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Diplomacy in Action

On-the-Record Briefing En Route Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Press Statement
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Port-au-Prince, Haiti
January 16, 2010


QUESTION: (In progress) – just show up. You had this sort of – you had to have permission from (inaudible). Are there treaties (inaudible)?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Greta, my memory – I mean, I wasn’t involved in it except as a senator from afar. But my memory is that we had people who just showed up and we had people who sent a lot, and we had people who were turned away (inaudible).

QUESTION: With Katrina, my sister’s a doctor and she just showed up, so they said fine. She said she’s a doctor and (inaudible). If you showed up a week later, bureaucracy had set in and doctors would be standing in line to prove they were doctors. It’s sort of interesting, like in the beginning it’s like anybody can – if you can help, great. And then all of a sudden, time passes and it gets actually harder. But it’s interesting how trying to (inaudible) these different (inaudible). It’s so much easier when a catastrophe happens (inaudible).

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, that’s true, because when there’s just immediate need, everybody rushes in. So then both for bad reasons and good reasons, trying to set up some sort of structure so that you can better allocate the aid and better get the people with the expertise in. It’s like we had this team from Fairfax that spent 20 hours and saved one person, because they did it very painstakingly. In the immediate aftermath, you just come in and you start pulling and it’s just such a – it’s such a difficult balancing act. It’s very hard.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, do you know, were you in on any meetings where we – it was considered to parachute troops in, like the 82nd Airborne?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah, yeah, but it’s too dangerous. It’s too – I mean, we talked about that, and the military’s assessment is that – our first question was can you parachute aid in, boxes. You can do that in rural areas. But in urban areas, it causes riots. It has other kinds of ancillary impacts, even injuries to people. So we talked with – I’m just saying we talked about – to the military about trying to parachute aid and people in, and they just reject it; they just say it’s not a good idea.

QUESTION: What about the people before the aid? If the troops are (inaudible) on the ground – the authority aid – wouldn't that solve the riot problem? Is there a discussion of doing a drop with the 82nd Airborne, do you know?

SECRETARY CLINTON: They won’t do that.

QUESTION: They won’t do that?

SECRETARY CLINTON: They don’t think that’s a good idea. And part of is we sent in – the military sent in advance teams to clear landing zones for the helicopters – or to identify. Not clear them, to identify landing zones. By the time they went back, they’re all covered with people, because naturally, if there’s an empty space, people are going to congregate. So it’s – I mean, the logistics of this – you say why don’t they do this, why don’t they do that, and then you go back to the people who are actually trying to implement it and it’s much more challenging.

QUESTION: How many times have you been there?

QUESTION: I was going to say, on that --


QUESTION: Because you went there early – I mean before --

SECRETARY CLINTON: Since ’75. I’ve gone a bunch of times. Yeah, I don’t know.

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: I was just going to say that they spent a lot of time working together to identify these 14 sites that are officially called the food program sites for food and water. So that will begin to become an infrastructure like you’re describing and our support for MINUSTAH will help provide the security, will do the heavy equipment to clear the major truck roads to get there. And then hopefully that will become a high throughput system for getting all kinds of food, water, commodities, medical supplies into those 14 places. And we’re also looking at expanding that network. But it takes a lot of time to get every – to map it out, to identify locations, figure out – make sure everybody’s – it leads to a single strategy that way so that we can all be (inaudible).

QUESTION: (Inaudible) when do you think you can have those 14 sites (inaudible)?

STAFF: They were identified yesterday evening and the teams are working – our team was working with UN OCHA overnight to put together task teams for each of the sites and to figure out how to get there.

QUESTION: Are U.S. troops at those locations now or getting there?

STAFF: Well, we’re taking guidance from the World Food Program and from MINUSTAH about what they need. But we’re prepared to provide within that framework security and logistics support for that entire network of distribution.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Andrea was saying that there was a report on ABC last night that there are supplies sitting at the airport that’s not getting out. I told her there’s like a rotating distribution -

QUESTION: (Inaudible) flight at 9 o'clock at night (inaudible) got out, plane coming in, so you basically are just rotating (inaudible) at the airport (inaudible).

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Yeah. The supplies are not – the congestion at the airport is around – is actually around air traffic. The supplies are actually moving pretty quick. And I think they’re shooting for – or they’re actually trying to get to 45 minutes to unload and to move the product out so they can get the next plane in. They are moving in that direction.

SECRETARY CLINTON: But I just want to go back to just one point, and it kinds of tees off of what Greta was asking. We have the Haitian Government. We have MINUSTAH, which has the authority for the security, and that’s under Brazilian command. We have the UN, which has under international authority that providing coordination of aid and civilian counterpart to MINUSTAH, the peacekeepers. Then, of course, we’ve got the United States Government, all the other governments, international donors, et cetera.

MINUSTAH has primary responsibility for security. They have about 7,000 peacekeepers. We are working to back them up but not to supplant them, for all the obvious reasons. They actually have been there for years, they have a command-and-control already established, they have an understanding of the larger community. So we are being very thoughtful about how we support them.

Similarly, the United Nations, which lost so many of their personnel, their new director will be on the ground. We’ll be meeting with him, replacing the leadership that has been presumed lost. And they’re going to be standing up their operation again. But also, we are going to work with them to try to help coordinate a sectoral response – a geographic sector plus supply sector. So that’s something Raj has been working on. I mean, literally taking a Google map, deploying against different locations, having a list of all of the equipment and supplies being distributed.

Do you want to say something about that, Raj?

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Sure. Well, this was also set up yesterday and overnight. But each of the eight sectors, like water, public health and medicine, food and commodity distributions, each sector has a donor team working with the country and through OCHA, essentially developing that coordinated plan. So because when we start getting a large amount of throughput, we’ll need that sort of a strategy to do that in a coherent way.

QUESTION: To what extent do we sort of – do we take an emergency and act, and to what extent do we wait to have them say okay because of the sovereign issues? I mean, do we just use good judgment and hope for the best and try to help people, and if they don’t like – if they say we overstepped sovereignty later, we say we’re sorry, basically? Is that --

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, the government – I mean, we’re working with them now. But the government has said, look, our highest priority is to help us save lives and help us distribute --

QUESTION: So we’re not running into any problem? They just green light it? It’s a --

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, but there are specific areas where – like for example, air traffic, you can’t have two people running the airport. You can’t have – so we had to work out the arrangement. You also have liability issues. I mean, we’re living in the modern world. We have to think through all of this. But we’re making a lot of progress in just defining responsibilities.

QUESTION: Is it an oral agreement – these things like (inaudible) the airport, or do we have to go through all the paperwork --

SECRETARY CLINTON: We had a signed agreement on the airport yesterday that our ambassador worked out with President Preval.

STAFF: (Inaudible) our ambassador has been meeting pretty regularly with their prime minister, so they actually state their priorities. We take those priorities and (inaudible). They’re actually being very responsive in outlining what their needs are and what they’re asking us for help. So in a lot of ways, that’s been very helpful because actually it lets us know (a) where we should be and (b) that they are welcoming our assistance and actually are saying please, make sure that you are first doing rescue and relief, worry about the other (inaudible).

QUESTION: There’s a good Samaritan rule in some ways?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah, but you know, but there are some things that only we can do, like fixing the port. Only the United States Government can do that. So our highest and best use is to try to identify those needs that only we can meet with our military. On our civilian side, we obviously are putting through a lot of material and putting people on the ground, but our ability to help coordinate this is something that we really have to come to deliver for them. Because working with the UN, that is our highest best use.

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: And I’ll just go back to your earlier question about do you wait for their guidance. In some sense, you do, and you start that process of planning and deep coordination. But the minute we found out, we just made our own estimates and what are two million people going to need for food, water, shelter, and immediately started procurements. We’ve procured $48 million of food aid and assistance from Texas. It’s on its way. So to some extent, you do both and then you --

QUESTION: You use good judgment, I guess.

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: And the you try to use judgment to bring it together so it’s operationally and logistically efficient on the ground.

QUESTION: The other – just focusing on the two negative things that were raised late last night, so I just wanted to – like Nightline and a couple of other shows, that the search-and-rescue teams, the elite teams – Brazilian, French, ours – are too heavily focused on the Hotel Montana and the luxurious parts of town (inaudible), and not on the other parts of Port-au-Prince where people were digging with their hands. And I don’t know if that’s true, but the question is: How does – on the ground, who is deciding how to deploy those search-and-rescue teams and where – is it totally anecdotal? You hear noises here and (inaudible) now?

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: So it became more organized, and what happened was the very first team that hit the ground was the Virginia Fairfax team that we sent in, and it was one of those technically very competent teams. And we had sent that with extra people for coordination and logistics that actually camped out at the airport, so as the other teams came in, they could send them to high-value targets and to other sectors so there was some sense of geographic (inaudible).

There has been both – obviously, the Montana and those places are getting a lot of coverage and there have been some success stories there, but (inaudible) yesterday evening we had a team go out to (inaudible) to a factory site, and it was – there were armed guards there and it was a challenging and far less secure situation. That’s a less efficient way to work, but they were doing that specifically because they’ve been under instruction from the beginning to make sure they prioritized saving Haitian lives. So it’s been an explicit part of how they think of targeting (inaudible).

QUESTION: But who is coordinating --

SECRETARY CLINTON: But in the beginning, too, Andrea, it’s like where could you get. I mean, a lot of the roads were totally gone. We’re only beginning to clear roads. So it was a balancing, again, of where could we get – where do we think the largest numbers of people are trapped in one place, and obviously people are trapped in their homes and in their apartments, but where can we go where there may be dozens of lives that may be saved. It’s just – it’s a constant evaluation.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you were talking earlier about the importance of getting a parliamentary session stood up.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, they’re having one this morning. They’re having a parliamentary --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) decree that you mentioned, were they to pass one, what would that allow them to do?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, they had an emergency decree after the hurricanes. That invests the Haitian Government with an enormous amount of authority that they can either exercise themselves or, more likely in this situation, delegate. It also gives them the chance to have more law and order tools. It’s like any time – after Katrina, we had emergency decrees.

QUESTION: Would it mean curfews?


QUESTION: Would it be martial law?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, that’s a little extreme. But an emergency decree gives the government the legal authority to do all of this. I mean, de facto they’re trying to do it now, but I think as a matter of law they want to be sure that they’re following their laws like we follow our laws.

QUESTION: What if a Haitian could get on a plane and get to the United States? Are we accepting them? What are we doing about that if Haitians get out?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We are – our immigration laws are in effect. But as you know, yesterday there was an announcement that we’re going to do temporary protective status for the Haitians who are in the United States.

QUESTION: Already in. Not the ones who are arriving?


QUESTION: That’s so – the ones who are arriving get the same deal as they got (inaudible) the earthquakes?

QUESTION: What’s the figure again for the Haitians already in the States that are not legal?

SECRETARY CLINTON: How many Haitians are covered by the TPS?

STAFF: It’s a little bit – obviously, it’s difficult to quantify. (Inaudible) might actually give us a range of numbers, it’s not as low as 10, as high as (inaudible), so a thousand (inaudible) real question (inaudible)?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We think there are probably more than that, but that’s – the 200,000 number is the best that people can figure out.

QUESTION: So the distribution system – I thought the problem was the NGOs at the airport did not want the U.S., which had the best means of distribution, to send it out to places that need it. Is that being resolved?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we’re working on that. I mean, you’ve got to understand that there is a sort of sense among a lot of the NGOs that they do not want any military help from anyone. Now, that’s a limited number, but nevertheless, some people feel very strongly about that as a kind of NGO cultural attitude. Others are begging for our help. So again, we are prioritizing. Those who need our help, want our help, ask for our help – we are doing all that we can to assist them. Others we stand by and say we’re more than willing to help if you decide you want our help.

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: And I’ll add to that just by saying that the way they organize themselves has been that they have those clusters the Secretary referred to. The World Food Program is the UN and NGO lead for the logistics cluster, so there we’re working very closely with them to identify how we can provide logistics and security support to those sites that I recalled earlier.

QUESTION: So they tell you which NGOs are ready to (inaudible)?

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Yeah. And they’ll tell us these are the priority roads that need to be cleared, these are priority sites that need helicopter support to get food and other supplies from the airport to those sites.

QUESTION: So helicopters are going out into landing zones even though some of them are being covered by people the next day, as you say?

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Well, I don’t know how active that is just yet. I mean, (inaudible) have enough bulk and quantity to do that. But like I said, it’s so that process will hopefully stand up, I think, over the next 48 hours.

SECRETARY CLINTON: The other thing we’re looking at is to try to get our helicopters outside of the immediately affected area outside of Port-au-Prince, because people are leaving the city. They’re seeking medical help. They’re trying to get to relatives. I mean, there’s a – it’s not a large number yet, but we have a lot of anecdotal reports that, understandably, people have nowhere to live and no food to eat. And the countryside is relatively unaffected, so we’re trying to get ahead of the curve here. We have some hospitals 50, 100 miles away from Port-au-Prince that we need to resupply. We need some food stations outside of Port-au-Prince. So this is a multilayered challenge that we deal with every single day. It’s like playing – I don’t know what the – quadruple chess or something like that.

QUESTION: And there’s a second port?

SECRETARY CLINTON: There are several ports.

QUESTION: There’s a port in (inaudible).

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah. Well, but that’s further away. There are some --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: There are some private ports that we’re trying to get --

QUESTION: -- assessments of?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah, get assessments of. Exactly.

QUESTION: So there’s a big stream of people going to that hospital outside of Port-au-Prince?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, not a big stream, but it’s overloaded that hospital.

QUESTION: Overloaded. Okay.

SECRETARY CLINTON: I mean, people are literally trying to take their injured relatives, as you or I would, anywhere they can get help. And they know there’s the hospital 50 miles away, so they’re trying to get there.

QUESTION: What’s your priority with your meeting with the president?

SECRETARY CLINTON: To listen. To listen to him. To be sure that we are being as responsive as we need to be. For example, in addition to humanitarian aid, he needs fuel. They’re running out of fuel. How do we get the fuel in? And the fuel tanks are inaccessible – the ones at the port. That’s where most fuel in bulk comes in. So there’s just a lot that we want to listen to him and make sure that he has good communications so that we can have immediate responsiveness.

QUESTION: I assume that, I mean, the first thing is to try to rescue people; second thing, food, water. There’s going to be a health crisis at some point, so I take it that we’re looking forward to think how are we going to stem that, like whether it’s the decomposition of bodies or water (inaudible). What are we doing about that?

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: The team that’s working on that is the WASH team and it’s --

QUESTION: It’s called WASH team?

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, because sanitation and hygiene is, of course, the big risk that would allow for a lot of communicable diseases to spread very quickly. So you have to work on basic epidemiology principles of getting out enough water, soap --

QUESTION: Is that a huge risk or is that a – is it a problem we can handle as long as we’re (inaudible), or is this like the nightmare that’s going to hit us in a couple days?

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: I think we plan for everything as if it’s a big risk in this environment, so the idea is how much can you do as quickly as possible to get a health system up and running. UNICEF has a lot of distributed health clinics that were not as affected.

QUESTION: So that’s what we’re doing. But just tell me, is that – are we going to hit that? Is that like a real – is that really a real risk at this point, or can we contain that?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I mean, that’s what Raj is saying is that in any disaster like this, you have to plan for the worst eventuality. It was like H1N1 virus. I mean, everybody went overboard to make sure we had enough vaccine, we created the vaccine, we put it out there. Luckily, knock on wood, it hasn’t materialized. But we were ready.

Now, here we’re trying to do the same thing. There’s just so much that goes into this, Greta. We have to help them set up morgue and burial facilities. Just think about an earthquake that would destroy cemeteries, undertakers. I mean, there’s just all of that that has to be put in place. They’re doing some mass graves, but they have to clear land to be able to do mass graves. I mean, the whole thing is immensely complicated, and there are all kinds of cultural issues that you – we can say that’s a great place for a grave, and they go, “You can’t put a grave there. That -- ” So you’ve got to be really closely linked up with the people who actually have the knowledge on the ground, and in this case we’ve lost so many of those people. And that’s what we’re trying to substitute for, but at the same time make sure that people are sensitive to all these concerns that we have to pay attention to.

QUESTION: What’s the security situation for aid workers? Last night, CNN showed a group of doctors from Miami had to leave a bunch of patients in a hospital. Sanjay Gupta was like left there He was the only person there. The UN apparently said it was because of security. What is – what are you hearing about – I mean, is it safe for aid workers unaccompanied by security?

QUESTION: Is that security or --

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, it was. I saw that. And I saw that – no, I saw that and I was very confused by it, to be honest. I was very confused. The story – Sanjay – you know, he had his first job in government being a White House fellow in my office. I adore him, and so he is – he is someone who I just absolutely have great confidence in. What he was told, as he reported, was that MINUSTAH had sent somebody to this field hospital that had been set up and told them that they needed to leave immediately and take their equipment with them because of security risks. And there were gunshots in the distance that Sanjay had heard.

Now, part of our problem will be once we find something like that, if we can work out all of our understandings, we perhaps can send some people to secure that. But literally, the doctors had to get up and leave, under orders from the Brazilians, who said they could not get there in time to secure it. Now, you’ve got to realize I take that very seriously because the Brazilians have been working in these communities now for seven years, and so they have informants, they have information. So if they heard that something was going to go on and they couldn't in good faith get there in time to secure it, that makes sense to me. But on the other hand, we need to be getting the security forces out to where the hospital facilities are set up. So that’s an issue we’ll raise with MINUSTAH when we talk with them.

QUESTION: With the government buildings all collapsed, where is – where is Preval working out of? Where is the government working?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Near the airport. Near the airport. I mean, can you imagine what would have happened if the earthquake had totally destroyed the runway? I mean, it’s hard enough with only one runway.

QUESTION: The only lucky thing that happened.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah. I mean, that is the only --

QUESTION: How badly damaged is the port?

SECRETARY CLINTON: It’s not operational.

QUESTION: Is there --

SECRETARY CLINTON: The Navy is sending in reconnaissance teams to --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah, I mean, there’ll be divers and others trying to figure out what we can do to get it up and going.

QUESTION: Do you guys have a timetable for when you would want to have a functional government?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it’s yesterday, but we have to be realistic about this.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, I think they’re also looking at how to exploit (inaudible) to try to make (inaudible) container port, so that --


QUESTION: And then chopper it down to the airport?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) one ship can do the work of a couple hundred planes.

SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s right. That’s exactly right. Thanks, everybody. See you on the ground.

PRN: 2010/T19-1

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