Monday, January 18, 2010

A Working Hospital, Amy Goodman Interviews Randall Robinson

From: Sid Shniad
Sent: Sunday, January 17, 2010 12:14 PM
Subject: Breaking News Videos from

A working hospital in Haiti

This video of the hospital is incredible, inspiring and a reality
by which to measure what we are doing, and what can be done.
If there were a sparkle in the often horrific blizzard of discouraging
and repetitive media coverage, this is that gem.

* A special note: Amy Goodman and DN crew moved to Haiti and will
cast their superlative coverage from there for the duration, beginning
tomorrow. Today's program honors Dr. King, appropriately. - Ed


An Interview with Randall Robinson

"Well, it's an opportunity, I think, for the American people, at long last,
to learn the full truth about Haiti and about our relationship with Haiti.
They've been caused to know very little about it. And I think progress-
a new beginning starts with the truth."

Democracy Now: January 15, 2010

Randall Robinson, visiting law professor at Pennsylvania State University.
His most recent book is An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, from Revolution to the
Kidnapping of a President. He is the founder and past president of

Just before the program, I spoke with Randall Robinson. He's the founder and
past president of TransAfrica. He's currently a visiting law professor at
Pennsylvania State University, though he goes home to Saint Kitts tomorrow,
where he lives. His most recent book is An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, from
Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President. I began by just asking for his
thoughts about the crisis right now in Haiti.

RANDALL ROBINSON: It's important, in trying to find ways to help, to be
generous and to give, and to give generously. I would like to commend
President Obama for his strong and fast response of a commitment of $100
million. Operations are already underway. I think the world is being
incredibly generous, as I understand the pace of things to be at this point,
the pace of giving. But, of course, as many lives as can possibly be
salvaged need to be salvaged as quickly as possible, and I have every reason
to believe that the administration and others are doing the very best that
they can. As a private citizen, it's my responsibility, and our general
responsibility, to support every effort that's being made to save lives in

AMY GOODMAN: Word is now President Préval has said they've just
burned-buried 7,000 bodies in a mass grave, but the most important thing
right now is the search equipment, to go in and to save people who are just
hanging on, perhaps who have been crushed, who are hidden in the rubble. And
yet, that has yet to come. Some word is there's a lot of aid at the airport
not able to get through, and then other aid just hasn't come.

RANDALL ROBINSON: Well, that's not surprising. It's hard for things to
function when virtually all of the infrastructure has been destroyed. The
Haitian government is unable to function, I would imagine, because it's
under the same burden that all Haitians are under. The President's home has
been destroyed. It's hard to get from point A to point B, because the roads
are blocked, petrol is not available. Heavy equipment is not yet available.

But in the spirit of konbit, the Haitian Creole word for "collaboration
and cooperation," Haitians are doing everything they can. They are
resilient, industrious, courageous people. They're doing everything they can
to save the lives of their fellows, and they're doing it, thus far, with
very little, because it's taking a while for that kind of assistance to

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama has tapped President Clinton and former
President George W. Bush to coordinate the aid relief to Haiti. I was
wondering your thoughts on that.

RANDALL ROBINSON: Well, Amy, I'm, of course, troubled by that. I don't
think this is the time-neither the time nor the place to discuss those
things that have troubled me for a long time in the history of American
policy towards Haiti. Now the focus must be upon the rescue efforts that are
underway to save lives.

But I hope that this experience, this disaster, causes American media to
take a keener look at Haiti, at the Haitian people, at their wonderful
creativity, at their art, at their culture, and what they've had to bear. It
has been described to the American people as a problem of their own making.
Well, that's simply not the case. Haiti has been, of course, put upon by
outside powers for its whole post-slavery history, from 1804 up until the

Of course, President Bush was responsible for destroying Haitian democracy
in 2004, when he and American forces abducted President Aristide and his
wife, taking them off to Africa, and they are now in South Africa. President
Clinton has largely sponsored a program of economic development that
supports the idea of sweatshops. Haitians in Haiti today make 38 cents an
hour. They don't make a high enough wage to pay for their lunch and
transportation to and from work. But this is the kind of economic program
that President Clinton has supported. I think that is sad, that these two
should be joined in this kind of effort. It sends, I think, the wrong kind
of signal. But that is not what we should focus on now. We should focus on
saving lives.

But in the last analysis, I hope that American media will not just
continue to-the refrain of Haiti being the poorest country in the western
hemisphere, but will come to ask the question, why? What distinguishes Haiti
from the rest of the Caribbean? Why are the other countries, like the
country in which I live, Saint Kitts, middle-income and successful
countries, and Haiti is mired in economic despair? What happened? And who's
had a hand in it? If Haiti has been under a series of serial dictatorship,
who armed the dictators? There are other hands in Haiti's problem. Of course
Haiti is responsible for some of its own failures, but probably not
principally responsible. We need to know that. We need to be told the whole
story of these wonderful, resilient, courageous and industrious people. And
we have not been told that. I would hope that this would be an opportunity
for doing so.

AMY GOODMAN: In talking about President Bush, while most people may not
know the role the US played in the ouster of President Aristide February
29th, 2004, probably what would come to mind when there's any discussion of
relief efforts is Katrina.

RANDALL ROBINSON: Yes. The problem of what happened in February 2004
continues. We had democracy in Haiti, and that democracy was blighted by the
Bush administration. And now President Aristide's party is prohibited from
participating in the electoral process. His party is the largest party in
Haiti. And why should we be so afraid to let his party participate? If
Haitian people don't want them, they won't vote for them. That is the very
essence of democracy, that people get a chance to stand for election, and
the electorate gets a chance to make a decision. But we have obstructed that
process in Haiti. We have done that under the Clinton administration, under
the Bush administration, and that continues under the Obama administration.
And that is indeed unfortunate. I am imploring American media to examine
this in whole part, in ways that media have failed to do so up until now.

AMY GOODMAN: This history, the two crises, the natural catastrophe that is
the earthquake, that the Red Cross is now saying they believe perhaps up to
50,000 people have died-and we're not talking about, you know, just what has
happened in the past, but what is currently happening. Who was just quoted?
Lieutenant General Russel Honoré, the retired general who took charge of
relief efforts in New Orleans, said that aid should have arrived, that said
the US military should have arrived in earthquake-devastated Haiti
twenty-four hours earlier. Of course, as we know, people trapped under
rubble, every minute counts.

RANDALL ROBINSON: Well, I'm not in a position to comment on that. I simply
can't make an assessment of how fast or how slowly they arrived or how soon
they should have arrived. And so, I will withhold comment on that.

AMY GOODMAN: Does it make you nervous to hear about US soldiers on Haitian
soil? If you can share a little more of the history of the United States and
Haiti-or do you think this isn't the time to talk, for example, about 1915
to 1934, the first US Marine occupation, and then-

RANDALL ROBINSON: Well, I should think it would-I should think, Amy, it
would make Haitians nervous under these circumstances. Of course, I'm sure
that they are, understandably, quite happy to see assistance from any

But it was in 1915 that Woodrow Wilson, of course, with a force of
American Marines, invaded and occupied Haiti until 1934. They seized land,
redistributed it to American corporations, took control of the country, ran
the country, collected customs duties for that period of time, and ran the
country as if it were an American possession.

But this has marked the relationship since Toussaint L'Ouverture and an
army of ex-slaves overthrew French rule in 1804. The French exacted, of
course, reparations from the new free black republic of Haiti, bankrupting
the country. The Vatican didn't recognize Haiti until the 1860s. The Western
nations of the world, responding to a call for isolation and embargo from
Thomas Jefferson, imposed sanctions on Haiti that lasted until the
Emancipation Proclamation in the United States, of course followed in the
twentieth century by President Wilson's occupation and then by the
dictatorial blight of Duvaliers, Papa and son, and all of the other military
generals that, of course, were armed by the United States.

And so, Haiti's plight up until this point has been, in some significant
way, attributable to bad and painful American, French and Western policy
that some believe is caused or described, motivated by Toussaint
victory over Napoleon. The French have never forgiven the Haitian people for

AMY GOODMAN: Former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide said he's ready to
return to help rebuild his country in the wake of the devastating
earthquake. Why can't he just return?

RANDALL ROBINSON: Well, the-I'm not sure what the stated American policy
is, but of course the Bush administration policy was to forbid his return.
But any obstruction of his return by any power would constitute a violation
of international law, a violation of the UN Charter, a violation of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a violation of any number of major UN
human rights conventions. You cannot restrict people either from leaving
their country-citizens, either from leaving their country or returning to
their country. He has every right to return home, should he want to. And one
would hope that no administration, the American administration nor any
other, would stand in the way of his passage home.

AMY GOODMAN: A few nights ago, Naomi Klein was in New York, author of The
Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, and she quoted a Heritage
Foundation press release that came out very soon after the earthquake,
talking about this being an opportunity. That is the question, whether it is
an opportunity, she said, of the corporate vultures hovering over Haiti,
waiting to descend and restructure Haiti, or an opportunity for progressive
Haitians to rebuild their own country, to rebuild Haiti. What are your
thoughts about this?

RANDALL ROBINSON: Well, it's an opportunity, I think, for the American
people to, at long last, learn the full truth about Haiti and about our
relationship with Haiti. They've known-they've been caused to know very
little about it. And I think progress-a new beginning starts with the truth.
That is a truth that has been suppressed for all of these many years. The
American people know almost nothing about what happened in 2004, about the
abduction of President Aristide, about the destruction of Haiti's democracy
as a result of the efforts of both the United States and the French
government. We need to know that.

And in the last analysis, Haitians have at their disposal a vigorous,
creative, industrious and successful community in the United States, in
France, in Canada. The Haitian diaspora is very much engaged with Haiti.
They need to be given an opportunity to help Haiti rebuild itself.

We need to go away from what we've been doing in support, a sort of an
unconditional support, for wealthy Haitians that are running sweatshops in
the country, that pay people appallingly low wages. That is not the way to
any bright future for Haiti. And that is the-of course, the idea that former
President Clinton has been advancing for Haiti. I think it is sad. It can't
work. It won't work. It will brew a further resentment of the United States.

And I think that the only way we can move ahead constructively with Haiti
is to begin by telling the full story of our relationship with Haiti since
1804, what happened in the nineteenth century and what has happened in the
twentieth century, so that Americans will understand at long last that
misery is largely not of its own making. They will learn of a Haitian people
who are quite different from those who have been described to them. And I
think it is at that point we can make the beginning that we need to make and
that is rooted in a policy that is constructive and sensitive and caring and
productive for the United States, as well as for the Haitian people.

AMY GOODMAN: Randall Robinson, founder and past president of TransAfrica. He
fasted almost until death years ago under the Clinton administration to try
to get President Clinton to close Guantanamo. In that case, it was to close
Guantanamo so that Haitian refugees who were trying to escape the coup in
Haiti were able to come into the United States. Randall Robinson's latest
book is called An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, from Revolution to the Kidnapping
of a President.

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