On 12th January 2010, the world was exposed to terrible images of the earthquake in Haiti.
A year on, President René Préval’s defended his government’s handling of the disaster in an interview with euronews.
Sophie Desjardin, euronews:
We saw the pictures of the collapsed presidential palace, and numerous ministries were destroyed. How do you lead a state when part of its infrastructure is in ruins?
President René Préval:
We had 300,000 dead, 300,000 injured. We had destruction equivalent to 120% of our GDP that we calculate to be around 8 billion dollars. In other words a huge humanitarian disaster, and also serious damage to infrastructure. Haiti lost many schools, many churches, many public buildings. All the ministries fell down, the palace, the parliament and we lost 30% of our civil service staff. It’s a big tragedy.
For a year there’s been criticism of your secrecy, some say absence. You were not seen or heard after the earthquake. Why such reserve?
When the earthquake struck, I was feeding my little one-year-old girl. I saved her. I went out into the street, I saw so many dead, the roads were strewn with bodies. I was at the hospital, it was hardly possible to walk. I heard people crying under the debris. And really that was all very emotional. It’s said that the biggest emotions are silent ones, I now understand that saying, I now understand why. I was speechless, and it was difficult for me to express my emotion at that time.
The NGOs on the ground deplore the lack of action or decisiveness at a political level. They say they are filling the vacuum left by the state. How has it come to that?
The day after the disaster, the international community rallied with extraordinary generosity. And then after six months there was the reconstruction phase. An interim commission for reconstruction was formed, and on 31st March the international community undertook promises worth 11 billion dollars. Today around two billion (worth) of projects are already submitted, and a billion and a half (dollars worth) have begun.
Haiti cannot (get by alone) given the current state of its potential, which was already weak – don’t forget that 60% of Haiti’s budget is backed by external aid – so we are waiting for promises to become reality, making tangible what’s been undertaken. I should add that we can’t do things again in the same way. No longer can we rebuild shanty towns. The moment has come to found Haiti once again: that means taking care of the provinces that were abandoned for so long.
The first round of the presidential election in December brought violence and plunged the country into political crisis. The commission of experts evaluating the process recommended that Jude Celestin be excluded from the 2nd round. He’s your chosen candidate, what’s your reaction?
René Préval, Haitian president:
I’ve not yet received this report. I’ve asked for it to be handed to me after 12th January, after we’ve come together to pray for our dead.
Sophie Desjardin, euronews :
The report’s conclusions have been all over the agency wires since yesterday. I’d just like to know your feeling about the elections. What will happen if Jude Celestin is ousted from the 2nd round?
The elections took place, we had some problems and we asked the OAS (Organization of American States) to come and verify what happened – so that each candidate could see in all transparency why they had votes taken away. And that will reassure them, so that each accepts the position assigned to him, so that we can continue the electoral process.
You’ve spent almost 10 years in power. Once dubbed the “Pearl of the Caribbean”, for decades Haiti has been struck by multiple disasters. Have you ever been disheartened?
Indeed this term in office has been very difficult yet despite that, we’ve still had some significant results. Inflation has come down from 13% to 5%. We’ve had growth where GDP had been negative before we arrrived, and we ended last year with growth of 3.5%. So (there’ve been) lots of problems but also some success.
One of Haiti’s problems is instability. I have been the only president to complete his mandate, the only president not to go into exile, the only president who stayed at home and got re-elected, and I hope to be able to hand over power to an elected president and an elected parliament, so that stability comes to Haiti.