Port-au-Prince, Haiti–(ENEWSPF)–January 16, 2010.
QUESTION: What were your first thoughts as you flew over today and (inaudible)?
SECRETARY CLINTON: So many things went through my mind. Obviously, I have a lot of memories going back many years. And for the last year as Secretary of State, we’ve been working so closely with the Haitian Government and had a very positive agenda for the changes that we were going to help them make.
It’s just tragic. I mean, the fact that the Haitians can’t seem to get a break. Last year, hurricanes; this year, earthquake. It is something that you just find hard to fathom. But at the same time, these are resilient, strong people, and they deserve our help.
QUESTION: You and the former president had your honeymoon down here.
SECRETARY CLINTON: We did. We did.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) great affinity for this place. And obviously, a lot of discussion about this being the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Why is Haiti so poor?
SECRETARY CLINTON: It’s been a series of reasons, Sanjay. I mean, it was a colony. It was largely populated by slaves. It was never recognized – the United States didn’t recognize it when it won its independence. Other countries didn’t help it. We even occupied it for a period of time in the 20th century. They had a series of bad leaders who didn’t really help the people. It’s just an unfortunate confluence of events. And yet, we know that Haitian Americans are some of the most successful people we have in many of our communities from Florida to New York. So the ingredients are all there, and what I want to see is a good partnership with the Haitian Government and the international community to help the people of Haiti now build bigger, better into the future.
QUESTION: We’re talking a lot about the humanitarian mission. Is a natural disaster in Haiti the same as a natural disaster in another country, in terms of the U.S. response?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think because it’s a neighbor, we feel a real need. But we respond. We’ve responded in the past in our own hemisphere and obviously around the world. The tsunami in 2004 is the last great disaster that we had. But I think, too, that there’s a special connection. There are family connections and personal experiences. I can’t tell you how many Haitian Americans have called and emailed – doctors and nurses and teachers and business leaders who have family here, who come back here all the time. The Catholic Church is very important here, and many other faith organizations do mission work here. So it’s really remarkable how many people feel a personal connection to Haiti in our country.
QUESTION: How long do you think this is going to take, and what is – how do you measure success?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think today, we measure it day by day. How many pallets of food, how many bottles of water, how many people rescued. And we’re measuring it in that kind of very personal terms. But we’re going to start looking at, are we getting the electricity up and going? Are we getting the roads unclogged? Are we getting some shelter for people? And then, what are we doing to help Haiti reconstruct, and how can we reconstruct it so that it’s stronger and more functional going forward?
QUESTION: Is that the goal, to make it even better than before the earthquake?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, in talking with President Preval, we do have an opportunity now with the unfortunate destruction that exists, to take the lead of the Haitian Government, to try to bring in the international community so that we’re not just taking a building that’s half demolished and trying to patch it together but thinking about what should this whole street look like, what should this neighborhood look like? And that, of course, is what the Haitians are asking the international community to help them do.
QUESTION: Haiti could become better as a result of this?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think so. I really believe that.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) you sort of think about the future here, issues like orphanages, for example —
SECRETARY CLINTON: Like what?
QUESTION: Orphanages —
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.
QUESTION: — American citizens are going to adopt —
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right.
QUESTION: It’s been difficult in the past. Would that be something that you (inaudible)?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, in fact, there are several hundred children who’ve gone through the process who were waiting final clearance to actually be adopted and transported to the United States. That’s something that I’ve worked on for many years, and I’m personally directing that we do everything we can to try to find and identify those children who are already adoptable – they have parents waiting for them, a new family in our country – and to try to expedite all the paperwork that has to be done to get them to their new homes.
QUESTION: One thing – I’ve been here for a few days, as you may know, and I was in a situation last night where it was very confusing. Information was hard to come by. It was hard to know who was saying what, exactly. Have you been confused as an official (inaudible).
SECRETARY CLINTON: It’s been difficult because, with the communications system down, even members of the Haitian Government can’t find each other; they can’t talk to each other. The communications between our Embassy and the UN, we have to do it face-to-face. And understandably, that takes a lot of time. And the telecom system is coming back up, but it’s not where it needs to be. But I know there’s been confusion. There’s been some confusion on the streets. There’s been some confusion among the organizations here. You just can’t snap your fingers and fix those, but every day that goes by, we are making progress. And I expect to see that continue.
QUESTION: All the people that are displaced, essentially, now – they’ve lost their homes or they’re too fearful to go to their homes because of concern about aftershocks – during this rebuilding process, what happens to them?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, there have to be accommodations provided. Usually, it’s tents or some kind of temporary housing. I’ve seen that in many other settings where people have been displaced. I remember years ago, going down to South Florida after Hurricane Andrew, and people were living in tent cities until homes could be repaired or rebuilt. But that’s one of the highest priorities, how do we get people off the streets into some place that, whatever belongings they still have, they can begin to call a home.
QUESTION: Might we see things like the trailers that we saw after Katrina?
SECRETARY CLINTON: We don’t know. We have to work with the international community and the UN. Everybody has a role to play in this.
QUESTION: Any idea of a timetable when (inaudible) sort of start to think about this?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we’re going to start thinking about it right away. I mean, we really have to operate on three tracks. I mean, the most immediate, which is please, save as many lives as we can still save. Get that food and water out there. Get those doctors connected up with those patients. But then we also have to get the slightly more longer-term by next week – where are people going to stay, and how do we begin to operationalize that. Then we have to look at the big items like, how do we get the electricity back on, how do we get the port repaired, how do we get the fuel in so that people can begin to be transported, how do we get the roads open? I mean, every day that goes by, we have a long list that we start the morning with, we check them off and then we add more. So it’s just an ongoing process.
QUESTION: You watched – you mentioned that piece about the 50-day-old baby —
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.
QUESTION: When you see a piece like that, you’re a mom – also, given the position that you’re in, what goes through your mind (inaudible)?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, there but for the grace of God go any of us. And in a moment of such grave need, I think everybody feels that common humanity. I mean, you’re a dad; I’m a mom. You know how you’d feel if your child was injured and your wife had been killed, the mother of your children, and how desperate you’d be, and how you’d go anywhere to anybody, to try to get help. So I think that we can talk about the plans we have to make and how much it’s going to cost and who’s going to do what, but the most elemental response that I have is that these are people in need. And one of the great things about our country is how we respond to that need. We do it through our government, but more significantly, we do it through our personal efforts as well.
QUESTION: Thank you so much.