Media Center

Press Release

OAS Assistant Secretary General Tells Haitians They Will Be Highest Priority

  February 1, 2010

Organization of American States (OAS) Assistant Secretary General Albert R. Ramdin, says that the following the massive earthquake in the Caribbean nation on January 12, every effort will be made to ensure that “Haiti remains the highest priority within the OAS.

“We should not forget Haiti. While we recognize their resilience, we should not leave the Haitians on their own. This is a singular opportunity for the international community to support Haitians and help Haitians help themselves,” the Assistant Secretary General said, after returning from Haiti where he led an inter-American delegation on a one-day visit.

While in Port-au-Prince, the Assistant Secretary General also invited Haitian Foreign Minister Marie-Michele Rey to address the OAS Permanent Council in Washington on the situation and needs of the Caribbean nation that was ravaged by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake.

“We will remind member states that have made pledges—very generous pledges—at the beginning, political commitments, expressed as well as financial commitments,” Ambassador Ramdin said, following the visit. “We will remind them of those pledges so that Haiti can count on the OAS as an advocate for their own needs.”

Ambassador Ramdin renewed the inter-American support and commitment to helping the recovery and rebuilding in Haiti, stressing the Organization’s interest in an active involvement by the Haitian diaspora. He also referred to the Organization’s interest in mobilizing the hemisphere’s private sector in a conference to partner with Haitian private sector.

The delegation that went to Port-au-Prince on Thursday comprised, among others, the Executive Director of the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF), David Sanbrailo; Deputy Director of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), David Hatch; and Inter-American Defense Board Director General, Brigadier General Ancil W. Antoine.

The Haitian Foreign Affairs Minister described the meeting with the OAS officials as very positive, noting that “we exchanged views on the next steps of what has to be done.” She said they also reviewed the emergency and reconstruction phases in which “coordination is a key factor in helping the people,” in addition to ensuring that the Haitian view is taken into consideration.

Minister Rey welcomed the initiative to invite Haitian diaspora to be integrally involved, explaining that the diaspora, as “our brothers and sisters, they are suffering as much as we are.” During the one-day visit, the OAS Delegation also met with Edmond Mulet, head of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) and reviewed a series of key issues.

In his overview of the visit, Ramdin further noted the enormous devastation he and his delegation witness in the Haitian capital city, with many fallen buildings and a huge death toll. He observed the sad and painful reality faced by the people of Haiti, who have had to continue working, with little time to grieve and to mourn their loved ones. But he also commended the remarkable collective resilience of the Haitian people in terms of their own restraint in waiting for assistance and for relief items.

Amidst the rubble, Ambassador Ramdin noted that Haitians—both the people and government—are making a lot of progress in organizing themselves. They are clearly taking the lead in setting the priorities for the country, he said. “It is an opportunity for the Haitian government to make bold decisions; to look at the long-term perspective; to look at fundamental changes and improvements in how they organize themselves and society.”

“Reconstructing is not going to be enough,” said Ramdin. In moving forward, there is an opportunity to try to build a future which is going to take in account the weaknesses of the past, a fact he said was acknowledged in his conversations with Prime Minister Jean Max Bellerive, who is very much aware that they cannot build where the conditions are not favorable. The government is looking at certifying any kind of reconstruction or physical infrastructure or buildings. “That is a good sign that the government is aware that it cannot be business as usual, It is time for change, and there is an opportunity for change,” the Assistant Secretary General remarked. He added that an important issue also discussed related to rebuilding and decentralizing to more urban areas to ease some of the pressure on Port-au-Prince and allow other communities in the country to develop as well.

We need to mobilize all stakeholders in the process—in the first place, the people of Haiti, the Haitian government, support from neighboring countries, the Dominican Republic, CARICOM, who have a moral authority to advocate Haiti’s needs internationally. He specially commended the Dominican Republic, which was among the first to provide response, through a massive operation to deliver support and relief aid to the people of Haiti.

The PADF’s John Sanbrailo witnessed the Foundation’s operations at its warehouse in Port-au-Prince, and commented that despite the tremendous constraints, supplies have begun to flow to the neediest. He recognized the many Haitians volunteering alongside PADF staff, and thanked the many donors so far, but stressed the need for more help for the PADF, the 48-year old disaster relief arm of the OAS, which is moving to launch a cash-for-work program in a major clean-up effort for which donations are needed. He specially acknowledged the more than $30,000 in personal contributions from OAS employees, delivered by the Secretary General and the Assistant Secretary General.

Sanbrailo underscored the most immediate needs in Haiti for tents, and other humanitarian supplies, food, tarps, plastic sheeting, bedding, and water purification supplies, in addition to cash. He said the PADF is ready to receive those types of contributions and to ship them very quickly to the earthquake victims in Haiti.

Reference: E-031/10