Haiti Child Evacuation: A New Operation Pedro Pan (my keystone Haitian entry)
Yesterday I participated in a 2-hour government teleconference held by the USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services) Office of Public Engagement and International Division “to outline Haitian adoptions policy and address questions and concerns.” Partners in the teleconference were the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of State, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Customs and Border Protection. (The alphabet soup is actually bigger than that in terms of smaller divisions working in the mess that is Haiti, not to mention Pentagon operations which have largely been ignored by the press.) There was an extensive Q & A session. I never made it through, but someone asked a similar question that covered some of it. At the end of the session there were about 40 callers left hanging.
I will be writing about and referencing what was said in future entries after I type up the 17 pages of notes I made. I do, though, want to give a brief description of what is happening on the ground at the US Embassy regarding adoption and make some comments on priorities.
The Embassy (pre-quake picture) has been in a state of chaos. Some Embassy staff lost family members and homes and are unavailable. Until yesterday (I think) only one person has been handling orphan/adoption exit requests, and he has been working virtually non-stop with only 2 hours of sleep a night. A second person joined him yesterday and four more are scheduled to join today. (My notes are a little unclear on this, and there may be one more recent addition). Consular services has been pitching in, but they have their own duties.
Hundreds of adoptive parents, paps, orphanage directors with dozens of children, and even, apparently, loose children gather outside the US Embassy. Many come unannounced demanding entry. Officials have set up and are refining procedures for entry into the compound, interviews, and decision making. (Procedures were discussed in detail, but I”ll hold that for another entry.) They emphasize that the Embassy needs advance notice of petitioners so someone can go outside, locate them, and escort them through the gates. Only adoption cases are being handled. (Haitians with other Embassy business, including those with pending pre-quake visa and immigration applications are being turned away for now.) Once inside, Embassy staff is furnishing kids with food, water, and other care while their cases are investigated.
Officially, the process is just not whisking kids and their keepers through. Each child removal is fraught with paperwork, paperwork verification, questioning, visa applications and approvals, etc. Accept for “special” cases, like Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell’s BRESMA Orphanage”rescue mission,” in which 54 healthy “orphans” under the age of 4, earlier denied visas, were whisked out on the US government fast track. BRESMA is operated by photogenic Ben Avon, Pennsylvania natives Jamie and Ali McMurtie. They requested assistance from high places, and got a lot of TV coverage as a result. Here is the McMutrie Sisters statement after their return to Pittsburgh.
Rep. Jason Altmire, (D-Pennsylvania), who traveled with Rendell’s group, contradicts the number of denied visas, saying he understood that all the children were cleared to leave but the paperwork of 14 had been destroyed causing the Embassy to deny them exit visas. This doesn’t make any sense to me, but I’m only reporting what was published. Of course, we don’t know if there ever was any paperwork. Whatever, those 14 got out when Rendell & Co put the squeeze on.
According to January 20, 2010 CNN, via Rendell, adoption placement for 47 of the children was already underway before the quake. No mention of how far “under way” or what proof they were even in the pipeline was offered. 40 children were bound for the US and 7 to other countries. During the teleconference we learned that transfer to the intended destination countries of those non-US bound children would be a “complicated process.” An additional seven children had no “adoption plans” prior to evacuation, which contradicts Altmire’s statement. Adoptive parents will be sought for them. According to today’s Pittsburgh Post Gazette, about 20 of the kids are housed in (Holy Nebraska Fiasco!) Holy Family Institute, a residential treatment center in Emsworth, Pennsylvania that houses around 50 other children. The facility was given 24 hours notice to get ready for the surprise delivery.Those who have no adoptive families lined up will stay there indefinitely Except one. Three-year old Fredo has been “adopted” by the McMutrie Sister’s parents. Boy, that was fast! Wonder what they pulled that home study out of.
Here’s the January 20, 2010 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette-Philadelphia Inquirer account of Rendell’s trip (my emphasis):
But to get a private plane into Haiti on Monday — and then hop a military-transport flight out — Mr. Rendell had to muscle his way through an international logjam over access to the Caribbean nation’s sole airport.
Inadvertently perhaps, he also inserted himself into talks between the State Department and Haitian officials over how — and how many — orphans will be permitted to come to the United States for adoption.
While still on the tarmac in Port-au-Prince, Mr. Rendell said, he learned that CNN anchor Anderson Cooper had “ripped” him on TV for his unilateral move amid efforts to coordinate the global response to the crisis. “I just didn’t care,” the governor said. “To see those faces. …”
Mr. Rendell said he had learned Friday of pleas by two Pittsburgh-area women, working at the Port-au-Prince orphanage, to get the children out. An “anonymous benefactor” provided the plane, he said. A team of University of Pittsburgh medical professionals volunteered to go.
Mr. Rendell said he chose to go along to use his political clout if bureaucratic problems arose — as, indeed, they did. “We were denied our slot [to land] until the pilot said, ‘The governor of Pennsylvania is on the plane,’ ” he recalled.
France and Brazil have both complained in recent days that the U.S. military, which now controls the Port-au-Prince airport, has hindered their sending in some planeloads of food and medical supplies. The Red Cross and another aid group, Doctors Without Borders, have also cited trouble getting clearance to land. Some flights have been diverted to the Dominican Republic.
Mr. Rendell himself said planes were “circling forever to get runway space.” As the Democratic governor of a big state, he was able to use his State Department and White House connections not only to arrange a flight into Haiti, but also to gain visas for the orphans. “The initial response [to the visas] was ‘no,’ ” he said.
The governor spoke with federal officials he knew, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s chief of staff, whom he had gotten to know during Mrs. Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. In the end, it took the National Security Council — the agency charged with protecting the nation from the gravest dangers — to break a deadlock over whether to grant all 53 orphans visas…
CNN’s Anderson Cooper was critical of Rendell’s “rescue mission” taking the governor to task during a live broadcast from Port au Prince. This is taken from PennLive.com and includes Rendell’s reply.
“Again, I just don’t understand that decision, and allowing [a] Democratic governor of a state to fly out a group of orphans who weren’t severely injured, but, you know, who God knows deserved to go to the United States and be united with parents,” Cooper said on air Monday.
Cooper was one of the first anchors to hit the ground after the quake that caused hellish devastation to Haiti’s capital city and had witnessed agonizing scenes of suffering. He and CNN’s chief medical reporter, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, were visibly agitated about the lack of medical supplies and “stupid deaths” taking place.
But upon his return Tuesday, Rendell said there was no equation to be drawn between American officials pulling strings to rescue healthy children and the thousands still in need of aid and care.
Rendell said he was drawn to action after two Pittsburgh-area sisters, Jamie and Ali McMurtrie, who run the Haitian orphanage, used Twitter and Facebook to plead for help in evacuating the children.
“Anderson Cooper was mistaken and wasn’t equipped with the facts. CNN was mistaken. He said we had 28 kids. We had 53. He did not know that we were carrying 2½ tons of medical supplies, more than Doctors Without Borders,” Rendell said.
“This is one success. There needs to be a hundred successes. The good news we were told by the State Department is that what we did will probably be the breakthrough that will open it up for a lot more orphans to come to the U.S.,” Rendell said.
We’re not sure how Rendell’s “rescue mission” will open the door for “orphans” except to encourage other bigwigs to call in markers from their Beltway cronies. Outside of harvesting a lot of opportunistic publicity, Rendell’s trip– and other relief-delaying actions during the military takeover of Haiti –has pissed off aid groups that were denied landing and diverted to The Dominican Republic while Rendell sat on the tarmac. Brazil and France have filed formal complaints with Washington over routine military diversion of aid flights. The January 17, 2010 Guardian reports:
Brasilia warned it would not relinquish command of UN forces in Haiti, and Paris complained the airport had become a US “annexe”,
The Red Cross has also complained, and Doctors Without Borders issued a press release, not only about the Rendell hold-up, but other problems with the US military control of the congested Toussaint l’Oeuverture Airport, which has forced them to land in DR and truck in (so far) 85 tons of medical supplies across the border.
Here is a portion of the press release:
“We have had five patients in Martissant health center die for lack of the medical supplies that this plane was carrying,” said Loris de Filippi, emergency coordinator for the MSF’s ChoscalSoleil. “I have never seen anything like this. Any time I leave the operating theater I see lots of people desperately asking to be taken for surgery. Today, there are 12 people who need lifesaving amputations at Choscal Hospital. We were forced to buy a saw in the market to continue amputations. We are running against time here.”…
…“It is like working in a war situation,” said Rosa Crestani, MSF medical coordinator for Choscal Hospital. “We don’t have any more morphine to manage pain for our patients. We cannot accept that planes carrying lifesaving medical supplies and equipment continue to be turned away while our patients die. Priority must be given to medical supplies entering the country.”
Clearly a lot more is going on here that the MSM (surprise!) isn’t covering . US (re)militarization of Haiti, and the militarization of aid goes beyond the scope of this blog, though I will continue to discuss it on some level. Here are four good reference points, to start with for those interested:
Alternet: Is the Haiti Rescue Effort Failing?
The anti-globalist website, Global Research, The Militarization of Emergency Aid to Haiti: Is it a Humanitarian Operation or an Invasion? by Canadian economist Michel Chossudovsky who points out that US rescue is headed up not by civilian agencies or even the odious USAid, but the Pentagon and SouthCom. There are a lot of other articles on Haiti there, too.
Baltimore Chronicle & Sentinel: Disaster Capitalism Headed for Haiti
Haitiaction.net: The Transformation of Diplomacy or a New Manifest Destiny?: a 2007 article about the building of the current US Embassy in Haiti–the 4th most expensive US embassy in the world behind Baghdad, Beijing, and Berlin. Now that makes ya wonder what’s going on that such a small country needs such a big compound. There are also some pictures of the complex so you can get an idea of how big it is and what kind refugee congestion is possible.
I fail to see how feelgood for the few export-for-adoption and premature evacuation of children to the US, and other western countries, where they stand little chance of family reunion, takes priority over food, shelter, medicine, running water, sanitation, electricity, and infrastructure for the many. We need to follow the axom: follow the money, and I suspect it goes way beyond the adoption industry. We are certainly down the rabbit hole. It is unconscionable that adoption business pushed by Beltway nabobs, trumps rescue and aid for the hundreds of thousands affected by the earthquake. This is about the globalization of children for profit and political gain. And what a jackpot they’ve hit!