It’s “Your Turn” to share your views about the stories Washingtonians are talking about ––from a rollback on federal health care subsidies to the name change of a Virginia high school named after a Confederate general.
It’s been almost two years since a crippling earthquake hit Haiti. Despite billions of dollars in emergency and foreign aid, 600,000 displaced Haitians are still homeless. Washington has pledged to work with the new government in Port-Au-Prince to kickstart the economy and help with the ongoing recovery effort. We talk with the U.S. Ambassador to Haiti.
- Kenneth Merten United States Ambassador to Haiti
- Manolia Charlotin Editor & Business Manager, Boston Haitian Reporter; Co-Founder, Haiti 2015
Check out our special Haiti coverage from our 2010 reporting trip there.
Towards the end of our 2010 series coverage, we heard from graffiti artist Jerry Rosembert, whose work can be found on walls all over Port-au-Prince:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's a milestone in Haiti's ongoing recovery effort. Almost two years after a devastating earthquake that leveled much of the country, the United Nations announced, this month, that half the rubble had been cleared.
MR. KOJO NNAMDILike many milestones in Haiti, it's hard to know whether this is something to celebrate. Twenty-one months after the quake, some government services are back up and running, but 600,000 people displaced by the earthquake are still homeless and three-quarters of the country is still living under the poverty line.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe country's parliament recently confirmed a new government cabinet, but only months -- after months of political stalemate. As the U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, Kenneth Merten is in Washington, eyes and ears in Port Au Prince -- he is Washington's eyes and ears in Port Au Prince and he joins us in studio. Ambassador Merten, good to see you again.
AMBASSADOR KENNETH MERTENGreat to see you, too.
NNAMDIKenneth Merten, as we said, is the United States Ambassador to Haiti. If you have questions or comments for him, you can call us at 800-433-8850. You can send e-mail to email@example.com, a tweet @kojoshow or you can simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there.
NNAMDIWhen the earthquake hit Haiti in January of 2010, it killed more than 200,000 people. It also leveled roughly 80,000 buildings in Port Au Prince and the surrounding regions. The United Nations says that half that rubble, roughly five million cubic meters of debris, have been removed. How do you measure progress in the recovery effort? What statistics do you think are most heartening and what maybe most troubling?
MERTENWell, I think the fact that that much rubble has been removed is generally a positive thing. Obviously, we would all want it to go faster, to be more complete. But I think as -- I think we discussed last time we talked, a lot of the problems Haiti had has stemmed from well before the earthquake, poverty, lack of government effectiveness due to a number of reasons. And, I think, you know, they are making good progress.
MERTENI think we need to be clear about, you know, what the yard stick is we are measuring this progress with. We need to keep in mind that 10 years after 9/11, we don’t yet have Ground Zero site completely rebuilt in New York and there is still work to be done in New Orleans. So I think 18 months after a devastating earthquake in the hemisphere's poorest country, I think, we should look at this as generally positive.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call. Do you feel that the U.S. has played a constructive role in addressing Haiti's long term needs? 800-433-8850. Immediately after the earthquake, Ambassador Merten, there was a huge influx of American aid workers and American aid. There was also a scramble to get American expats and Haitian-Americans out of the country, a scramble to expedite adoptions of Haitian children to American homes.
NNAMDIBut there were also problems that emerged. An American church was accused of kidnapping Haitian children. It also seems as if there are too many actors or there were, certainly, too many actors in Haiti to keep track of. Is that part of your job as Ambassador?
MERTENIt's -- it is -- part of my job is to really focus on keeping the United States government actors on the same page. That's what I spend my time doing. It is the Haitian government's job, to the extent they are able to do so, to keep all the other organizations sort of on the same page. They had limited capacity to do this before the earthquake and obviously after the earthquake, with many of their own workers in the government who perished, they were less capable of doing that.
MERTENWe, as one of the largest donors in Haiti, do try and work through the interim-Haiti reconstruction commission to try and bring as many of the donors around the table as possible. But there are some that choose -- some independent donors, independent groups, who choose not to participate in that coordination forum. But ultimately, at the end of the day, it's the Haitian government's responsibility to try and do that.
NNAMDIWhen Haiti marked the one year anniversary of the quake, the international community had pledged roughly $6 billion or so, but it had only dispersed $700 or $800 million. Where do things stand right now, in terms of resources available for recovery?
MERTENWell, in the U.S. case, we have pledged $1.2 billion, but that is not all to be dispersed at one moment. That is to be dispersed over a period of two years. And I think we need to -- what we're trying to do is work with our Haitian partners and our partners who are on the ground to disperse this in a way that's impactful and that is sensible and produces the most bang for the buck for the Haitian people.
MERTENSimply dropping, you know, a couple of billion of dollars at, you know, at one moment on the Haitian people, a country of eight million people that has a limited absorptive capacity, I'm not sure would be necessarily the most helpful for the Haitian people.
NNAMDIOur guest is Kenneth Merten, United States ambassador to Haiti. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. You can send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. When we were in Haiti, we saw that there were lots of 4-wheel drives with NGO logos emblazoned on them. You told us last time that there were some 14,000 NGOs operating in the country.
NNAMDIThere are clearly, millions or billions of dollars coursing into the country, but there were also complaints, at the time, that all that money was not actually reaching the people. Has there been any improvement, as far as you know, in delivery and coordination of services?
MERTENWell, I think so. I think, when we last spoke, the IHRC, the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission, hadn't yet or was just in the process of being established. I think that has been a very good vehicle for coordinating donors' activities with the government of Haiti. Our goal is to work in that forum, under Haitian government leadership, to direct resources to areas that they see as priorities.
MERTENIt -- you know, and as setting it up, there were some fits and starts, but I think it's largely been a positive thing. I think most donors believe it has played a good role in coordinating. Could things work better? I think, you know, there's always room for improvement. That's certainly what our goal is there, is to work with our partners to make things work as smoothly as possible. But I think, by and large, things work reasonably well in that regard.
NNAMDIThe United States has a long intertwined history with Haiti. On the one hand, we have dedicated large sums of development assistance to the country, over the last 50 years or so. But there is also widespread distrust of America and its intensions. This is your third time serving in Port Au Prince. You have been working in that country for over 20 years. Are we, in general, perceived as an ally or an impediment or maybe a little bit of both?
MERTENI think general Haitians very much appreciate the role the United States has played throughout the year. I think they know that we have consistently stood on the side of democracy and have supported democracy, free and fair elections. We've supported the fact that we believe that the people's voice needs to be heard and respected for a long time in Haiti.
MERTENAnd I think that general stance is appreciated. There is, of course, you know, being a huge country, a huge neighbor very close to Haiti, always in some people's mind, a certain suspicion as to what our motives might be. I think you would find that in most countries in the region. But I think, in general, Haiti -- Haitians have a very positive view of Americans. And I think -- I'd like to think they see our role as generally a positive one.
NNAMDIWell, I need to talk a little bit about you, not just in terms of you being the ambassador of the United States, but who you are in terms of Haiti. You're unique among many diplomats in that you speak Creole, the language of most Haitians. When we talked to members of the Haitian Diaspora, and we will be talking very shortly with a Haitian-American journalist, they have talked about how difficult it is to understand the cultural and political terrain of Haiti for them -- for themselves sometimes.
NNAMDIAnd that includes people who speak the language and have family on the ground. How difficult is it to perceive the different agendas and different centers of power in Haiti for an outsider who hasn't been there for 20 years?
MERTENIt's difficult. And I think to the casual observer who doesn't know Haiti, they would look at it reading out of a textbook and say, gee, you know, a country in this hemisphere, 8 million people, no major religious divisions in the country, no ethnic divisions in the country, how intractable. How difficult can the societies' problems be?
MERTENAnd they are complicated. They are complex going back for a long time. And I think, you know, Haitians are eager to work through the issues. But it is a complex place and I think it's not some place where people can come up with very quick offhand solutions and suggestions. Things that work, for example, compared to elsewhere in the hemisphere. Haiti's history is very, very different from, for example, someplace like countries in Central America or even some other Caribbean countries who were colonies until well into this century. And the Haitians...
NNAMDILike my own native country, Guyana, yeah.
MERTENYou know, the Haitians have, I think, a fantastic history and a glorious history of being the first slave nation to overthrow colonial rule. And it's an amazing story. And if people don't know it, I would encourage them to go read it. But it is different -- it's a different societal mix than we have in a lot of other countries in the region.
NNAMDIThe earthquake and recovery effort laid bare the weakness of the Haitian government. In April, Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly won a presidential election that was marred by low turnout and allegations of fraud. Does the current government really enjoy a sufficient degree of legitimacy that allows it to go forward?
MERTENI think so. You know, we worked very hard with other colleagues, Haitian allies and the OAS and other people to really make sure that the Haitian peoples' voice was heard in this election. And quite frankly, there was a lot of cynicism going into the election because of manipulation of prior elections. And we were -- our goal was to ensure that the money that we spent, the U.S. taxpayers spent, in supporting the Haitian election went to ensure that the election reflected the will of the Haitian people.
MERTENAnd I think it has done that and I think it's one of the things that I'm actually very proud of that we have done over the past couple of years in Haiti.
NNAMDIWhen we spoke last November in Port-Au-Prince before the election, you spoke about the important of a stable government in Haiti that could serve as a partner to the U.S. Is it possible to have a stable government when so much else seems to be in flux?
MERTENI think it is. I think, you know, one of the things that we really hope to see now that we do have a government in place, as of yesterday, quite frankly. We have a new president who was sworn in in May and it took him awhile to put together a government. It's a negotiated process with parliament and he does not have a majority in parliament. So it took him awhile to negotiate with opposition parties, but they've eventually come together and put together a government.
MERTENI am optimistic. I think that this learning process, these two sides feeling each other out, if you will, is -- has been healthy. And I think it will -- my hope is that it will make for a stable government moving forward. A lot of the folks that we've seen in this new government seem to be people who are competent and who we know favorably. I haven't had a chance to meet all of them or know all of them yet, but we're hopeful that they will be good partners to us and we to them.
NNAMDIJoining us now by telephone is Manolia Charlotin, editor and business manager with the Boston Haitian Reporter and the co-founder of Haiti 2015. Manolia, good to talk to you again.
MS. MANOLIA CHARLOTINGood to be here, Kojo. Thank you for having me.
NNAMDIManolia, the Haitian Diaspora clustered in a few major cities in the United States. One cluster is here in D.C., but the really big ones are Boston and Miami. I know you have been covering the events in Haiti as they end up affecting the Haitian American community. And you say that recent developments, especially political developments, are alarming the community in Boston. Why?
CHARLOTINWell, because the current administration, you know, since it's been newly formed with the ratification of the new prime minister and the different ministries, it's alarming because of the several ties to the Duvalier regime that is now currently in the government, from the president's advisors to the actual, you know, prime minister whose father was an official in the Duvalier regime to the actual -- several of the cabinet ministers, are -- you know, who were linked to the Duvalier regime.
CHARLOTINAnd so I think that there's a major concern there. And that -- when you add to the talks of renewing the Haitian army (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDIWell, let me deal with one of those at a time.
NNAMDIThank you very much, Manolia. I'll get to the army in a second. But, Mr. Ambassador, this January Jean-Claude Duvalier, the former dictator of Haiti, better known as "Baby Doc" returned to the country from exile. And many observers worry that his return might signal a dangerous new political phase in Haiti. Thus far, he himself has mostly stayed out of the spotlight. But as was just mentioned or implied, his son is now working for the current president, Michel Martelly. And there are several people associated with the Duvalier regime who seem to be close to the Martelly regime. Is this a cause for concern?
MERTENI think it's -- what would be cause for concern if people that we know had participated in human rights abuses or who had played a major policy role in, you know, doing things against the law in Haiti during the Duvalier regime. I'm not sure that any of these people that Manolia is talking about have had that kind of role.
MERTENI obviously -- you know, our U.S. government's view of the Duvalier regime is clear. And as a matter of record, I think, you know, we have to realize that, you know, President Martelly is from a different political tendency, if you will, than his two predecessors were. And not everybody's happy about that. He has brought some people in who are of what passes for the right, if you will, in Haiti.
MERTENYou know, again, I think as long as these are not people who are -- have been -- who are known human rights abusers or known criminals, I'm not sure that -- you know, it's obviously something that bears watching, but I'm not sure it's something, at this point, we need to get overly excited about.
NNAMDISomething that bears watching, Manolia Charlotin. The other thing that I suspect you were talking about that bears watching are indications by -- well, you can talk about indications by President Martelly about the Haitian army.
CHARLOTINWell, the reason why I brought up the links with the past Duvalier regime and the current administration officials along with the Haitian army, that is what's alarming. Not that they come from -- just they come from the actual Duvalier regime. What's alarming is that that coupled with the president's call to renew the army, especially when you have 600,000 people still homeless after an earthquake and services are still, you know, meager at best, to put that as a priority along with the right wing leanings.
CHARLOTINAnd then, of course, to have a former dictator who has been accused of numerous human rights abuses, not even really being tried and dealt with. When you couple all those things together it's alarming to ask for a community 'cause it serves as a reminder that certain things have not been dealt with within the justice system.
CHARLOTINAnd so when you put folks who were involved in a previous regime that had not been dealt with, and now you're talking about building a Haitian army, it's alarming to a community that mostly left because of the abuses of the army, because of the environment that was fostered in Haiti. It's the reasons why many of the Diaspora are even here in the U.S.
NNAMDIIndeed a lot of the members of the Diaspora are professionals and the children of professionals who fled the Duvalier regime. We're talking with Manolia Charlotin, editor and business manager of the Boston Haitian Reporter and the co-founder of Haiti 2015 and Kenneth Merten, United States ambassador to Haiti.
NNAMDIAmbassador Merten, I mentioned earlier your long association with Haiti because you were there during the time of the Duvalier regime. United Nations peacekeepers have operated in Haiti since 2004. The country has not had its own military force since the armed forces were disbanded by then President Jean-Bertrand Aristide himself in Haiti. He disbanded them in 1995. But as Manolia just indicated, President Martelly has said he wants to rebuild a military. Is that a good idea?
MERTENWell, you know, our view is that what Haiti really needs -- I think we have to look at what the needs are. And President Martelly has said this. One of the goals that he seeks to address by his own explanation is the public security, protecting the Haitian public not only from crime, but also from natural disasters and to protect Haiti's borders.
NNAMDII should mention that Haiti does have a serious crime problem. The country has fewer than 9,000 police in a population of some 9 million.
MERTENRight. And the U.S. government has worked closely with -- basically since the mid '90s at helping the Haitian government stand up the Haitian national police force. We believe that's where the focus should remain. Our efforts are going to continue to focus on supporting the police. When people talk about an army, I'm -- I understand Manolia's concern and why her and other members of the Diaspora's ears prick up when they hear that. But I think we're in a position of trying to figure out exactly what that means.
MERTENI went -- I and several other diplomats from other countries were called to a briefing by the Haitian government to explain, in general terms, what they're after. And what it appears to us that they are talking about is civilian protection corp. They talked about providing border protection, providing sea protection along the lines of the coastguard, which is something the United States already supports in Haiti.
MERTENThey talked about disaster preparedness and having a group of people who could respond if there were, say, heaven forbid, another earthquake or another hurricane. They feel that they shouldn't need to depend on neighbors in the region to be the only source of people who can help them out in such a case. They believe they need to have their own people on standby who are trained to deal with these kind of things.
MERTENNow, in my mind, that does not sound like an army. However, from what Manolia is saying, and I understand her concern, that is the shorthand that people are using in Haiti, a re-creation of the army. So I think we need to explore with them a little bit further what they're really talking about here.
NNAMDIWell, let me be frank with you about what I guess Manolia's concerns are. Do you think there is the likelihood or possibility of the re-imposition of a Duvalier-like dictatorship in Haiti?
CHARLOTINWell, it's -- I think it's too soon to tell. But, Kojo, I think you're right. That is the question that is in many of the Diaspora people's mind. You know, we are thinking about that. But to the ambassador's point about the army being shorthand for a civil police, the president himself, President Michel Martelly used the term army, as he is a former army person himself. He was trained in the Haiti military school. So he used the term army. He knew exactly what he meant so I do not want to undermine the current president of Haiti's term that he used. I think he was very clear about what he wants to do.
CHARLOTINBut to your point about what the army's going to do, a civil policing force can do the same thing. It's just that the Haitian army has been the most troubling institution in the Haitian history. So that is why -- not just the Diaspora but even many Haitians in Haiti are concerned about the army. It is not an institution that has boded well for Haitian politics in institution building.
NNAMDIAnd indeed, Ambassador Merten knows that history very well, having been there for a part of that time. But I have to take a short break. Before we do that, Ambassador Merten, because Manolia is a Haitian American, you might want to talk about what the U.S. government and the U.S. embassy sees as the special relationship of Haitian Americans to Haiti.
MERTENWell, I think Haitian Americans -- and Manolia probably knows this much better than I do -- have a lot to offer, I think, for Haiti. And I think they have been searching for a way to play a more effective role in Haiti, particularly since the earthquake, but also before the earthquake. And I think, you know, we are also looking for ways that we can partner with the Diaspora community to help them play a bigger more effective role in Haiti.
MERTENOne of the -- and not to get too much into inside-baseball issues here -- but I think one of the things that we had hoped for earlier in the year, there was a vote for changes to the constitution in Haiti. And that has got bogged down in some procedural problems. But one of the things that that would've permitted was this question of dual nationality, which is currently forbidden in Haiti. And we believe that was (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDIYou don't want to be sending all of our money and not be able to have any role in the political life of the country, is what the Diaspora community says.
MERTENRight. And we believe that this was a good provision which would allow -- which would give the Diaspora community the ability to play a more -- a fuller role in Haiti. And it was a provision that we very much support and we think would be good for Haiti. So I would encourage them to stand by, but we think that the Diaspora community has a lot to offer.
NNAMDIGot to take a break. Manolia Charlotin, thank you so much for joining us. Manolia is the editor and business manager of the Boston Haitian Reporter and co-founder of Haiti 2015. Got to take a short break. We are in the middle of our fall membership campaign. After we do that, we'll come back and continue our conversation with Kenneth Merten, U.S. ambassador to Haiti. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation with Kenneth Merten. He is the United States ambassador to Haiti. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. You can send e-mail to email@example.com. Send us a tweet @kojoshow, or you can simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. We mentioned, Mr. Ambassador, the return of Jean-Claude Duvalier, but there was also the return of Jean Bertrand-Aristide to Haiti this year, and that had -- was some cause for concern. Both returns were some cause for concern, but we have not heard a great deal about what Mr. Aristide has been doing in Haiti. Has he been politically active?
MERTENI think he has said that he wants to be active in education. I think he has a good deal he can contribute in that regard. To the best of my knowledge, he's been not playing a political role. You know, you're right. There was a good deal of concern about both returns that both would provide street protests or violence of one form or another. And I think it's a testament to the Haitian people and a testament to the fact that country has moved on from -- both from the Duvalier period and also from the period of the early 2000s.
MERTENAnd, you know, Haitians, I think, accept it as normal that they have several former presidents in the country and I think that's a healthy sign, and I think that's a good thing, and also think the Haitians have moved on and they've -- they're looking to the future and...
NNAMDIAnd President Martelly has met as I understand both with former President Aristide and former President Duvalier.
MERTENAnd former President Avril, and as I said, there are several of them who are there, and I think he's met with all of them or going to meet with all of them. And I think for reconciliation purposes, I think that's a very, very positive step.
NNAMDIOnto the telephones. Here is Bonnie, in Washington D.C. Bonnie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BONNIEHi. Thank you for this. I am involved with a group that is helping to build a vocational school in the Grand-Bois region in the mountains, and this project of love from the Haitian families that are involved in it, and they're literally building this school by hand, stone by stone, brick by brick. And I was wondering if the Ambassador could talk a little bit about resources that could be going into the building of vocational schools.
BONNIEI know that the President has said that this is a focus, that it's really important to help people who have not had education, and therefore not developed skills for trades learn literacy and learn to do work that they could support themselves with.
MERTENWell, Bonnie, I want to congratulate you for what you and your group are contributing down there. I mean, yes, indeed, education is a big priority in Haiti, and it's one of President Martelly's top priorities, and I think I would encourage your group to work with the Ministry of Justice down there to meet somebody and make sure that, you know, your vision is in line with what their needs in that particular part of the country are. Perhaps you've already done that. If so, that's terrific.
MERTENBut, you know, absolutely, education is a tremendous need, and the president has worked hard to start a process whereby everybody -- where they will have universal education which has not existed in Haiti, and I think that is something that's very much to be applauded.
NNAMDIRight now, by most accounts, the American political system here in Washington in particular is gridlocked. Washington has signaled it is unlikely to fund expansions in foreign aid. Can you give us a sense of what we're currently doing now in Haiti and whether there are things we can do to help Haiti without necessarily spending more money?
MERTENWell, we're gonna be focusing our efforts in four key areas, most of them through USAID, but some through other agencies as well. Number one is an area we've been active for a long time, public health. The public health situation, especially with Cholera, is dire in Haiti. So we're gonna continue to focus a lot of our efforts there. We're gonna focus our efforts on, as we discussed earlier, rule of law and justice. That doesn't mean just supporting the police, which is something we've supported for many years, but also supporting the better functioning of the justice system in Haiti so people can have confidence in judicial outcomes.
MERTENThirdly, we're gonna be focusing our efforts on agriculture. With 65 percent of the country -- of the people still living in the countryside making a living, albeit poor from agriculture, we're gonna be putting a number of programs in place to hopefully make that a more profitable undertaking for a lot of people. And finally, we're working on infrastructure projects which means, in this case largely housing and electricity, and these are the four priority areas that we have.
MERTENWe're gonna be targeting them to three key zones in the country. One is in the earthquake zone around Port au Prince, one is a little bit north in the area of St. Mark, and one is in the far north of the country near Cape Haitian.
NNAMDIHere -- go ahead.
MERTENOne of the key areas that we're investing in part of in -- in the electricity sector is an industrial park, and this is something I think has the potential of being transformational for Haiti. Because one of the things, if you look at Haiti, one thing that Haiti has not had in the last 50 years which other countries that have been more successful in the region have had, and that's investment. And, you know, we believe that having investment in Haiti which will happen at this industrial park in the north, it's a public-private partnership, U.S. Government of Haiti, Korean firm, that will create 20,000 jobs starting next March. We believe that's potentially transformative.
NNAMDIHere's Manuel in Washington D.C. Manuel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MANUELThank you. I have been to Haiti a couple times this year. I'm a tourism economist and sector planner, and I think parts of the country are really great, have great potential. So I have actually a two-part question for you. Do you think any part of the country is ready to go where you can build lodges, hotels, and start promoting to get people in to create the good jobs that tourism can create? And secondly, if there's say a business here in the U.S. that would like to investigate and try to set up something down there, where should that business start? So there you are, two questions.
MERTENOkay. Regarding tourism, I think there are parts, as you say, lots of the country is frankly unexplored -- unexploited from a tourism point of view. I would say the area that's closest to being ready if you will is the northern part of the country where you have -- already have a large installation by Royal Caribbean which brings hundreds of thousands of visitors to Haiti every year. I think they're the second biggest investor that's there.
MERTENThey have a fabulous facility, a place called Labadee already up there, and I think that could be replicated easily up in that northern part of the country. There are also some hotels up there, and I want to make a plug for the Citadel. That is one of the great wonders of the world. If nobody has seen it, it's worth a trip to Haiti just to see that. It's like nothing else in the Caribbean, frankly like nothing else in the world, and that is also up there in the north.
MERTENRegarding business, I mean, we -- one of the things that we at the Embassy do is work with Americans who are seeking to invest in Haiti, and, you know, if you were down there, or you want to contact us, I would encourage you to do so. You can get a hold of us through the State Department, through the Haiti advisor's office, or you can contact us at the U.S. Embassy. Go to our website, if you just want to Google U.S. Embassy Port au Prince, that will bring you to our website and you can send us an e-mail and get in touch with us that way. But that's one of our key goals is to work with Americans who are seeking to invest in Haiti and help them make that successful.
NNAMDIManuel, one remembers -- and Manuel, thank you for your call -- when Rawlings used to make all of the baseballs used in major league baseball in Haiti.
NNAMDIWhile we were there, we spoke with George Sassine, the head of the Haitian Association of Industrialists. Already Haitian textiles and garments enjoy preferential access to the American market. For example, many Jos A Bank's suits and shirts are manufactured in Port au Prince. Where can Haitian manufacturing go from here?
MERTENWell, I think Haitian manufacturing has nowhere to go but up, and as I mentioned a few minutes ago, this industrial park that we are partnering with others and building is a good example of that. We would hope that there are others who are going to build similar industrial parks elsewhere in the country. I believe there's one that is planned called the North Pole Park, which is planned for just north of Port au Prince.
MERTENThere are people who want to invest now, companies who want to source in Haiti now, but they simply -- there is simply no more space available. The people who are operating there simply don't have any more space available until people construct it.
NNAMDIHere is Jessica in Washington D.C. Jessica, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi, Jessica, are you there?
JESSICAYes, I'm here.
NNAMDIGo right ahead, Jessica.
JESSICAYes. Hi. I thank you so, so much for having this topic. I'm actually half-Haitian. My father is from Haiti, and I haven't maken -- haven't made that pilgrimage there yet, and I am actually going this winter, and I just wanted to know what can I do as an American citizen who is half Haitian and just trying to find my way, what can I do to help the country?
NNAMDIThe individual Haitian American, father is a Haitian, making what she describes as a pilgrimage to Haiti. How can I help, she says.
MERTENWell, I think there are a vast number of organizations doing terrific work in Haiti, and I probably shouldn't get in the business of plugging individuals ones here on the air, but you can find them I'm sure on the Internet. What I would really encourage you to do is to try an organization that is already well established in Haiti and contribute to them financially rather than trying to start something new or something that's very, very micro, very, very small.
MERTENThere are organizations that already have figured out how to operate in the environment in Haiti, and are doing terrific things, and I would encourage you to perhaps work with them by sending them a contribution.
NNAMDIJessica, thank you for your call, and good luck to you. Here is Chris in Ashburn, Va. Chris you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISYes. Mr. Ambassador, along those same lines, as you know, there's great suffering amongst the children, starvation, malnutrition. As you say, there are well-established organizations in Haiti. Like many other Americans, you know, I contribute to, you know, well-known organizations there doing that. I guess my question for you is, when you're out and about in Haiti, I mean, do you see that assistance as making a difference? Do you see progress?
MERTENYeah. I definitely see progress, and I definitely do see that assistance as making a difference. I think one of the things we all need to keep in mind is we're -- our goal I think obviously as we move past the initial earthquake humanitarian relief phase which we're sort of trying to put behind us now, is to do things that are sustainable so that Haitians and Haitian society can carry on this kind of work itself.
MERTENOur goal at the governmental level is to beef up the capacity of the Haitian government so that over time the government can take on and provide the services that it's currently not providing to people.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Chris. We asked earlier about legitimacy because after the election, the president proposed two candidates for prime minister, both rejected by the Parliament. In fact, it was not until this month that the country even confirmed the prime minister, and a new government cabinet. What do you see in terms of Haiti's political future? It sounds a lot like our own gridlock here in Washington. There seems to be significant gridlock in the Parliament in Haiti that obviously has to be resolved if the country is to make progress.
MERTENThat's absolutely right. I think, as I mentioned earlier, it's been a bit of a learning process. I mean, President Martelly's predecessor, Rene Preval had a majority in Parliament, and I think he had his own challenges there. So even when you have your own majority, you have difficulties. It's -- let's be frank, I mean, it's a relatively new democracy. I mean, democracy really only took hold after the departure of Jean Claude Duvalier in 1986, and it has had, I think we can all agree, it has had certain teething pains, and...
NNAMDIFluctuating fortunes, if you will.
MERTENAbsolutely. And, you know, our goal is to -- again, to accompany the Haitians through this period and I think, you know, this is a learning process for them. We've had our own ups and downs. Every country does. The important thing is that they stick at it -- stick to the democratic path and, you know, worth with supporting the rule of law, and that's what -- that's one of the things that we are there to help them with.
NNAMDIKenneth Merton is United States Ambassador to Haiti. Thank you so much for joining us.
MERTENIt's been a great pleasure to be with you again.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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