Haiti, starting back last year, we were really making progress. We had a good plan that was a Haitian plan. The Haitian Government created the plan. It was realistic. It was focused. We worked with them. We came in with a very successful donors conference. We had a lot of buy-in from many other countries in this hemisphere and beyond. And it was certainly on track to be, in my view, a very positive effort.

Haiti has suffered enormously over the course of its existence from all kinds of factors, some of them poor governance that we know so well, some of it interference by other countries that set back all kinds of opportunities for forward progress, some of it by just the battering of nature. A country that had four hurricanes last year and a devastating earthquake this year has certainly got more than its share of problems.

But I think that we’ve learned a lot, and there’s a resilience among the people of Haiti and a commitment on the part of the current government that I think bodes well for being able to bring about reconstruction and recovery efforts that will be successful. The United Nations is heavily committed. Obviously, my husband is the special envoy for the secretary general.

And it was so ironic that Monday night on PBS, there was a long story about how Haiti was on the way back. It was a story on the Jim Lehrer show – I don’t know if that’s still its name, but that’s what I call it – and it was such a hopeful story and it had interviews with elected officials, business leaders. And people who watched that were just so revved up, and one of the things it showed was this really successful business conference that my husband led a few months ago, 500 businesses from all over the world signing contracts, opening factories.

And the next day, this happens. So look, it’s not easy, we know there’s a long way to go. But I think if we’re smart about how we choose to interact with them and if we have the right set of expectations, I think this can be done.

QUESTION: President Aristide (inaudible)?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I don’t have any comment on that.


QUESTION: Madame Secretary, Mike Emanuel from Fox. I’m wondering if you have an update on unaccounted-for Americans and whether you are troubled by the fact that the Embassy may not have heard from a lot of Americans or whether you have some logical explanations.

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, I am troubled. I’m very troubled. Communication is still very difficult. And we are encouraged by those with whom we have made contact and the hundreds and hundreds that we’ve evacuated at their request. But we’re working feverishly to track down as many as we possibly can.

And thankfully, a lot of people have called in with information we wouldn’t know. For example, as I was looking at the records of this, a friend called a friend, called a friend, and they contacted us. A frantic family, a young woman down there on a missionary medical trip staying in one of the hotels, nobody had heard from her. So we take every piece of information and we try to follow up on it. And we found that young woman alive and we’re finding lots of other people. But it’s going to take a number of more days before we can piece all that together.


QUESTION: A number of countries have pledged assistance to Haiti, and I guess this will need some coordination. Is – did you plan already an international conference, or –

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, we will most likely have that. The United Nations has been instrumental in coordinating what we were doing this past year for Haiti. As you know, their mission has been severely impacted. We don’t know the exact number of lives that have been lost yet, but they are staffing up to try to continue their work. So the United Nations will be very much involved, and obviously we have to wait on that. I’ve spoken with the foreign ministers of several of the countries here in the hemisphere and others in Europe, as well as the EU high representative, and everyone’s very willing to help. So there will be an organized effort. We have to get through this first initial period.


QUESTION: Madame Secretary, the Cubans opened their airspace for humanitarian flights.

SECRETARY CLINTON: And we appreciate that.

QUESTION: I was going to ask you what’s the – how significant is that? And do you anticipate further or deeper coordination with the Cubans in regard to Haiti?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we very much appreciate the Cubans opening their airspace for medical evacuation and emergency flights, and we would welcome any other actions that the Cuban Government could take in furtherance of the international rescue and recovery mission in Haiti.

I saw a hand back there.

QUESTION: I was going to ask about the international conference. The president of France today –


QUESTION: — called for an international conference, so you said you will be considering this.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes. Well, of course, I’ve talked to my friend Bernard Kouchner and – among the many that I’ve spoken with, and we are all committed to doing that. It’s not appropriate yet. We’re going to need to get through this period. Everyone understands that. And then we need to do some needs assessment, and then we have to have a division of responsibilities. I don’t think it would be productive just to have a conference. We want a conference with kind of assignments that people are willing to accept. And we have to do that in conjunction with both the Government of Haiti and the UN, neither of which are yet in a position that they can be able to do that. But we will definitely have such an effort.

QUESTION: What about contributions from rich Arab countries? Are you aware of any action on – in this regard?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I know that we’ve received notice of some contributions. I just can’t tell you right now who that is.

QUESTION: Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: But there’s always room for more to help.


QUESTION: I’d like to know what – your plan as you’re meeting with Preval — during your trip.


QUESTION: — what your plan is to help to try to stand up this government. He’s lost his home, obviously. The parliament —


QUESTION: — is destroyed. And I’d also like to know why you think this is the appropriate time to go down there, when there’s a major relief operation underway.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I would not be going if I thought my trip would have any adverse impact on the relief efforts. What I’ve – I’ve been asked to come and, after evaluating it during most of the day, we’ve taken every step we can to minimize any impact. I will not be leaving the airport area, so that I will not be using assets like automobiles that should be better used for transporting rescue workers or medical personnel.

It is the judgment that we’ve reached that this is a useful time for both Dr. Shah and I to go. And I have very carefully analyzed this because I’ve been to more crises and emergencies than I can even remember over the course of a long, long time in public life. And I don’t ever want to do anything that interferes with or imposes burdens on the people who are actually doing the work.

On the other hand, we do need to send a very clear message, several messages, about not only our ongoing commitment but also our relationship with President Preval and the Haitian Government, which is a supportive one. Our working with the UN, our hearing firsthand from our Embassy mission, from our military leadership, our USAID teams, and then, as I say, bringing and taking some both human and other materials back out and in.

QUESTION: And how you stand up the government and going forward on –

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, that’s what we’re going to talk about. I mean, it’s kind of hard to do long distance. It’s something that, because I’ve worked with President Preval, and Cheryl Mills and her team have a very close working relationship with him and others, including the prime minister, we really need to spend some time thinking through how we can help them.

And you can imagine how it must feel to be in this position where you are – you have no tools of government and you have an enormous amount of personal anxiety because so many people – friends, loved ones, colleagues – nobody’s heard from. You have no idea where they are. If they’re alive, you can’t communicate with them.

So I think it will be an important step toward doing exactly what you’re referring to, being sure that we empower them in every way that we can. We take responsibilities off them for a time period that they can’t physically perform, if they want, or other members of the international community as part of that do. Our goal is to really help them. And that is, in part, making sure that they have a government that insofar as possible gains in capacity to function over the weeks ahead.

Thanks everybody.


Source: state.gov