African, Caribbean Nations Extend Support To Haiti

Several countries in the Caribbean and African have offered to contribute to the international aid, recovery and rebuilding efforts in Haiti. Guest host Lynn Neary discusses the challenges facing these efforts with Nicole Lee, president of the TransAfrica Forum, a group dedicated to advancing economic and political progress among nations in the African Diaspora; and with Ambassador Albert Ramdin, assistant secretary general of the Organization of American States.

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LYNN NEARY, host:

And we turn now to Haiti, the story that's been dominating the headlines in the last week, the devastating earthquake there. A strong aftershock measuring 6.1 struck Haiti this morning, terrified residents, fled already unstable buildings, and poured onto the streets once again, this as a massive international aid effort is struggling to get water, food and medical supplies to the people who need it most.

It's estimated that some 200,000 people were killed in last week's massive quake, another 250,000 injured, and one and a half million people left homeless.

Some countries from Africa and the Caribbean have joined the international relief effort. To discuss what these nations can do to help, we are joined by Nicole Lee, president of TransAfrica Forum, an organization that advocates for global justice for nations of the African diaspora. Also joining us is Ambassador Albert Ramdin. He is the assistant secretary general of the Organization of American States. And thanks to both of you for joining us.

Ms.�NICOLE LEE (TransAfrica Forum): Good morning.

Ambassador ALBERT RAMDIN (Organization of American States): Thank you.

NEARY: Let me start with you, Nicole. Haiti shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, and historically there has been a friction between the poorer Haitians, the relatively prosperous Dominicans, but it seems that the Dominican Republic is stepping up to the plate in this particular case. What are they doing? What is the Dominican Republic doing?

Ms.�LEE: Well, it's interesting because the Dominican Republic was one of the first nations to pledge dollars, to pledge cash for the relief effort, and also the Dominican Republic president was one of the first on the ground to actually see what was actually happening in Port-au-Prince. And that is important because the nations have had such a contentious relationship.

But we also have to be clear, too, that one of the other things the Dominican Republic did almost immediately is really lock down their already very militarized border to ensure that Haitians would not be able to cross it.

Now, one of the other things that's pretty interesting that we're hearing is that not only is the border even more militarized, but those who they allowed to bring in workers, major corporations in the Dominican Republic have been bringing in workers from Haiti for quite a long time, they have even been asked to stop bringing in workers across the border, to really use the quote-unquote "workforce" that is already there. And there's a lot of human rights implications both to the allowance of this that the corporations have actually been able to be doing this for such a long time, but also, there is certainly human rights implications in having the border so deeply, deeply militarized.

NEARY: Ambassador, what about other countries of the Caribbean? Are they offering aid to Haiti at all?

Amb. RAMDIN: All the countries in the Caribbean have committed themselves to provide aid in different ways, most of them in cash, which is possibly the best way to do it at this time. But many of them on the short term have also promised experts, engineers, helping with restoration of electricity and basic utilities. Those things are important.

And there are teams, medical teams and security teams, of some Caribbean countries on the ground in Haiti right now, helping with the rescue efforts. I think their impact will be two-fold. One is the political one, whereby Caribbean countries can be an advocate, a trusted advocate for the Republic of Haiti as Haiti is part of their Caribbean community.

Secondly, I think given the proximity, they may be able to take up some Haitians to live in their countries, and I hope that will happen. It is both a political decision as well as a decision for the communities to accept that. But that is an option because we will see several migration patterns...

NEARY: And that's going to be coming pretty soon, I think, this issue of refugees, whether they like it or not, I think, or whether even we like it on our shores or not. There's going to be probably an outpouring, I would think.

Ms.�LEE: Absolutely. I mean, I think that the United States was pretty proactive, at least in this immediate disaster, with granting Haitians temporary protected status, although it's a temporary-temporary protected status. It's almost unprecedented for there to be an expiration date on TPS. Many countries have had TPS in our country for years after a natural disaster.

But I think that the situation will come to a head in the Caribbean as well. We were just speaking before this about the fact of the matter is the governments may be very willing to bring in people from Haiti, to allow Haitians to stay in their country. But we may see a disinterest, if you will, in the communities that would be taking in the Haitian immigrants in all different countries in the Caribbean.

And so there may need to be a massive education campaign around the needs that Haiti has right now and how it really benefits the entire Caribbean to ensure that Haitians have refuge.

NEARY: And I want to get to Africa as well, what's going on there, if you could just fill us in.

Ms.�LEE: No, sure. I think that it's very pleasing to see that many African nations have seen it as a part of their duty to help Haiti at this time.

I think many people don't realize, though, that Haiti has had a very good relationship with many African countries for quite a long time, but when you look at what Nigeria's doing, Lagos' state, for example, has pledged $1 million. Liberia, which is a country that's coming out of its own economic problems, has pledged $50,000. And also the prayers. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf certainly talked about the prayers of all Liberians being with Haitians.

South Africa, which is obviously a country that's probably best-positioned in the continent to really provide, has sent search and rescue teams and also has pledged cash. So there's a lot of countries, Rwanda being another one, that are very interested in ensuring that not only do they give to Haiti but that they have this sort of symbolic gesture as well.

NEARY: And just quickly, Ambassador, just to close this out, all of these countries we're talking about have their own political and economic situations they're dealing with. How much can they really do?

Amb. RAMDIN: Well, I think this is a very important point in terms of how long and how much they can do, because many countries, in fact all the countries in the world, are still dealing with the financial crisis and the impact of it, especially the smaller countries.

So what we will see is a fading-out of support at some point in time, and I would hope that we would not get to that situation where Haiti will be forgotten.

Once the headlines are out of the media, we tend to forget the country in the aftermath of devastation. We at the OAS will keep Haiti very high on the agenda, on the political agenda, and remind member states, especially in the Americas, and especially in the Caribbean, that there is a responsibility for a long while towards the people and the government of Haiti.

NEARY: Thanks so much. Ambassador Albert Ramdin is the assistant secretary general of the Organization of American States. Nicole Lee is the president of TransAfrica Forum, an organization that advocates for global justice for nations of the African diaspora. They were both kind enough to join us here in our Washington, D.C. studios, and I thank you both.

Ms.�LEE: Thank you.

Amb. RAMDIN: Thank you.

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