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Haitian Garment Industry's Post-Earthquake Woes and Possible Recovery

Aired January 26, 2010 - 15:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, a barge carrying the biggest aid shipment yet is due here in Haiti, but many Haitians are helping themselves by getting back to work.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to our program.

They're calling it the barge of hope. Exactly two weeks after the earthquake devastated parts of Haiti, a ship laden with food, water and medical supplies donated by the people of Puerto Rico is about to dock in Port-au-Prince.

Meanwhile, most Haitians awaiting patiently for supplies in the capital city, but at one food distribution site near the presidential palace, there were brief scuffles, and U.N. peacekeeping forces used pepper spray to try to keep order.

And large numbers of international doctors at one hospital we visited are busy getting medical care to all the people who need it. It's not far from where we are, and we saw today boxes and boxes of medical supplies, boxes of food and other supplies for the patients. A 75-bed hospital has been turned into a 285-bed O.R., emergency care, and other kind of hospital for the people who desperately need it.

And one of the huge new needs right now are tents for shelter. People are clamoring for big, heavy, industrial-type shelter and tents in case the spring rains and even the summer hurricanes come. So that is what is most needed right now, and the president has sent out word for 200,000 tents.

And as the recovery effort continues, I spoke with Haiti's former prime minister, Michele Pierre-Louis, late last night. The former economist was in office from September 2008 to October 2009. And today, she's traveling to the World Economic Forum in Davos, where she'll appeal to the world to keep its focus on Haiti.

We talked about the rescue effort and the prospects for long-term recovery, including the difficulties the government is having getting out to the people.


AMANPOUR: Michele Pierre-Louis, thank you so much for joining us.


AMANPOUR: You were the former prime minister of Haiti. In the immediate aftermath of an earthquake, what would you have done first?

PIERRE-LOUIS: You know, this is a major disaster that occurred. And the government has (inaudible) decree of emergency. What I would have done, because the national palace is a very symbolic place in Haiti, I would have asked the international community, the Americans, whoever, give us six tents and let's put them right there in front of the national palace.

Let's have the major, the most important ministries -- because I don't have anything against the tourist minister, but shall we talk about tourism now in Haiti? I mean, let's take the major, the most important ministries and let's put them there, right in front of the national palace, and let's (inaudible) government is permanently working with the situation (inaudible) this is what happening in this neighborhood, in that neighborhood, and this is how we're going to manage now.

AMANPOUR: Because are complaining that they don't see their government. They're not getting instructions or any public speeches.

PIERRE-LOUIS: That's true, too. You see, I'm in a position where I don't want to look as if I'm criticizing, you know? It's uncomfortable, that I was kicked out about two months ago, and everybody knows what happened.

But at the same time, you know, it's the time to talk to the people. It's the time to (inaudible) everybody is in a sad mood. Everybody has lost people. Everybody is mourning. But we have a country. We have 9 million Haitians here that need to know what to do, mostly the 2 million that are in Port-au-Prince and around Port-au-Prince and that were the victims of that earthquake.

AMANPOUR: What is the immediate thing that people need to do, that people need to have?

PIERRE-LOUIS: You see, post-disaster has two phases, the relief -- in other words, how do we -- how do we take care of the survivors, water, food, medicine and then shelter? Because we have to move the people out so that we can clean the city, so that we can figure out, are we going to rebuild in the same space? Are we going to move somehow outside of this historical site? Are we going to rebuild all those government institutions that collapsed? We have to make the decisions now, even if we're not rebuilding now.

AMANPOUR: Do you think that the government should take some -- I don't know -- emergency legislation, something to...

PIERRE-LOUIS: It has. It has. It allows him to do so many things that (inaudible) bureaucracy.


AMANPOUR: And for the future, as well, because red tape, corruption, bureaucracy has been blamed in part for Haiti's stagnation.

PIERRE-LOUIS: That's true. But now we need to (inaudible) we need to make the decisions. We need to have the (inaudible) I like the idea of a situation room, you know, where we have, like, the (inaudible) where we're trying to figure out what's going on here, who is taking care of that, who is taking care of that. And then you can make the decisions, because if people are left to their own devices (inaudible) you know, they will do what they know.

They will -- they will start again to build their shacks and to know that (inaudible) maybe next time they will be spared. But next time they will be dead again.

AMANPOUR: Do you think there will be a next time, a next earthquake?

PIERRE-LOUIS: That's what the experts say, you know? Haiti is on a - - on a -- how do you say...

AMANPOUR: Fault line.

PIERRE-LOUIS: Fault line, you know? And from what I'm heard -- I'm not a specialist, but I've heard that the fault is 200 kilometers long and only 50 were affected by the -- by the earthquake. So anything can happen.

AMANPOUR: So take us through it. Given that we're focusing on long- term development, do you think that there is a way to really develop Haiti? And how is that?

PIERRE-LOUIS: Yes. I'm a full-fledged Haitian, and I believe that this country is not doomed. You see, I'm supposed to go to Davos tomorrow. And what I want to express is not only, you know, of course, we went through the mourning, through the suffering. People are still in dire need of support.

But at the same time, we want to give some hope that Haiti, which has been, you know, the country where really the universality of human rights gave its true meaning in the 19th century, can be the global nation today.

AMANPOUR: How? How to get Haiti out of its so far decades-long emergency care patient? How to get it off that?

PIERRE-LOUIS: You know, we will not be able to get out alone, so I've said it to several newspapers and to several interviews that I've given. We need to be the co-pilot of major, major reconstruction project.

To give you an example, there are about -- supposedly -- close to 250,000 Haitians that left Port-au-Prince and went to the country. Port- au-Prince is destroyed. The few cities around Port-au-Prince are destroyed. But the whole country is not destroyed. It's important that life goes on in the other part of the country.


AMANPOUR: But practically, how do we do it?

PIERRE-LOUIS: Create jobs. Create jobs so that people have the revenue, so that people can earn money, because there is food elsewhere. If you go to (inaudible) you will be surprised to see how much food, vegetable there are. If you go in the (inaudible) region, there's plenty of rice, you know, because we were able to recuperate after the hurricanes. So let's create jobs (inaudible) of growth outside of Port-au-Prince so that people have revenue, so that we are not kept in the humanitarian channel.

AMANPOUR: And in a practical sense, you know, many people say, well, for years, the Haitian government have been either ineffective or there's a lot of corruption around. People say, you know, we keep putting money into this country and, look, it's kept mostly for the rich and the well- connected and the poor stay poor and get poorer. How to change that mentality?

PIERRE-LOUIS: (inaudible) we cannot live in a country with no sanctions, because corruption is also a matter of sanctioning people who steal money, you know? It's true. There is corruption in this country. And somehow we have to be able -- with the help of real solidarity -- build a judicial system.

That's what -- when we talk about democracy, when we talk about the rule of law, that's what we're talking about. So we cannot...

AMANPOUR: So you would say...

PIERRE-LOUIS: We cannot get out alone. And that's exactly the message that I want to send. We all have to realize that what happened (inaudible) just an act of nature.

AMANPOUR: Nothing fatalistic...

PIERRE-LOUIS: It's not fatalistic.

AMANPOUR: ... or strange about Haiti.

PIERRE-LOUIS: We're not punished. We -- it just happens. Of course, because of mismanagement of this country, it has magnitudes that are even more than it should. But exactly. Let's be conscious that things have to change. We have to look at the future differently, and the world has to help us understand that if Haiti does not see how to get out of poverty, how to get out of disease, how to get out of this situation that the people are living in, we are going to be a trouble for the whole world.


AMANPOUR: Do you believe the world has a moral responsibility or a pragmatic responsibility towards Haiti? Does the world have a responsibility?

PIERRE-LOUIS: In a sense that nothing is done for us, it's going to be a problem for the world.

AMANPOUR: Mrs. Pierre-Louis, thank you very much, indeed, for joining me.


AMANPOUR: Next, so who will help rebuild Haiti? The reverse brain drain, when we come back.

And we'll help rebuild their...



AMANPOUR: We're back live from Haiti, discussing the prospects for long-term recovery. Before the earthquake, the garment business was one of Haiti's fastest-growing industries, and we went to check production in the capital's industrial zone.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Haitian workers at the Korean-owned Wilbe's Garment Factory (ph) are punching back in, cutting, sewing and sending a strong message to their retailers that business is back online. Here, they make T-shirts for Gap and other well-known brands, like JCPenney, Old Navy.

Over the noise, Mirelene (ph) tells us that she lost everything in the earthquake and, without this job, she won't have anything for her children.

The T-shirt factories here in Port-au-Prince's industrial zone suffered little damage, unlike George Sassine's factory about a mile away. He's assessing what happened for the insurers. He makes shorts for the U.S. sports and leisure market. He's covered, but he's worried.

GEORGES SASSINE, GARMENT FACTORY OWNER: The big danger for us is that the buyers start to look somewhere else for the production. Then, we are dead, if that happens.

AMANPOUR: The retail pipeline waits for nothing and no one. So Sassine's workers are busy dusting off rolls of fabric, because they need to get to work again within 10 days so that these New Balance shorts can get to their Wal-Mart shelves.

Before the earthquake, Haiti's garment industry was on the verge of thriving, recovering from decades of dictatorship, coups, and a U.S. embassy, which in the name of restoring democracy here destroyed an industry that had been supporting 130,000 jobs.

But new U.S. legislation for Haiti, a major boon, allows in duty-free, quota-free imports. Major new foreign investment was scheduled just last week. And by last year, the workforce had climbed back to 28,000.

SASSINE: This year, we were planning on creating another 25,000 jobs, 50,000 jobs in 2011.

AMANPOUR: Significant employment, since each jobholder supports eight people. And why is this product attractive to the U.S.? A low-wage workforce, comparable to China's, but on its own doorstep, and high-quality production, say economists.

Sassine, who is also president of Haiti's manufacturing association, wants his country off life support, so he's told his prime minister, USAID, and anyone else who'll listen that an immediate $25 million flexible loan is required to revive his industry.


SASSINE: This is a watershed moment for Haiti. Unfortunately, it costs very much in lives, but at the same time, it offers to us Haitians an opportunity to get this country back on its right foot.

AMANPOUR: Instead of being condemned to the poverty trap of endless good intentions.


AMANPOUR: Because, of course, after decades and decades of humanitarian aid, many business people fear drowning in humanitarian aid and not being able to get up and do the work that they need to do.

So George Sassine also said that one thing that government should look at and the international community as they discuss reconstruction is trying to attract professional Haitians who are abroad -- whether in the United States or elsewhere -- pay them comparable or the same wages as they're earning outside, but bring them back here for a period of five years or so and have them help get various different sectors of the economy back on its feet.

And joining me now here are two young Haitians, Dario Marra and Fabiola Coupet.

You have been abroad. You were educated abroad, both of you, and yet you've come back to -- to work for your own country. Tell me, Dario, why you came back?

DARIO MARRA, HAITIAN VOLUNTEER: First of all, I think, as young people, it's our mission to help rebuild Haiti. We've been on a long road to development, and I myself, I work in the water business. And this is one way I've been able to help since the catastrophe.

AMANPOUR: What have you done?

MARRA: First, we were able -- with a lot of funds from many NGOs, like (inaudible) and also (inaudible) Haiti and also...

AMANPOUR: But what have you been doing, giving water out?

MARRA: Giving water (inaudible) because they provided a lot of funds to enable us to function, to get gas, pay our employees, because a lot of people lost their jobs. Some of my employees lost their houses. And they still kept working with us, you know? They sent their families away, and still they were able to send, come to work and help us distribute the water for (inaudible) around the cities. We've worked with PRODEV (inaudible) and also the French (inaudible)

AMANPOUR: OK, I'm taking the -- the microphone so I can ask Fabiola, you were educated abroad just like Dario, just like hundreds of thousands of Haitians. Why did you come back when you could have stayed in the United States and got much better paying jobs?

FABIOLA COUPET, HAITIAN WRITER: OK. Well, I think home is home. Anyone anywhere around the world agrees with me. And it was always my idea to return home and be a part of the development of my country, of the growth, and see something change for the better in Haiti.

AMANPOUR: And what precisely are you doing?

COUPET: I'm a writer. I have just started with a magazine that actually works in trying to show a beautiful aspect of Haiti, so that international tourists could get a different view. I'm not sure where we're going yet. We've only put out two issues. But...

AMANPOUR: You think it'll survive?

COUPET: I hope so. And I think that, even if we don't go in exactly the same direction, that we pick something new and run with it.

AMANPOUR: Fabiola said home is home, and everybody in the world knows that, but everybody in the world also knows that there are tens of thousands of people at any given time actually trying to get out of Haiti. Right now, because of the earthquake, of course, hundreds and hundreds lined up at the passport offices at the U.S. embassy, at the ports to try to get out.

Again, what do you think Haiti can do to attract young people like yourself, to have a reverse brain drain back into this country?

MARRA: Well, first of all, it's a whole strategy. People need to know that we are responsible as young people. It's our mission to help rebuild Haiti. You know, we are young, and we are Haiti's future, as well.

AMANPOUR: But what would you say to people who are sitting in Manhattan or Paris or London, who've got great jobs, great careers, great family, great prospects. Why would they come back here?

MARRA: Well, a lot of people have been trying to help in any way that they can, even abroad. I have my two sisters in the U.S. who are building foundations, collecting money, and sending it to Haiti, the best way that they can, you know?

AMANPOUR: Do you see a future for Haiti that goes beyond the eternal short-term aid, beyond the NGOs? I know you're talking a lot about the NGOs, because, frankly, they're the only ones set up right now. But beyond NGO help?

COUPET: I hope -- I want to believe that, yes, that is possible, that there is a better Haiti beyond the NGO help. I think that we've let a lot of people try to give a hand, and I think that disaster like this often bring people together and make them see the reality and make them see how each person must participate into being some -- in being part of something greater than themselves.

AMANPOUR: Now, you also know that Haiti has often been in the headlines, but only when there's a disaster, whether it's the food riots or the hurricanes or the coups and the dictatorships. Are you sure that the world will keep the very big and fancy promises they have made to Haiti since the earthquake two weeks ago?

COUPET: Well, I think that -- I would hope they keep their promise.


If they don't, I hope that Haitians understand that it's their time to rise and be part of something greater. A lot of people have always stayed, I would say, aside and let someone else come in to try to help. But I think this time, everyone being affected totally, everyone knows somebody who's lost someone, if they themselves haven't lost someone.

So I think it's just time to get together and participate. Professionals from the international scene, like you said, I would love to see them come in and try to take part in the effort.

AMANPOUR: Haitians who've emigrated abroad, yeah.

COUPET: Haitians, yes.

AMANPOUR: Well, obviously, one of the things, in order to be able to build back a country is education. And the state of education in this country, sadly, is really terrible. Before the earthquake, less than half of children were going to school, learning who knows what, frankly, with no real standard curriculum. And since the earthquake, nearly half the schools have been destroyed and the universities here.

How do you envision kids getting the kind of education that they need to be educated professionals like yourself?

MARRA: Well, we need a lot of help right now. We need a lot of help. We need to motivate people. We need to bring the hope back again. This is a country built on hope. We've been in many desperate situations before. And right now, the message is to the young people to know that it's their mission to come back and rebuild Haiti.

We can't lose hope. This is a country built on hope. And this is what we have to work with. Right now, we need a lot of help with education, and right now to help people with their morals, because there a lot of people lost their houses...

AMANPOUR: With their morale, yeah.

MARRA: Yeah, a lot of people lost their houses. And...

AMANPOUR: And what do you think about this -- this idea that's being floated of trying to pay professionals who are outside an equal wage for a period of five years or so to come here, and whether they're doctors or engineers or architects or whatever they might be?

COUPET: Well, I think if that's possible, it would be a great idea, because even before the earthquake, we had a serious problem of not enough professionals in the different fields. And I think we need any and all support we can get from people with positive disposition who want to come in and help -- help teach someone how to do something.

If they're going to be here for five years, after they go, the knowledge can't just leave with them. They have to teach someone else how to do what they came to do.

AMANPOUR: Fabiola Coupet, Dario Marra, thank you both very much for joining me.

MARRA: Thank you very much for having us.

AMANPOUR: Good luck.

COUPET: Thanks for having us.

AMANPOUR: And next will be our "Post-Script." The rescue mission is officially off, but some rescue workers are refusing to give up. We'll have their story when we come back.



AMANPOUR: You're looking at live pictures of the tent city set up behind us. It's been there since the earthquake struck. And it really stands as a stark reminder that what the people here want most now is shelter, really big, proper tents that we've seen in disaster zones all over the world, but have yet to come here, where there's sanitation, where there are latrines, where they can actually live for a period of several months.


And now for our "Post-Script." Every day since the earthquake struck, this woman -- her name is Maralinda (ph) -- and you can see her in this video -- has maintained a vigil near the ruins of the Hotel Montana just up the hill from where we are. In a huge pile of rubble, many search-and- rescue teams are looking for her husband, Daniel, and her 4-year-old son, Matteo (ph). They were inside the family's apartment at the hotel when the earthquake hit.

Rescue workers from Mexico, from Brazil, Paraguay and France have worked around the clock for days looking for any signs of life. They still hope to find someone alive, despite the massive amount of damage to the five-story popular upscale hotel.

The rescuers have been dogged in their efforts, digging four tunnels into the rubble. And they refuse to give up hope, even as the official rescue mission has been called off.

And that's it for now. Until our next edition, you can see us on our Facebook page, where we'll be posting photos, videos and status updates from Haiti. So thank you for watching, and goodbye from Port-au-Prince.