OTR Interviews

Why Haiti matters to America

'Rebuilding Haiti': Dissecting the United States' relationship with the nation and whether Haiti's government is part of recovery woes


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," January 11, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


DR. BILL FRIST, FORMER SENATOR: Right now, we're five days, six days after the earthquake itself, and we have had doctors here going around the clock, 19, 20 hours a day, operating well into the night. So we're able to bring personnel in, but you can still see behind me we probably have 200 people here waiting. They have not been seen. Some of them will die tonight. Some of them will die, no question, in the next hour. So we're going to work as hard as we can.


GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: It doesn't get more dire than that. More than 300,000 people killed in the January, 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and 300,000 more hurt. The west provided urgent medical care to the Haitian people. Hundreds of American doctors and medical personnel traveled to go Haiti to help save lives. So why does Haiti matter to you and to America?


VAN SUSTEREN: Why should the Americans be concerned about Haiti? There are lots of places in the world to worry about and even home to worry about, why Haiti?

GEN. JIM WALKER, (RET), SAMARITAN'S PURSE: I think, first, the geographic proximity. We're right next door to Haiti, and we have historical ties to Haiti, to the government, and many ties between American citizens and Haiti. But most importantly, it's right there. And the problems, if we don't help he solve the problems in Haiti, they will come to America, because we are -- we've seen the migration of people in bad times in Haiti trying to come into the United States. So we are best served by creating a system and helping the Haitian government to solve the problems they have.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why should Americans care about Haiti? We have problems here and around the world and that's the question I always get asked.

JONATHAN KATZ, "THE BIG TRUCK THAT WENT BY" AUTHOR: There's a couple of things, and I've heard often when the question is asked is Haiti's proximity to the United States, and that's absolutely true. And another thing that's very important to consider is Haiti's problems don't act in a vacuum. The United States has been involved in Haiti since the beginning. Haiti is the second oldest Republic in the Americas. The United States is the first. They've had a very long relationship, often acrimonious. It's involved occupations by United States in Haiti. It's involved invasions by the United States in Haiti. Not everything that the United States has done there has been good.

One example is that the United States has overseen the implementation of food policy in Haiti that involves the importation of heavily subsidized American grain, especially rice, which is undercut Haitian farmers and put a lot of Haitian families out of business and worsened poverty there.

So it's not like we can just sit back and say, oh, this isn't really our problem. This is their problem, they need to fix it, because we've been involved all along in good as well as in bad. And it's not like we can just choose to disengage when things aren't going so well there. We've been involved, we're still involved. There really isn't a choice in the matter. The only question is, do we want to be a force for good or do we want to be something else.

VAN SUSTEREN: We traveled in armored cars, was that overkill or was that good judgment.

WALKER: You have very precious cargo, so that wasn't overkill.

VAN SUSTEREN: But is it dangerous for Americans?

WALKER: It depends where you are. The government, a lot of instability, a lot of violence and corruption, police corruption has occurred in places. And so when you're travelling in Haiti, you're concerned about safety, particularly when you get off the main thoroughfares, when the sun goes down, because it's a society where the police force is not that active, it's not really present very much outside of the main cities.

VAN SUSTEREN: But the State Department recently issued a travel advisory which it did for many countries for Americans, but Haiti caught my attention.

WALKER: They recently reduced the travel advisory. I think that's a wise precaution by the state department. Again, there's been improvements in Haiti, and the president's government has been taking active steps to improve the safety and security in the country, but it's still a dangerous place to be.

THE REV. FRANKLIN GRAHAM, SAMARITAN'S PURSE: If the problems aren't solved in Haiti, sooner or later they're going to get in boats like I've seen in the past where they're going to come to our shores one way or another. So, let's help Haiti solve their problems. The Haitian people, everybody likes to come to America, but also everybody loves their own home. The Haitians love Haiti, and if we can help solve their political problems, they would stay.

VAN SUSTEREN: And aren't they spectacular beautiful places in Haiti. People have never been there, but it's absolutely gorgeous.

KATZ: Haiti is a spectacularly beautiful country. The name comes from the word, old native word for a mountainous place. It has soaring peaks. Basically the highest mountains in the Caribbean are on the island of Hispaniola. There are beautiful beaches. In the north, there's the citadel, and it's the world heritage site, originally a fortress built to propel attacks from the French, but on itself, magnificent castles on top of a the mountain, it's a beautiful country, really gorgeous.

VAN SUSTEREN: What does Haiti need? I guess operating government. Anything else it needs?

WALKER: I think it needs to develop. It's got the resources there, that's the conundrum. You look at Haiti and the resources, the lush terrain, the beaches, our compound where we worked with Samaritan's Purse in Haiti. We're on the beach and sit and eat your meal ten yards from the water and I wouldn't put my toe in that water because of the infrastructure. The government hasn't developed a sewer system.

So I think that's the government particularly. We can't help them. We can help individuals in Haiti. We can't fix the Haiti government. We can't correct their problems. The government of Haiti has to be developed and focused on the long-term effort.

VAN SUSTEREN: I don't think you realize it's so hot there you drink a lot of water, and people drinking all these plastic bottles and then just chuck it. It ends up in the sewer system, it clogs everything up, I know that the Samaritan's Purse and reverend graham had to pay to retrieve those bottles to get them out of there so these drains, so there'd be less sewage stopped up. It's a horrible, never ending cycle.

WALKER: One great program is our recycling program. We set up entrepreneurs. They pay and collect a group of businessmen working with them, they go out and gather the plastic and we bring it into a central facility and bundle and bail it with the machines we have and then take it to the recycling center. In just 2012 we returned almost $100,000 to the Haitian economy by paying the people involved in this program. So we helped make their lives better and showed them what it was like to be an entrepreneur, what it was like to take care of their family, what it was like to involve the community in this effort. And the end result was cleaning up Haiti, a huge problem.

VAN SUSTEREN: And on the same landmass is the Dominican Republic. It's a vastly different country. Why do you think the difference between the Dominican Republic on one side of the land mass and Haiti on the other. They look very different. One is prosperous and one is truly a country in crisis.

GRAHAM: It's just the government, Greta, no question. And Haiti had a dictator, one after another. And you could go right on down the line of these corrupt political leaders that have been in the country that have taken advantage of the Haitian people now for a little over a century.

They need America's involvement, no question. We need to be there and help the Haitian people. But I just wish that the United States government would get involved in even a bigger way and help them administratively. We did this to Iraq. How come we can't help them and do this in Haiti by actually putting them up, like a military administrative, somebody to go in and actually help run the country, set the systems back in place and turn it over to the Haitian people when every system is up and running. It can be done. We did it in Iraq.