State Dept. Briefing – HAITI: Foreign Criticism of US – Spokesman Never Had A Chance

Posted on January 26, 2010



State Department Daily Briefing

PJ Crowley Spokesman

January 26, 2010


QUESTION: P.J., the Secretary had some very harsh words this morning about foreign criticism of the Haiti relief efforts. And minutes after she spoke, the Italian prime minister released a statement distancing himself from the remarks of his own safety chief two days ago. I wonder whether Italy was the country that the Secretary was talking about. And if not, which country was it? What media was she talking about when she was —

MR. CROWLEY: Start again?

QUESTION: — when she said she’s resenting —

MR. CROWLEY: I didn’t catch the first part of your —

QUESTION: Oh, wondering whether Italy was the country that she meant when she said she resents the foreign criticism about the Haiti effort.

MR. CROWLEY: As you know, there have been a number of entities that have expressed their concern. All that we can say is that the effort over the last two weeks has been nothing short of extraordinary – very difficult conditions, very limited infrastructure in Haiti. We still have a lot of work to go. There’s still much greater requirement than there are assets on the ground, but every day, we keep on getting closer to the point where we can support and sustain the population of Haiti.

I think that those who would criticize may take for granted the infrastructure that we have in the West relative to the difficult infrastructure that exists in Haiti – and the fact is that not only are USAID personnel supported by other agencies of government and also the military and the international response. We’ve been working to find ways over the past two weeks to compensate, both in terms of exploiting the airport, repairing the ports, finding ways to bring additional equipment and material to help the people of Haiti, at the same time supporting and rescuing our own citizens.

So I’ll let the Secretary’s words stand on their own, but clearly, I would say there have been a number of figures that have pointed fingers and occasionally at our country as well.

QUESTION: Just to – can I just follow quickly just on a broader question? There was a lot of excitement around the world when the President was elected in 2008, particularly in Europe. And as we can see, there are still officials, senior officials in allied countries in Europe, who continue to criticize the United States, whether fairly or not. I wonder what that – you think that might say about the Administration’s relations with some allies.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, this has not been unique to this past year.

QUESTION: Right. I’m saying that it – that’s right. So I’m saying that it – one could argue that the trend of the eight years before the President was in office perhaps hasn’t discontinued.

MR. CROWLEY: Look, I think the engagement that we have undertaken over the past year has paid dividends. I think the – broadly speaking, many or most people around the world recognize the vital importance of U.S. leadership to solve issues – to resolve issues that are sometimes local or regional in nature and sometimes more global in nature. It is not to say that the election of President Obama by itself solved these challenges. The President himself has talked about the difficulty in dealing with all of these confounding issues – whether it’s climate change on the one hand, Middle East peace on the other hand – but we have shown our seriousness of purpose and our commitment to these issues. At any particular moment, you could take a snapshot and someone will say this is not right, that’s not right. We accept that, given our leadership position around the world.

But I think, on balance, we’re satisfied that we’ve improved significantly the standing of the United States in the world. We’re engaging a much broader range of countries than we have in the past. We’re seeking input from countries to work more cooperatively. You’ve heard the Secretary talk over and over again about the importance of partnerships among governments, among nongovernmental organizations, and partnerships between the American people and the people of the world.

So I think our efforts here are to try to establish a common purpose, and what she’ll do in London this week is obviously continue to collaborate closely on this issue, as we have on other issues, so that we move forward, try to solve these problems together rather than trying to suggest we can do it alone.

QUESTION: P.J. two brief things on that?


QUESTION: One, you said those who would criticize may take for granted the infrastructure that we have here in the West. Do you see – notice a problem with that statement?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, you – for example, in our country, you had General Honore —

QUESTION: P.J., Haiti is in the west. That —

MR. CROWLEY: Well, in —

QUESTION: And a lot of people would say that the problem —

MR. CROWLEY: in the First World. As —

QUESTION: In the First World?

MR. CROWLEY: Let us say that.

QUESTION: All right.

MR. CROWLEY: What I meant was, for example, you have criticisms coming from Italy, occasionally from France. We’ve had General Honore in our own country, who has tried to draw an equivalence between our experience in New Orleans and the experience in Haiti, and the fact is you cannot compare the two. You can compare the experience in Italy and what was a very effective response to an earthquake in Italy last year.

The fact is that in countries like the United States, you have infrastructure, you have resources, you have the ability to respond rapidly and effectively. In the case of Katrina, you had a devastating storm, but that affected a relatively small part of the country. If you look at Haiti, a country that had limited infrastructure and capacity before the earthquake, you’re talking about a much more devastating punch that Haiti has taken. And we have responded effectively. We have responded rapidly. We are making progress. And we think that criticism is unfounded.

QUESTION: Okay. Now you’ve mentioned three – you’ve mentioned Italy, France, and General Honore. The Secretary talked about the international media criticism. Can you be more specific about that?

MR. CROWLEY: I cannot.

QUESTION: Can we —

MR. CROWLEY: Well, put it this way. I mean —

QUESTION: I’m talking about reporting. When a senior Italian official or a senior French official says something critical, it should be reported.

MR. CROWLEY: When you’re talking about international reporting, we have had – I’ve had direct conversations with our friends at Al Jazeera, for example. And we have spent some time critiquing what we felt was unfair, unbalanced coverage of operations in Haiti. So we will have those conversations where we think that coverage is unfair. Occasionally, we’ve had those conversations with CNN.

QUESTION: Have – that’s interesting to know. Does it extend beyond television?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m sure it does. I haven’t had those conversations yet.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. CROWLEY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Still on Haiti, can you update us on the numbers of Americans evacuated, Americans dead, Americans still not accounted for, orphans leaving for the United States, please?

MR. CROWLEY: I can. We’ve had a slight uptick in – tragically, in the casualty rate. At this moment, as of this morning, we have 60 confirmed American fatalities: 56 private, four U.S. Government. And we have another 37 fatalities that we have not yet confirmed their identities. So that brings you close to 100.

We have still roughly 4,000 or so files that we are pursuing where we have not yet been able to account – fully account for Americans there, but we’re approaching about 20,000 in terms of the number of Americans that we have been able to account for, either because we’ve had contact with them or because they’ve been evacuated or we’ve since had calls in so —

QUESTION: And that was about 20,000?

MR. CROWLEY: About 20,000.

QUESTION: Evacuations?

MR. CROWLEY: Evacuations, it’s been more than 12,000 — 12,083, to be exact, as of 5 a.m. this morning.

QUESTION: Do you have the orphan numbers and –


QUESTION: The orphan numbers and the DHS status?

MR. CROWLEY: Orphan numbers were at 497 that have been evacuated to date. Another 629 Haitians have been paroled for a variety of reasons – medical, humanitarian, or other factors.

QUESTION: On the orphans, do you have the breakdown on how many of those received immigration visas and how many of those received humanitarian paroles?


QUESTION: To go back to your complaints about the coverage for a second, is it —

MR. CROWLEY: I think on balance the coverage has been extraordinary.

QUESTION: Specifically, what was your problem with the coverage – that these outlets were reporting the criticism from foreign officials or that they were editorializing?

MR. CROWLEY: No, we – in one particular case, we thought that the reporting on the ground in Haiti was inflammatory.


MR. CROWLEY: It suggested there was a militarization of the effort. It compared military activities at the airport to a little Green Zone, as I will recall, in one particular instance. We thought that was inappropriate.

QUESTION: And that was CNN?


QUESTION: Would you say who that was with?

MR. CROWLEY: It was a conversation I had with officials at Al Jazeera, English channel. Back in the back.

QUESTION: Wait, wait, wait. Charlie – are you going to answer Charlie’s question?

QUESTION: What was your – what is your criticism of CNN coverage? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Let me —

QUESTION: Wait. It’s a serious question. (Laughter.)

MR. CROWLEY: I’m done on this subject.