Legacy of US-Haitian Relations Dating Back to 1804


Danny Glover is an acclaimed actor, director, producer and longtime friend of Haiti. His directorial debut, Toussaint, focused on the life of François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture, a former slave who became one of the fathers of Haiti’s independence from France in 1804.

 

JUAN GONZALEZ: We’re joined here in New York by the acclaimed actor, director, producer and activist Danny Glover. He’s chairman of the board of TransAfrica Forum and executive producer of a new documentary, Soundtrack for a Revolution, that opens Friday.

 

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Danny.

 

DANNY GLOVER: Thank you very much.

 

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, you’ve been long involved with the Haitian people and solidarity movements with Haiti. You spoke yesterday at a Martin Luther King event here in Brooklyn. What’s the message that you would like to bring at this point to how we are doing, the United States, with this aid to Haiti?

 

DANNY GLOVER: Well, I mean, I was on—not only did I speak in Brooklyn last night on Martin Luther King Day, but also I was on a Larry King Live fundraiser. And there was so much energy placed upon raising money, simply raising money, with not the money—the context of where the money goes and what happens to the money and the real issues that we face.

 

Now, we’ve just heard on this just news feed about the militarization that’s happening in Haiti. Well, there’s a legacy of that, starting from certainly the blockade against Haiti after its independence in 1804, then with the militarization and occupation of Haiti from 1914 to 1935. It’s a continuation of US interference in Haiti. Interestingly enough, there’s troops on the ground now in Haiti. At the time of the coup, just before the coup, Ron Dellums, and among others, who were trying to get US troops to interfere so that those troops wouldn’t overthrow the democratically elected government of President Aristide.

 

So we see troops and this—and militarization. And I think we have to be very concerned about that. On one hand, we’re given this one face, a face that we see right now, the face of generosity of the American public. And that’s all good. But also, we see the other side of this. Who gets in? Nobody talks about the Cubans, Venezuelans and the others who provided aid, who were right on the spot after the earthquake.

 

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, we reported last week that there were 400 Cuban doctors and medical personnel who were in Haiti already—

 

DANNY GLOVER: Already.

 

JUAN GONZALEZ: —previously, and then immediately set up two field hospitals and, I think within the first day, treated about 800 people.

 

DANNY GLOVER: And the Cubans have trained 400 Haitian doctors, as well, who were part of this. So you had a cadre of 800 doctors there who were ready to serve. I mean, one of the most—CNN International reported one of the most effective clinics is run by Cuban doctors. They were seeing more than a thousand patients a day.

 

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, you have been in touch with some folks in Haiti, you were telling me before in the break.

 

DANNY GLOVER: Well, we have—the particular incident. I got a call from Nicole Lee at about 9:00 Saturday morning, and she had gotten an urgent message from Jacmel. Now, Jacmel is right between—twenty-five miles from Port-au-Prince. And she had gotten an urgent message and the need that—no supplies were getting to Jacmel.

 

I immediately got on the phone with Congresswoman Barbara Lee, and I didn’t know she was in—I was in New York—I didn’t know she was on the West Coast, at 6:00 in the morning, and told her about the incident, told her to get in touch with Nicole Lee, our director, for more information. She was able to call Donald Payne. He was able to call the Southern—

 

JUAN GONZALEZ: Donald Payne, the congressman?

 

DANNY GLOVER: Donald Payne, the congressman. She was able to call—Congressman Payne, he was able to call the Southern Command, who had control of the airspace, and they were able to—they got the [inaudible] number—they were able to get goods and services—get services to Jacmel at the time.

 

So, you can see—you can see the kind of anxiety that the Haitian people must be going through now. You know, all this publicity that’s going on outside of the country itself, and there’s still this backlog in terms of getting those services—getting critical services to the people of Haiti.

 

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, I saw an interview last night that the US ambassador to Haiti had on the Lehrer NewsHour, where he was responding to some of this criticism that the military is basically hogging the airfield there. And he claimed—he refuted that. He said they are attempting now to have all military flights to in at night to allow civilian flights to come in with supplies and other material during the daytime. But your sense of, from what you’re hearing, of this impact that basically the United States is now in control of the main airport?

 

DANNY GLOVER: Absolutely. Well, the United States is in control of the main airport. The United States sees Haiti as part of their sphere of influence. We know about the Monroe Doctrine and that legacy of that. And so, I think it’s a major concern, because how we look at what happens in the immediacy of this tragedy, how people—lives are saved, and how things—how infrastructure is retained or maintained or restarted, is a key indication of what the relationship is going to be later. And what the relationship is going to be later, as we know that the Heritage Foundation has said this is an opportunity for us to reshape Haiti in the way that we want to see Haiti.

 

So I think it’s important for us to—for all progressives to talk about what is happening on the ground right now. And immediacy of saving those lives, that’s urgent. Children’s, women’s, men’s—all lives. And because we understand there’s been almost 200,000 people who have died. But at the same time, we have to be concerned what is happening and what structures are placed now in defining the future of Haiti. There has to be—we have to revitalize a public sector in Haiti. That public sector was active at the time of Aristide’s election. It’s been active and gaining ground now. There’s work that’s been going on, the Haiti Support Project and other projects. We have to say—see where this money, resources are going, where it’s going to those effective groups, where it’s going to grassroots organizations, and make sure they’re getting it to the people.

 

JUAN GONZALEZ: We’re talking with Danny Glover, actor and activist, chair of the TransAfrica Forum. We are going to come back in a minute and continue the conversation and hopefully be able to reach Amy Goodman and Sharif Abdel Kouddous, who are in Haiti and have been there for several days. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

 

[break]

 

JUAN GONZALEZ: We’re here with Danny Glover, actor and activist. But we have been able to reach Amy Goodman in Haiti in Port-au-Prince, and she joins us now by telephone.

 

Welcome, Amy.

 

AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to be with you both, with you, Juan, with you, Dan. I’m also here with Sharif Abdel Kouddous.

 

Democracy Now! made it down to Haiti this weekend. And it has been—well, let’s use the Creole word. It’s tè tranble, which means the earth trembles. That’s Creole for “earthquake.” Or in French, tremblement de terre, right? The trembling of the earth. Haiti is shaken to the core. It is devastated, as if a bomb, many bombs, exploded throughout Port-au-Prince. And it goes beyond, where help has not yet arrived at all, though I don’t want to make it sound like there is much help in Port-au-Prince at this point.

 

The smell of death hangs in the air everywhere. People who are [inaudible] masks, or they just use bandanas or kerchiefs. You know when you’re passing a house that has dead bodies in it. We just were racing along the road to try to get a connection to be able to speak with you. Signs in English, because that’s what people think aid workers will respond to, say along one building, “Dead bodies inside." Along another—and we’re in the capital of Haiti, we’re in Port-au-Prince, where, if there are any services, most of the service are—another sign said, "We need help. We need water. We need food.” And this is the situation all over Haiti.

 

I was just speaking with a doctor, doctors who came in from Denver Children’s Hospital and local hospitals in Colorado to somehow give relief. And he said when they came into the airport, they were shocked by the massive tents. Those tents contained aid, and also he said they were filled with soldiers, with doctors, with aid workers. And he said he could only think, why here? Why at the airport? Why not going out through Haiti?

 

And what we did yesterday is what few journalists have done: we left Port-au-Prince, and we went along the coast to Carrefour and to Léogâne. This is the epicenter. This is where the United Nations issued its statement, saying they acknowledge 90 percent of the buildings were down, that thousands of people were dead. But, they said, unless they could ensure security, they would not be providing aid there. Now, this is tremendously frightening.

 

As we passed through the epicenter, a young man hailed down our car, and he said, “Please, we see some helicopters overhead, but they don’t stop here. We have no aid. We have no food.”

 

And then moving into Léogâne, this old city of dignity, the city where the church is the church where Jean-Jacques Dessalines was married, that’s about to celebrate its 500th anniversary, a grief-stricken priest outside said, “Please help us.” It is in shambles. The steeple is buried in the rocks below. And the most frightening is when you see people digging with their bare hands or with mallets or with hammers, trying to get their loved ones out of the building. That is the image of Léogâne.

 

We talked to a young man who was there digging through cement. Imagine your porch, and you take your bare hands or a mallet. And he is digging. He’s covered in dust, in cement dust. And we asked him, “What are you digging for?” And he said, “My grandfather.” He said, “My grandfather.” We asked how he knew he was there, because he had made a circle, and he was digging within this circle. But, of course, while he was standing at our level, this was the second floor, not the first. And he said that his grandfather had gone into the kitchen to get his grandmother something to eat, and that’s when the earthquake struck, the tè tranble, he said. And that’s why he knew just where his grandfather was. And he had been digging for hours, in fact had just dug out his neighbor, a woman who was twenty-five years old, formed that same circle. And she was on the couch where she had rested after preparing dinner. And they had just brought her body out. The smell was overwhelming.

 

People everywhere, pulling at us. “Come to my house.” “No, to mine, to mine.” We went to a house. Again, remember, it’s as if we are looking at a bomb-scape. And we don’t even know where one house ends and another begins. And a group of young and old men and boys are standing at this house, and they show us to climb in the rubble. And we get up. And they have climbed, again made that circle, and they had smashed through it with mallets, with their hands, with hammers. And we saw the bassinet. They had just pulled out a one-year-old boy and buried him in the reeds, in the reeds next to the girl of twenty-five, some other young people, and where the young man’s grandfather would hopefully be, if he could find his body and bury him with dignity.

 

JUAN GONZALEZ: Amy—

 

AMY GOODMAN: These are the scenes of Haiti.

 

JUAN GONZALEZ: Amy, I’d like to ask you, it’s been now almost exactly a week since the quake. What about the living? There are about a hundred—there’s 130,000 people in Léogâne. Are they getting water? Are they getting any kind of assistance to be able to stay alive?

 

AMY GOODMAN: They are getting almost no help. We went from one family to another, and they said, continually, their lives are in the hands of God. The UN itself made the statement about security. And we wanted to know what was it they were referring to. We walk freely from one place to another. The people desperate, but certainly peaceful.

 

You know, Juan, what it looks like, where people are, they have formed—and it’s remarkable. As Sister Mary Finnick said to us, where—in Port-au-Prince at a place called Matthew 25, it was a hospitality house that has now become a house of hospitality for over a thousand people on the soccer field next door. There are camps, refugee camps, all over. In Léogâne, some are smaller, some are larger. We would look behind cars, and people had erected with sheets and with anything that could protect them from the sun. You would look inside, and there would be many women, children, men laying on sheets on the ground—if they were lucky, they had been able to drag out mattresses—on chairs, on car seats. And they’re there, wherever you go. And in the main plaza, you have more than a thousand people who are gathered. And all they ask for, they ask for food, they ask for water. They ask for search and rescue equipment, although, of course, at this point it is hard to imagine that people could survive.

 

But, you know, Juan, sometimes they can. As we went through the airport on Sunday, a woman was being brought in—people are brought in on doors, carried in by sheets. You’ll see sometimes, if you’re lucky, the—a woman was being put on a plane to Miami, and we asked where had she come from. And they said, from the Caribe market, you know, a shopping place in Port-au-Prince. She had just been pulled out on Saturday morning. That’s Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. She was surrounded by her sisters, and she was being put on a plane. She is one of the lucky ones.

 

The stories of people hearing the moaning, day after day—their babies, their mothers, their fathers, their grandparents. They are simply asking for the support of a civilized world. And to be told that the UN is concerned about security before they’ll give aid, this is what is of grave concern to people.

 

You know, it’s interesting. I asked the mayor of Léogâne—I asked the mayor what he would think—what he thought first of President Obama calling on President Bush and President Clinton, the three of them standing side by side, saying they wanted to show the face of unity, past and present presidents, that they were together in this effort to help save Haiti. I asked Mayor Santos of Léogâne, what would he think of President Aristide returning home? He has spoken, you know, from South Africa. He has spoken and said he wants to come back. The Aristide Foundation is providing medical care and working with doctors here in Haiti, but the First Family from 2004 wants to return. What did he think of President Aristide standing, like Bush, Clinton and Obama did, with President Préval in a face of unity, in bringing hope to the people? And even he, who would not necessarily have supported Aristide in the past, Mayor Santos, said it would be a sign of hope to have that unified front, that people are looking for some help.

 

And when I said, you know, President Obama, talking about how he would save Haiti, I think what we have witnessed here—for example, at Matthew 25 in Delmas in Port-au-Prince—that’s a neighborhood. And Matthew 25, this hospitality house, is actually taking off on the adage Matthew 25: “Whatsoever you do unto the least of my brothers and sisters, you do unto me.” The people who are working around the clock here, what they have shown us, in talking with the Haitians here, is not—I think we’re talking about anarchy of the government, but incredible communal strength of the community. These refugee camps, these smaller and larger camps that number in the thousands, they are organized communities. At night they’ll put rocks across the street. If you didn’t know these communities, you’d say, “What’s going on here? Right? Are these, you know, anarchists? Are they violent? Are they menacing?” They are protecting their communities and those within. And they don’t want those from outside to come in, especially at night. It’s remarkably organized at the local level, among neighborhoods, people helping each other.

 

That’s what Sister Mary Finnick talked about. She said, when aid workers, when all the big journalists finally get here, they’ll be talking about the riots, because people are so desperate after a week. What do you think will happen if you bring out a pallet and there are so many more people than the food that’s being provided? She said, “But what’s not told is, in these first days, when the people showed all of their remarkable Haitian courage, courage and strength, and helped each other through these desperate times.” Sharif and I—

 

JUAN GONZALEZ: Amy—

 

AMY GOODMAN: Yes.

 

JUAN GONZALEZ: Amy, the issue that you raised about people who are needing medical care, unfortunately, the US government is not providing very many visas for people to leave for medical care in the United States. The most badly hurt people, who obviously are not going to be able to get the kind of medical care they need in the—in Haiti right now. Possibly even the Dominican Republic is heavily taxed right now as a result of taking in many injured. But I’d like to ask, Danny, your reaction, what you’re hearing from Amy’s report?

 

DANNY GLOVER: Well, I’m not surprised. I’m certainly dismayed. I’ve been a Goodwill Ambassador for the UNICEF and the UNICEF family for more than twelve years. And I think it’s disgusting, in the way in which the United Nations has approached this. I think they’ve allowed this country to dictate the playing field and what’s happening in Haiti—this country, the United States.

 

And I think that the selection of both Clinton and both of Bush is disappointing. Both of them had some hand in the current democratization of Haiti, had some hand in the kind of neoliberal policies that have governed the development of Haiti over the last two decades. Some hand, they’ve both had in that. So I’m dismayed at this. And why not have called in President Carter, someone who is familiar with the ideals around humanitarian help?

 

So I think that, that like I said before, what is so clear is that what we see now, in some sense, is a picture not only of the short-term response to what has happened in Haiti, but perhaps what we’ll see in terms of the long-range response. And that’s what we have to be—as citizens, we have to be concerned about.

 

We have to understand that this resiliency, this resiliency and power and this strength that the Haitian people have garnished up themselves, is nothing that’s mystique. It doesn’t come out of some place else. It comes from the courage that they’ve exhibited over the last 500 years, or the 200 years since their independence.

 

We have to find a way in which we find a way here, as progressives and people of consciousness, to support Haitian people, to support them developing. They’ve already set aside and began to develop their systems of protection and honoring their past and honoring themselves. They’ve already set aside that. Now it’s our role to play as citizens here and demand accountability, demand that we find—we demand that we have to find out where that money is going, why those supplies have not gotten to those people in the places like Léogâne, Jacmel and every other place, and why they haven’t gotten it there. It’s a week after.

 

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Danny Glover, actor and activist, I want to thank you for being with us…

 

 

 

Danny Glover is actor, director, producer, and activist. He is chairman of the board of TransAfrica Forum and executive producer of a new documentary Soundtrack for a Revolution.

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