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  February 1, 2010

Haitians will defend their sovereignty

Ronald Charles: Providing aid like this is a way to humiliate us and many Haitians will not accept it
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Ronald Charles is a Ph.D. student in Biblical Studies at the Department of Relgion, University of Toronto. He is a poet and a violinist. And he was lecturer at Christianville University College in Haiti, where he translated parts of the Bible into Haitian Creole.


PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay. Aid has begun to trickle to the people of Haiti, but apparently still only a trickle. To help us understand what's going on in Haiti, we're now joined by Ronald Charles. He's a Ph.D. student in biblical studies at the school of religion at the University of Toronto. He's a [inaudible] and a violinist, and he used to lecture at Christianville University college in Haiti. Thanks for joining us.

RONALD CHARLES, DEPT. OF RELIGION, UNIV. OF TORONTO: Well, thank you for being here.

JAY: So millions—multi-millions of dollars of aid is being raised, at least the dollars have been raised. Why isn't the aid getting to the people?

CHARLES: Well, I'm very thankful for so many people around the world giving money to Haiti, but many people, many Haitians on the ground, are not receiving the aid. And I don't really know how to explain this, because I do have families—from my own side and my wife's relatives—they are in zones that were severely hit by the earthquake, but they have not seen aid coming.

JAY: So talk about who you have in Haiti and what's their conditions now.

CHARLES: Yes. I have my mother; my sister; and my sister, she has a two-month-old baby; and they are sleeping outside of the home. Difficult situation, as you can imagine. And my wife's side, my wife's relatives, they are in Port-au-Prince, outside of their home, homeless.

JAY: And what's the situation in terms of food?

CHARLES: Oh, well, what they told me on the phone is that whatever they have, they share it. So this is the situation. They share the little that they have. But how long this can continue I don't know. So this is why I start to try to send some money when I can.

JAY: Now, when we talked off-camera, you said they're essentially starving now.

CHARLES: Yes. Yes. It was very difficult.

JAY: Now, what do they say in terms of why aid's not getting through to them? Do they have some sense of why it isn't working?

CHARLES: No. I find it interesting that—. I was watching the news. Even people close to the National Palace are saying that they have not received anything—close to the National Palace! But my own people and my wife's relatives, they are in the area of—going to Carrefour, which is the south of Port-au-Prince. They have not seen anything. So this is the reality on the ground. And many people, many people are not seeing the aid coming. I have talked to someone else. He's [a] father in the Carrefour area. He said, "I have not seen anything." I said, "How do you eat? How do you get by?" "Whatever we have, we share." This is the situation.

JAY: There's been suggestions that some of it is just logistics—the roads are all destroyed, you can't move around. Does this explain it to you?

CHARLES: This explains a little bit of it. For example, after 12 days, I've seen on TV that some roads are—you can go through, you can go through. But why people are not getting the aid, as aids are there, is another question.

JAY: Now, I mean, if I understand the geography of Haiti, there's lots of coastline.


JAY: Is aid showing up by ships, so that—I mean, in theory, if ships just kept coming up to the beaches and the shorelines, people could get aid.


JAY: Is that happening?

CHARLES: This is happening a little bit. For example, now, in Jacmel where the governor general of Canada, Michaëlle Jean, still has family. The Canadians are there. So this is where they have been. And mainly, well, through the main roads, or also through the ships. So they are there. But when you go to other parts of the country, it's very difficult and very limited, the type of aid that they are receiving, again, days after the earthquake.

JAY: And I've read that when aid is showing up, in some situations it's kind of just being thrown on the ground for people to come grab, which apparently under international law, or at least international practice, is only supposed to be the case when it's dropped by helicopter. But they're actually just throwing it right off of trucks and making people scramble for it. It's almost like trying to create chaotic scenes.

CHARLES: Yes, yes. No, this is not working. And the second thing I wanted to say, for example, if I'm talking about my own family, my people are not going on these big lines, and they are not going to throw themselves and to receive any aid that would come to them like this. And people need to understand: even Haitians that are suffering or starving—Haitians are very—a proud type of people. It's only desperation that is pushing some people to do what some people see on TVs. But normally Haitians are proud, very proud. And we could develop that in talking about other issues, but the way that the aid is being given, thrown at people, many people are not going to receive the aid like this.

JAY: So talk a bit about this issue of the pride of Haitians and the history of this fight for independence and resistance and how it affects the politics of the aid.

CHARLES: Yes. For example, Haitians, they want to keep their sovereignty, because we are an adult type of people. We kicked the French out. This is why, for example, I like to say that we don't have a problem with white people, because we have resolved this problem long time ago when we kicked the French out. So now that they are coming back and try to help us, in a way that is not human, in a way that is showing, "Oh, look at them after all these years," this way of doing things is a way to humiliate Haitians. And many Haitians are not going to take it like this. For example, I listen to the news coming directly from Haiti, and many Haitians are questioning already the way that the aid is coming, the way that the aid is coming, in way to humiliate us and in a way that seems to even bypass our own sovereignty.

JAY: So what do you think would be the reasons for doing this—I mean, we're mostly talking about the Americans, and Canadians, I suppose, and French.


JAY: What would be the reasons for this?

CHARLES: Oh, well, the reason would be you have a country independent for 206 years now, and from the beginning that was a bad example in the eyes of the big powers of the time. So when some people would say, "Well, look at them after 200 years—more than 200 years of independence, and look at their condition," so other people around the world, other people fighting for liberation, for freedom, they might—well, these colonial powers, these big powers, might point Haiti to them. Look, there is no way.

JAY: So the fight for independence leads to poverty.

CHARLES: Exactly. For example, in Martinique and Guadalupe, recently they had different elections, trying to see if some people wanted to be independent from France. Well, some people say, "Well, we don't want that," and one of the arguments is "Look at Haiti." And many big powers, they want to use Haiti as an example of what not to do.

JAY: Well, in the next segment of our interview, let's talk about what happens next. So join us for the next segment of our interview with Ronald Charles.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee complete accuracy.


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