The judge deciding whether 10 U.S. missionaries should face child kidnapping charges for trying to remove children from the earthquake-battered country, has apparently decided they should be released:
"After listening to the families, I see the possibility that they can all be released," Saint-Vil told The Associated Press. "I am recommending that all 10 Americans be released."
He would not elaborate, and it was not clear whether his decision means the charges may be dropped.
Haiti's chief prosecutor can still appeal the ruling and there is still speculation that the 10 could be transferred to the U.S. to face charges there. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley seemed to leave this possibility on the table in a briefing on Tuesday:
"This is a Haitian legal process. The matters right now involve whether these individuals have broken Haitian law. We have talked to Haitian officials in general terms about their ability to conduct this procedure. If they want to explore alternative avenues with us, we will be happy to have that conversation," he said.
With the Haitian government raising the death toll from last month's earthquake to 230,000, the count now matches the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Considering that the tsunami damage was spread out over eight countries as opposed to one country the size of Massachusetss, that's pretty staggering.
As mentioned in this morning's brief, the U.S. has resumed medevac flights of injured Haitians to Florida hospitals. But I'm surprised how little attention pro football's role in the story has gotten:
The need to be ready for a mass emergency or disaster at the Super Bowl or Pro Bowl played a part in the decision, as did the fact that South Florida hospitals were getting "saturated" with evacuees and that disaster planners had no specific plan for handling the injured at other hospitals, officials said.
The situation "came to a head" Wednesday night, when the state officially requested that federal officials stop sending medical flights to Florida until a plan was presented, said John Cherry, a spokesman for the state Division of Emergency Management.
The suspension of the military's evacuation flights means that the injured and sick will be treated at makeshift hospitals and clinics set up in devastated Port-au-Prince and other towns on the island, health officials said.
In South Florida, a committee preparing for the two pro football bowls at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens had concerns that South Florida hospitals were growing too full with earthquake victims — and local airports too crowded with planes — to handle a major incident at the games.
A spokesman for the U.S. Army's Southern Command also told the Miami Herald that the flights were being diverted "because of the rising numbers of evacuees and the need for the region to be prepared for upcoming events such as might result from the large crowds at the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl.''
The NFL has been touting its contributions to Haiti relief efforts during games and publicizine the Hatian family ties of Super Bowl players like the Colts' Pierre Garcon and the Saints' Jonathan Vilma. The league's efforts are certainly laudable, but it's still embarassing that the Pro Bowl contributed to Haitians not receiving medical care over the weekend.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
It's a little bit hard to understand the mindset of people like the 10 U.S. missionaries arrested in Haiti on Friday, who don't see the problem with swooping into a disaster area and trying to transport 30 children out of a country without any sort of documentation or legal permission. Reading their justifications, the presumptuousness is pretty sickening:
The missionaries, who admit they had no documents, approvals or passports for the Haitian infants, insist they just wanted to help them by taking them over the border to an orphanage they were establishing in the Dominican Republic.
"They really didn't have any paperwork ... I did not understand that that would really be required," the leader of the arrested group, Laura Silsby, told CNN.
She vehemently denied any intention of kidnapping or trafficking the children, which include a baby and children up to 12 years old. "We literally all gave up everything we had, you know, income, and used our own funds to come here and help these children," Silsby said.
"God is the one who called us to come here and we just really believed that this was his purpose," said Carla Thompson, another member of the group, which called itself the New Life Children's Refuge.
Even assuming that these people had the best of intentions, (which, given that one girl apparently told police, "I am not an orphan. I still have my parents" and thought her mother had arranged a vaction for her, is still very much an assumption) I find it pretty disturbing that some Americans feel entirely justified in flying to third world countries and taking children. The urge to "do something" when children are suffering is of course great, but so is the risk of corruption, abuse and trafficking.
As E.J. Graff skillfully documented in her FP piece "The Lie We Love," the combination of well-meaning westerners and with baby "producers" looking to make a buck can have heart-breakingly tragic consequences. Chaos on the scale of Haiti and the clumsy interventions of foreigners who feel entitled take matters into their own hands only exacerbates the situation.
ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images
A few days ago, I optimistically hoped that Brazil, which led the U.S. peacekeeping operation in Haiti and lost at least 14 citizens in the earthquake would take a leadership role in the relief effort. But Al Jazeera's Gabriel Elizondo reports that things have gotten tense on the ground between the two countries most invested in the effort -- Brazil and the United States:
Nelson Jobim, Brazil’s defence minister just came back from Haiti and made a point of that saying Brazil would not voluntarily relinquish any of its command duties. Essentially, what he was saying was that Brazil, not the Pentagon, would continue to lead the UN forces.When pressed, Jobim also admitted that the US military doesn’t take orders from foreign forces.[...]Brazil - like the US, U.N. and France - is in Haiti for the long haul. Jobim said on Saturday that his country would have a major presence in Haiti for at least the next five years.Brazil is not only shouldering a big part of the UN role in Haiti, but is also leading the humanitarian efforts, sending cargo planes loaded with supplies to Haiti as fast as they can be loaded. It is also taking aid from neighbouring Uruguay and Paraguay, as well as any other country that wants to donate but can't handle the logistics on their own.This, too, is a growing issue. Three Brazilian planes loaded with supplies were held up and not allowed to land in Haiti by the FAA (America’s agency that handles air traffic, which is now in control of airspace in Haiti). Celso Amorim, Brazil’s foreign minister, apparently was so upset about it that he put in a call to Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, and asked that Brazilian aeroplanes be given priority over chartered flights.
Kirill, speaking during a weekend visit to Kazakhstan, said the Haitian people bore responsibility for the calamity because they had turned away from God, the Ferghana.ru news agency reported late Monday.
"Haiti is a country of poverty and crime, famine, drugs and corruption, where people have lost their moral face," Kirill was quoted as saying.
He compared Haiti with the Dominican Republic, which are located on the same Caribbean island.
"I've visited the island divided between two countries, the Dominican Republic and Haiti. One of them is developing, while the other is affected by crimes, economic recession and political unrest. That part of the island was shattered by the earthquake," he said.
The patriarch also compared Haiti with Kazakhstan, noting that Kazakhstan has not experienced any earthquakes recently despite its seismological position, the news report said.
I suppose it's possible from the quotes that Kiril was just making a David Brooks-ish argument about Haiti's "culture of failure" making them more vulnerable to the damage rather than their sinful ways actually causing the quake, but the comparison to Kazakhstan really doesn't make much sense in that context.
Guess Kirill's not a Jon Stewart fan.
YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images
Tyler Cowen worries that the Obama's presidency may come to be defined by the chaos in Haiti:
Obama now stands a higher chance of being a one-term President. Foreign aid programs are especially unpopular, especially relative to their small fiscal cost. Have you noticed how Rush Limbaugh and others are already making their rhetoric uglier than usual? It will be a test of the American populace; at what point will people start whispering that he is "favoring the other blacks"?
Just as it's not easy to pull out of Iraq or Afghanistan, it won't be easy to pull out of Haiti.
Maybe you thought health care was a hard problem. Maybe you thought that cap and trade would make health care look easy. This may be the hardest problem yet and it wasn't on anybody's planning ledger. Obama won't have many allies in this fight either. A lot of Democratic interest groups might, silently, wish he would forget about the whole thing.
Mass starvation wouldn't look good on the evening news either. What does it mean to preside over the collapse of a country of more than nine million people? It's Obama who's about to find out, not the increasingly irrelevant Rene Preval. Everyone in Haiti is looking to President Obama.
Kevin Drum counters that the U.S. operation in Haiti "both in dollar and military terms, is likely to be small enough that it never becomes a big political flashpoint."
To state the obvious, unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. troops in Haiti aren't under attack from the local population and their presence seems to be generally welcomed. Of course it's too much to expect that the U.S. can singlehandedly build a functional Haitian state or prevent humanitarian catastrophe, and other countries will hopefully step up to shoulder some of the burden, but U.S. resources can be used to alleviate an awful lot of human misery in the weeks ahead and I hope domestic politics won't deter this efforts. In an ideal world, this is what U.S. power should be used for.
LUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images
Today, the Paris Club -- an informal group of finance officials from the 19 richest nations, who push for low-income country debt restructuring and relief -- officially called for the cancellation of Haiti's debt.
Earthquake aside, such a prominent call for debt relief for the Caribbean nation is overdue. Haiti is a very poor country. It is also a very indebted one, part of a legacy extending back to the 1820s. Then, France required the former slave colony to pay something like $20 billion in today's dollars for its freedom. The country has struggled ever since, with former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier raiding the country's accounts and amplifying what it owes.
The debt hurts Haiti, horribly. As of last year, Haiti was paying $50 million a year just to service its debt, not even to pay down the principal. It owed hundreds of millions -- more than a quarter of its GDP.
Last summer, two groups moved to cancel Haiti's debts given improved governance and economic growth under President Rene Preval. In June, an International Monetary Fund program, the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative, announced the forgiveness of $1.2 billion of Haiti's $1.9 billion in debt. A month later, the Paris Club followed suit, cancelling $214 million further, with Canada, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Britain, and the United States forgiving what Haiti owed them.
That still left the country -- which has a GDP per capita of around $1,300, the same as Bangladesh -- more than $700 million in the red. Experts have estimated that the earthquake -- which killed an estimated 50,000 and leveled the population, government, and business center of Port-au-Prince -- has wiped away at least 15 percent of Haiti's GDP.
France, under Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, who heads the Paris Club, has led the push for other governments and entities to make Haiti debt-free. This means speeding up the cancellation of Haiti's debts, a process which can take years even when countries and banks have committed to clearing the books. More importantly, it means convincing Haiti's main creditors -- the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) and the governments of Taiwan and Venezuela -- to forgive it.
Haiti owes Venezuela around $167 million and Taiwan $91 million. Ma Ying-jeou, the president of Taiwan, today signaled that the country will forgive the debt. "I have already asked the foreign ministry to conduct the necessary reviews to help Haiti to pass through this difficult time," he said. Thus far, President Hugo Chavez has not addressed the question.
The IADB forgave $511 million in debt last year, still leaving Haiti owing it more than $440 million. The bank this week approved $128 million in grants -- and the board of governors is convening to discuss further debt cancellations.
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
The Miami Herald's Douglas Hanks reports that U.S. commercial flights into Haiti are returning to the United States empty:
Though Spirit, American and other major airlines have used
passenger planes to fly cargo into Port-au-Prince since the quake, the
planes almost always return to the States with hundreds of empty seats,
airline spokesmen said.
After the quake, U.S. authorities
banned commercial air travel from the Port-au-Prince airport, citing
the airport's inability to clear passengers for flights. That screening
includes putting passengers through metal detectors and checking them
against federal terrorist-watch lists....
The empty planes could easily be filled as Americans and others
stuck in Haiti before the quake scramble for seats on departing flights
flown by the military and private relief agencies.
"People are always calling us'' for Haiti flights, Spirit spokeswoman Misty Pinson said. "We're inundated.''
But major carriers use computer systems to clear passengers, and
the Port-au-Prince terminal housing airline operations was severely
damaged in the quake. The carriers also fly large jets -- the Spirit
flight Monday had 145 seats -- that would pose a bigger risk if
Given State clearance, Spirit was able to give seats to 41 U.S. college students and Fox News's Geraldo Riviera (go figure) on Monday.
I understand that security rules can't be compeltely thrown out in the event of a crisis, but surely some workaround could have been found. Couldn't passengers have been patted down in Port-au-Prince rather than put through a metal detector? Couldn't they have been checked against the watchlist after arriving at their destination? In any event, I'm sure all involved would be willing to assume a slightly higher level of hijack risk given the circumstances.
Preventing people (not named Geraldo) from leaving a disaster area because of these security rules seems completely unreasonable.
U.S. Navy via Getty Images
Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade is offering free land to displaced Haitians who want to "return to their origins" in Africa:
"The president is offering voluntary repatriation to any Haitian that wants to return to their origin," said Wade's spokesman Mamadou Bemba Ndiaye late Saturday following the president's announcement.
"Senegal is ready to offer them parcels of land - even an entire region. It all depends on how many Haitians come. If it's just a few individuals, then we will likely offer them housing or small pieces of land. If they come en masse we are ready to give them a region," he said.
He stressed that Wade had insisted that if a region is handed over it should be in a fertile area - not in the country's parched deserts.
The offer may be unusual, but it's not out of character of the octogenarian Wade, who is known for his pan-African sentiments and lofty visions.
The troubled and impoverished Democratic Republic of Congo has also raised some eyebrows by offering $2.5 million in aid to Haiti. Political scientist Ntanda Nkere told the BBC the likely reasoning behind the offer:
"It's a contradiction to see a country which is facing serious financial problems giving away $2.5m but at the same time, it's a purely diplomatic reaction, the Congolese government wants to appear like any other government."
When wars unfold or natural disasters strike, few journalists are required to get as close to the action as photographers, whose work can never be done remotely, via phone call or email. Getty Images' Chris Hondros, who is now in Port au Prince documenting the aftermath of the horrific earthquake, sent these thoughts to FP:
Dazed people walking the streets of Port au Prince keep saying the same thing: "Haiti is dead." And on one level that's true -- this small country has just endured one of the most searing natural disasters in history, and death is everywhere. Death is on sidewalks, on the roads, in rivers, buried in rubble and noticeable only by its smell. The scale is so unimaginable that the usual human traditions and courtesies for the dead have been suspended: many thousands of bodies have been collected by backhoe and dumped into mass graves with no more ceremony than the rubble that goes into the same pits.
But admidst the carnage and chaos there have been remarkable glimmers of hope and strength, of heroism and selflessness. I'm sleeping in my truck in the parking lot of a hotel; outside the walls thousands of Haitians, with nowhere else to go, are camping out on the streets. But as night descends the singing starts, jumping voices sounding through the darkness, spirituals and ancient songs sung from those streets late into the night. I listen to this from inside the truck as I drift to sleep; its jarring and achingly beautiful."
Why is Haiti so poor? Well, it has a history of oppression, slavery and colonialism. But so does Barbados, and Barbados is doing pretty well. Haiti has endured ruthless dictators, corruption and foreign invasions. But so has the Dominican Republic, and the D.R. is in much better shape. Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the same island and the same basic environment, yet the border between the two societies offers one of the starkest contrasts on earth — with trees and progress on one side, and deforestation and poverty and early death on the other.
As Lawrence E. Harrison explained in his book “The Central Liberal Truth,” Haiti, like most of the world’s poorest nations, suffers from a complex web of progress-resistant cultural influences. There is the influence of the voodoo religion, which spreads the message that life is capricious and planning futile. There are high levels of social mistrust. Responsibility is often not internalized. Child-rearing practices often involve neglect in the early years and harsh retribution when kids hit 9 or 10.
We’re all supposed to politely respect each other’s cultures. But some cultures are more progress-resistant than others, and a horrible tragedy was just exacerbated by one of them.
"Dictators, corruption and foreign invasions," it seems to me, vastly understates the political turmoil of Haitian history. Haiti has experienced 34 coups in its history -- an average of one every six years. There's simply no way to develop institutions under those conditions.
Brooks' analysis also seems to assume that all dictators are created equal. While the Dominican Republic's late 20th century dictators Rafael Trujillo (who played a not insignificant role in Haiti's tragic history) and Joaquín Balaguer were certainly brutal, they did at least demonstrate some interest in building that coutry's infrastructure, unlike the Duvaliers whose most lasting contribution to Haiti's infrastructure was probably the 98 percent deforestation that makes Haiti's hurricanes so deadly.
Unlike Haiti, he Dominican Republic has also had a continuous, if flawed, democracy for the last three decades. Haiti's 2004 Hurricane hit just a month after the coup at Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the interim government was in no position to govern under the best of circumstances. Food riots and the four hurricanes of 2008 followed before the earthquake delivered the knockout punch. Skipping immediately to culture and religion while skipping over other factors, particularly political turmoil, seems far too simplistic.
As for why Haiti has never had good governance, there's certainly no simple answer, and I think Tyler Cowen is right to ask, "Is it asking too much to wish for an economics [or political science, or journalism] profession that is obsessed with such a question?"
THONY BELIZAIRE/AFP/Getty Images
Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the former Haitian president who was ousted in a 2004 coup and now lives in exile in South Africa, says he wants to return to his country:
''As far as we are concerned, we are ready to leave today, tomorrow, at any time to join the people of Haiti, share in their suffering, help rebuild the country, moving from misery to poverty with dignity,'' said Aristide, his wife Mildred next to him, eyes downcast, twisting a handkerchief.
Aristide spoke in a hotel meeting room reserved by the South African foreign affairs ministry. A ministry official told reporters Aristide would make the statement and not answer questions, and the former president didn't.
Aristide, a former slum preacher, was beloved by many of Haiti's majority poor but opposition to his rule grew during his second presidential term after he was accused of masterminding assaults on opponents, allowing drug-fueled corruption and breaking promises to help the poor. Still, was a deafening clamor for Aristide's return during food riots in Haiti in 2008, showing he remains hugely popular.
Speaking briefly in Creole, Aristide told Haitians: ''If one suffers we all suffer. Togetherness is strength. Courage. Hold on, hold on.''
If Aristide does return, political instability in an impoverished nation struggling to dig itself out from the massive 7.0-magnitude earthquake could result.
It's a bit hard to imagine the situation could get much more politically unstable. Whatever Aristide's faults as a leader, and they were many, if this popular figure could find a way to work with Haiti's current leaders, it could be helpful in the weeks ahead.
Countries around the world are frantically searching for their citizens in Haiti, but this week's events have been particularly hard on Brazil, which had a big footprint in the country before the quake. At least 14 Brazilian troops were killed in the quake with four more still missing. Brazil is the leader and largest troop contributor to the UN's MINUSTAH peacekeeping force. The famous Brazilian doctor Zilda Arns Neumann -- sometimes called Brazil's Mother Teresa -- was also killed.
But Brazil has also been on the frontlines of the response. In a telling sign of the priority the country is giving the disaster, Brazilian defense minister Nelson Jobim is on the ground in Haiti with a delegation to assess the situation and devise a recovery strategy. President da Silva has been in communication with President Obama and former President Clinton to coordinate the aid effort. The Brazilian government has pledged $15 million in aid and its military cargo planes are flying in supplies. Additionally, Foreign Minsiter Ceslo Anorim is arguing that MINUSTAH's mandate be expanded to assist with the recovery effort.
With the already rickety Haitian state essentially dealt a knockout punch this week, the country is going to need an unprecedented level of international assistance in the years to come. The United States is understandably taking the lead in the immediate rescue effort, but given its nation-building commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan and history of frequently occupying Haiti, the U.S. may not be the best candidate for the long-term stabilization effort.
Brazil, on the other hand, is already involved Haitian security, and as others on this site have written, has been increasingly looking to act as a global player. The Haitian crisis is an opportunity for the rising superpower to take a leadership role in regional security. And lord knows Haiti will need the help.
ADRIANO MACHADO/AFP/Getty Images
Twitter users may have noticed the trending topic "UPS is shipping to" on their side rails. The topic consists almost entirely of the re-tweeted message:
UPS is shipping to Haiti for free today UNDER 50 POUNDS- Clothing and Food Drives at all United Way and Salvation Army
This is not true:
In a blog post Wednesday on UPS's Web site, a spokeswoman debunked the rumor and said that destruction of Haiti's roads and communications networks "means our own shipping services to Haiti are on hold."
UPS is donating $1 million to help the people of Haiti through relief agencies, she said.
There were similar rumors last night about American Airlines and JetBlue flying doctors to Haiti for free and both airlines were flooded with calls as a result.
Veteran Tunisian Diplomat Hedi Annabi, chief of the U.N. stabilization mission in Haiti, is among those still missing in the wreckage of the U.N. headquarters in Port-au-Prince. Several official sources have reported him dead. The Wall Street Journal's Dispatches blog reprints recent comments Annabi made about Haiti's upcoming elections, which would have been the first for the country's legislature. In the context of what's happened since, Annabi's remarks are just heart-breaking:
“Success would allow the country to enter a virtuous circle where stability and development are mutually reinforcing,” Mr. Annabi said.
“Haiti is today at a turning point in its history,” Mr. Annabi said on Jan. 7. “We saw the hope of a new departure emerge on the horizon in 2009. It is now up to the Haitians, and only the Haitians, to transform this hope into reality by working together in the greater interests of their country.”
As always, in the wake of such events, it's lamentable that the international community can mobilize millions of dollars in aid after a disaster stikes, but for years allowed the country to fall into a state of disrepair that made the disaster so much worse. Here's hoping that this time the country stays on the international agenda after the rubble is cleared. Annabi's successors are going to have their work cut out for them.
In the wake of this week's earthquake, the United States has halted the deportation of undocumented Haitian immigrants. Now, immigrants' rights advocates and Florida lawmakers are pushing the administration to grant Haitians Temporary Protected Status, a special dispensation given to immigrants who cannot return to their homelands:
On Wednesday, South Florida's three Cuban-American Republican members of Congress -- Reps. Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart, and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen -- sent a joint letter to Obama requesting TPS for Haitian nationals, along with immediate humanitarian aid for Haiti. They have organized a news conference on Thursday to talk about the issue.
"How much does Haiti have to suffer before Haitians in the United States are granted TPS pursuant to law?'' said Lincoln Diaz-Balart Wednesday. ``The reason TPS exists in the statute as an option for the president is precisely for moments such as this in Haiti.''
The other countries whose nationals are currently eligible for TPS are El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Somalia and Sudan. Given Haiti's traumatic recent history and promximity to the U.S., I have to wonder why isn't already on that list.
The State Department has announced that Secretary of State Hillary is cutting short her trip to Asia "due to the devastating earthquake in Haiti and its severe aftermath." Clinton gave a speech on U.S. Asia Policy in Honolulu earlier today and was expected to travel to Australia, New Guinea, and New Zealand.
Since the earthquake struck Haiti -- almost exactly 24 hours ago -- photographs of the destruction and rescue efforts have been slow to surface. Of those emerging, here are some of the most arresting...
First-person accounts of the "biblical" disaster in Haiti, in the words of U.S. Secretary Hillary Clinton, are starting to filter out, 24 hours after it occurred.
From The Guardian:
"Please take me out, I am dying. I have two children with me," a female voice pleaded with a Reuters journalist from under a collapsed kindergarten in the Canape-Vert district.
Police and rescue vehicles were absent from many areas. "People are trying to dig victims out with flashlights," said Rachmani Domersant, an operations manager with the Food for the Poor charity.
Aftershocks rocked those buildings that still stood, causing fresh panic, but dwindled in power as the night wore on....
Those who could not save the living started taking dead from rubble, a foot here, a hand there, and lined the bodies side by side under a sheet. Survivors peeked under the covers to see if they were friends and relatives.
"The whole city is in darkness. You have thousands of people sitting in the streets with nowhere to go. The traffic is jammed," one eyewitness, Michael Bazile, told CNN. "Everybody is yelling. They are praying. They are crying." As dawn broke people wandered the streets holding hands. Helicopters whirred overhead – the first sign of aid. Thousands crammed into hospitals with fractures and burn injuries.
From an American couple, to CBS via HuffPo:
Frank Thorp told CBS's "The Early Show" by phone from Haiti on Wednesday that he drove 100 miles to Port-au-Prince once he learned of the quake, and dug for over an hour to free his wife, Jillian, and her co-worker Charles Dietsch. The two were trapped under about a foot of concrete, he said. "It was absolutely terrifying," Thorp said.
Thorp said he was in an area about 6 hours north of the capital when the temblor struck. He got a quick call from his wife telling him she was trapped, and that was all. So he began his long drive toward the devastation.
Meanwhile, the woman's father said, other colleagues were feverishly working to dig the two out as she directed them where to focus the search. Arriving at the destroyed house, Thorp said he saw his wife's hand from under the rubble and heard her tell him to keep it together and just get her out.
"We had to pull bricks and bricks and bricks and wood and doors and metal away for at least an hour before we were able to get her and her co-worker out," he said.
And in CNN:
Robert Poff, director of disaster services for the Salvation Army in Haiti, added: "Words cannot begin to describe the devastation that has taken place in Port au Prince, Haiti.
"When the earthquake struck, I was driving down the mountain from Petionville (just outside the capital). Our truck was being tossed to and fro like a toy, and when it stopped, I looked out the windows to see buildings "pancaking" down, like I have never witnessed before.
"Traffic, of course, came to a standstill, while thousands of people poured out into the streets, crying, carrying bloody bodies, looking for anyone who could help them. We piled as many bodies (as possible) into the back of our truck, and took them down the hill with us, hoping to find medical attention.
"All of them were older, scared, bleeding, and terrified. It took about 2 hours to go less than 1 mile. Traffic was horrible, devastation was everywhere, and suffering humanity was front and center."
Stories such as these emphasize the importance of today and tomorrow. Disaster experts describe the first 24 to 72 hours as the most crucial to save lives. The United States, United Nations, and other countries and bodies are racing to send emergency search-and-rescue teams to the country -- but the infrastructure was so scant before and so damaged now, it makes it much harder.
Haiti's president himself seemed bewildered by the devasation when speaking on CNN today -- he mentioned that, with his palace destroyed, he had no idea where he would sleep tonight.
THONY BELIZAIRE/AFP/Getty Images
File under "brutally tactless." Here's Pat Robertson arguing that Haiti's earthquake is somehow the Haitians' own fault, due to a pact they made with the devil to get them out from under the thumb of the French colonialists. Video via MediaMatters.
Fox News has the story that the Obama administration is considering housing Haitian refugees at Guantanamo Bay, the detention facility and Naval base the U.S. military keeps in eastern Cuba. The United States has already moved some Americans who were in Port-au-Prince to the island.
It sounds crazy -- but actually isn't the worst idea. Gitmo is the closest U.S. base to Haiti, just 200 miles from Port-au-Prince. The United States has spare capacity, and Haitians desperately need the help.
Plus, in a strange historical recurrence, the detention facility at Gitmo was actually built up to house Haitian refugees during the 1991-1994 Aristide crisis.
This morning, French Foreign Minister told the press that Hedi Annabi, the head of the U.N. mission in Haiti, had been killed when the mission's headquarters in Port-au-Prince's Hotel Christopher collapsed, but the U.N. has not yet confirmed Annabi's death. Here's secretary general Ban Ki-moon:
First of all, I do not, and we do not, have any exact information. What we can assume is that the total at the time that the earthquake struck the MINUSTAH headquarter, there were around 100 or 150 people still working. They were having important meetings. We are still not aware of having any information.
It's not clear on what basis Kouchner was making his definitive statement.
Meanwhile, U.N.-watcher Matthew Russell Lee is looking into whether the Hotel Christopher complied with U.N. safety standards and hasn't yet been given an answer. While it's quite possible that even a code-compliant building might have collapsed the category 7 quake, Lee notes,
since the bombing and partial collapse of the UN headquarters in Baghdad in the Canal Hotel, all UN facilities are supported to be inspected for, and pass, so called MOSS compliance. Facilities in Afghanistan have been evacuated for failure to meet this standard.
Ban is expected to give an informal briefing to U.N. member states at 4. The U.N. mission in Haiti comprises 9,000 military and police personnel and nearly 2,000 civilian staff.
Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive says that more than 100,000 might have died due to the earthquake and its aftershocks, calling the death toll "unimaginable."
Emergency services are on the ground and on the way. The United States might move ships, and is sending urban search and rescue teams in a trial for the new, young USAID administrator, Rajiv Shah. President Obama has promised humanitarian support.
Seismologists have predicted the quake in Haiti for years, even if there hasn't been one for more than two centuries -- some even saying it was overdue. Seismologist Roger Musson describes the quake as "the big one." A Haitian newspaper in 2008 published a warning about the possibility of earthquakes in Port-au-Prince; a 2007 study foresaw the earthquake as well.
Reports suggest that a majority of buildings in Port-au-Prince have suffered damage or fallen. Very few of the buildings in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, were up to Western-standard building codes.
Haiti-native Joel Dreyfuss over at our sister publication The Root has an excellent meditative essay on his country, which starts with the withering line, "Some countries are just not lucky." James Ridgeway at Mother Jones has a good article on Bush administration policy towards the country, and criticizes the Obama administration for doing too little as well.
As Mark Goldberg writes for the Daily Beast, Haiti just can't catch a break. The country, which has been through years of war and upheaval, and remains woefully poor, yesterday was hit with a massive earthquake which has caused critical damage to its major city and capital, Port-au-Prince. Casualties are expected to be massive, and as many as 3 of the country's 9 million citizens are without basic services. What makes it all sadder is that things had, just recently, seemed to be looking up.
Around 800,000 tourists traveled to Haiti last year -- a sizeable number for a small nation. But 500,000 of them never ventured further than Royal Caribbean Cruise Line's heavily guarded man-made enclave on the northern shore of the island; therefore, they did little good for Haiti's economy. (Royal Caribbean apparently installs most of its own staff in Labadee, seen above, meaning fewer Haitians hired.)
Haitians as well as U.N. staff on the island were battling the country's image as a failing state, a murder and kidnapping capital. Its safety statistics are in fact in line with or lower than those in other Caribbean nations, after spiking in 2004 during the Aristide crisis.
Just last week, Comfort Inn announced it was planning on building a small hotel on the island. It would have been the only major international chain to have an outpost on Haiti. Additionally, via Tyler Cowen, Haiti was just one of two Caribbean countries expected to have GDP growth in 2010, of around 2.5 percent.
Image via RobinH00d on Flickr
Very troubling reports out of Haiti this morning. The earthquake struck near the country's main population center, Port-au-Prince, and its surrounding suburbs and slums. Elisabeth Debrosse Delatour, the first lady, said much of Port-au-Prince is destroyed. Cell phone service is available on just one of the major networks; the other remains out, as do landlines and electricity. Hospitals, including the Doctors Without Borders surgical center and many other medical facilities, and essential-service plants were severely damaged in the quake.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon calls it a "humanitarian emergency," and countries around the world are racing to deploy emergency aid to the estimated 3 million impacted by the quake -- a 7.0 on the Richter scale, with 13 serious aftershocks (the largest of which was a 5.8).
The quake also reportedly severely damaged the five-story U.N. mission headquarters in Port-au-Prince. As of this morning, there are reports of five U.N. staff dead and more than one hundred missing, many presumed dead, as the quake struck during the workday. Hedi Annabi, the U.N. Haiti chief, a Tunisian, is feared dead. The hotel in which much of the U.N. staff lived was also destroyed.
Update: I've seen this misreported in a few places, so just to clarify. The U.N.'s peacekeeping chief on Haiti, Alain Le Roy, is safe and speaking with the press. The U.N.'s mission chief, Hedi Annabi, has died.
Frederic Dupoux/Getty Images
Early this evening, a massive earthquake rocked Haiti, the United States' island neighbor to the south and, by far, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. The earthquake measured a 7.0 on the Richter scale and occurred close to the densely populated capital of Port-au-Prince. Initial reports indicate massive building damage, including to hospitals and water and electricity plants. Casualties are expected to number in the thousands. The United States and other nations have started to deploy emergency aid; U.N. envoys Paul Farmer and former president Bill Clinton are rallying aid as well.
We'll know more tomorrow. In the meantime, aid organizations accepting donations to help Haiti include: the American Red Cross; the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund; Mercy Corps; Partners In Heath; and UNICEF.
Update: Mark Goldberg at U.N. Dispatch flags a worrying story. The earthquake has reportedly destroyed the U.N. peacekeeping mission's headquarters in Haiti; the U.N. keeps around 7000 troops in the country. Mark worries about the U.N. peacekeepers' capacity to act as first responders. The quake has also destroyed at least part of the country's presidential palace.
Also: the L.A. Times has a good list of Twitter users to follow in Haiti. Electricity, landline, and cell phone service appears to be out in much of the country.
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