QUESTION: Well, the nation of Haiti lies in ruins this morning after a catastrophic earthquake devastated the region. Buildings and homes have collapsed, and some estimates say the death toll could reach up to half a million people. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been closely involved with long-term development efforts in the region, and she joins us now with the very latest. Good morning to you, Secretary.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Good morning, everyone.
QUESTION: I know that you were overseas on a trip in Hawaii, going on to New Zealand and Australia. And obviously, this devastation brought you back home. The main thing that so many people are wondering today is what about the security and safety of this nation right now in Haiti.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Gretchen, Haiti has been devastated by this earthquake. Of course, Haiti’s got a tremendous set of problems under any circumstances, but there was a lot of hope that they were beginning to pull out of that. Businesses were going back into Haiti. There was a recovery from the four hurricanes that they had the year before. And then along comes this calamity.
But I’m very encouraged by the positive response. President Obama ordered a coordinated, aggressive response by our government. Obviously, other countries are trying to help as well. The United States is on the ground. We’ve got the airport reopened. The Coast Guard has been magnificent in helping to evacuate people. We’ve got the 82nd Airborne on the way. We’ve got about 2,000 Marines there. We’ve got our crack search-and-rescue teams that are beginning the very laborious process of looking for any survivors in all of this debris.
So there’s a lot that we’re doing to try to help, but I don’t want to in any way mislead people about the extent of this disaster. It is beyond our comprehension as yet, but we’re working hard to get a handle on what exactly happened, what the fatalities are, and what more we can do to help.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, we just ran a picture of their “White House,” and apparently the top two floors collapsed and the president was inside and he got out alive with his wife, their first lady. But over in the parliament building, which also collapsed, their senate leader, their senate president, apparently is trapped alive inside, as are a number of lawmakers. And it makes you wonder, well, who exactly is running the government, as it is.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right. Well, that’s a fair question because the government’s been destroyed. They have no communications system. The president did get out alive, but most of his government is unaccounted for. That’s why the United States is in close communication with him. Our ambassador has been working with him. We’re bringing down not only communications systems so that they can begin to try to piece together governmental authority, but we’re also coordinating with the United Nations. You probably know that there was a very large mission in the – from the United Nations, about 7,000 peacekeeping troops. Their commander was out of Haiti; the United States got him back. So he’s now back in charge. They’re providing law and order. They’re beginning to clear roads. The United Nations is sending more of their expert personnel.
So the United States is providing a lot of the glue that is keeping people communicating and working together as we try to assert authority, reinstate the government, and begin to do what governments have to do to rebuild and reconstruct this damaged country.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, I guess the numbers are – we’ve given as a country without a crisis $9 billion to Haiti over the last three years. Now again, we’re leading the charge, sending in Marines. And that’s what the U.S. does. Knowing your career, it doesn’t surprise me that you’re leading this effort. But where’s Russia? Where’s China? Where’s the EU? Where’s India? Where are these emerging nations that are in so much competition with us economically, but we’re the only ones who seem to write the big checks when it comes to aid?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, this one’s in our neighborhood, so of course, you would expect us to be very focused on it. But, for example, a Chinese plane landed today with a lot of material. They had their own devastating earthquakes about a year and a half ago. So they’re sending assistance. We have people on the ground from the United Kingdom, from France, from Brazil, from elsewhere. I’ve been making a round of calls to my counterparts. Canada is extremely involved and supportive.
We have a lot of the international community coming in with either direct assistance or making pledges of money. And that’s another thing that we’re going to be coordinating. It’s one of the tasks that I have ahead of me, to try to make sure that the good intentions and the generosity of the American people, first and foremost, but then of the international community, is put to good use.
SECRETARY CLINTON: And I think it’s wonderful that we have such a generous nation, even though I know that people in our own country are in many ways suffering because of our economic recession. Once again, we set up a text messaging account to assist the Red Cross right after the earthquake, about 38 hours ago, and we’ve already raised $3 million.
SECRETARY CLINTON: And if your viewers want to help, they can text Haiti, H-a-i-t-i, to 90999. This is going to be a partnership, as it always is in our country, between our government and our people. And we’re worried about the Haitian people. We’re worried about our American citizens. But we’re going to be on the ground in force, and we’re going to do everything we can to try to help alleviate this.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, speaking of all of these pledges and money, because, as Brian mentioned, $9 billion has gone to this country over the last couple of years, how can Americans be reassured that this money, the money that they may give, is going to get into the right hands and not just to the rich rulers, potentially, of Haiti, but to actually the poor people who need it?
SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s a great question. And that money that you’ve referenced is over a number of years. It goes back quite a few years. But it still is a fair question. And what is especially disheartening about what we see now is that we were on the track to what I thought of as probably the most accountable, effective, effort that we have seen.
It’s somewhat ironic that my husband happens to be the UN envoy for the secretary general, and between the United Nations, the United States, and the Haitian Government and people, we had a really good system going. We had businesses investing in Haiti again. We were on the upswing. And unfortunately, this terrible disaster has occurred.
SECRETARY CLINTON: But we have systems in place now to be able to track the money, to hold it accountable, to look for results. We’re doing that across the board. I’m revamping our aid system so that I can look you in the eye and the American taxpayer in the eye and say look, I’m not going to spend a penny unless I have some confidence that it’s going to go to the right place. In a disaster like this, you have to put in a lot of resources.
SECRETARY CLINTON: But once we get through the immediate crisis and we begin the rebuilding/reconstruction period, we’re going to be doing this in a way that accounts for the money that the United States Government spends.
QUESTION: All right. Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State, thank you very much for joining us this morning. We know you are going to be really busy leading up efforts in Haiti. Thank you for joining us today.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Nice to talk to you.
QUESTION: You bet.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.
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