National Press Club

Haitian Ambassador Advocates Rebuilding a "Streamlined" City

February 12, 2010 | By Lorna Aldrich | Lorna2@verizon.net

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Port-au-Prince, the devastated capital of Haiti, cannot be rebuilt as it was; it must be streamlined, Haitian Ambassador Raymond Alcide Joseph , said Feb. 11 at a Speakers Committee press conference.

“Nature has done what we could not do as politicians,” he said of the city built for 150,000 but inhabited by 2 million. He descrbed the devastated capital as a “monstrosity.”

Noting that 1 million people have left the capital, he advocated building modern cities elsewhere in the country, where large tents will be erected now.

Contrasting the dominant position of the capital in the past with what he called “the Republic of Port-au-Prince," there must be a “Republic of Haiti” he said.

Reconstruction will not begin until after a late March U.N. conference in New York, he said.

“This time we will have to sit down with everybody and discuss the future of Haiti,” he said.

Joseph added that the conference will be attended by donors "who are going to pledge the billions of dollars that will be needed,” such as the United States, France, Canada, Spain, Brazil, and Argentina. Joseph said he was also lobbying for representation of “Joe Common,” meaning some representation of the people, as well.

For the present, however, he said, "We are still in the recovery stage, picking up bodies, an occasional live one.” Fortunately, “this time Haitians seem to be working together to do the right thing,” he said.

Joseph said the U.S. ambassador to Haiti said he had not observed corruption in the recovery effort. Joseph said the 10,000-member Haitian National Police received kudos from the international press for providing security even though they had not yet been paid.

The biggest logistical problem in the recovery, he said, is the size of the main airport. He suggested expanding airports elsewhere, particularly since people have left the capital and aid needs to be dispersed.

A longer lasting challenge will be mental recovery, Joseph said. He said he hopes that Haitian medical professionals now in Canada, the United States and France will return and assist in the emotional recovery.

He said that 83 percent of Haitian professionals live abroad. Joseph said he hopes recent legislation amending the Haitian constitution to permit dual citizenship would assist programs to induce these professionals to return. Expatriates send $1.6 billion per year back to Haiti, equivalent to one-fourth of the Haitian gross domestic product, he said.

A former journalist with the Wall Street Journal , Joseph established a newspaper in New York and a radio station that broadcast from New York during the Duvalier regime for which he was condemned to death in absentia. He complimented his fellow journalists by terming coverage of the earthquake “a very good job.” When asked the difference between being a journalist and a diplomat, he said that as a journalist he tried to “pull peoples’ secrets out,” but that as a diplomat he tries to “suppress them.”