Frictions between nations rise over struggle of getting aid to Haiti
Sunday, January 17, 2010
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI -- Food and water trickled to the stricken people of Haiti on Saturday, as a global aid operation struggled with frictions and confusion over who was in charge to bring relief to this crumbled, earthquake-ravaged city.
Four days after the 7.0-magnitude quake brought much of Port-au-Prince down on its residents Tuesday, a few signs of national survival flickered, even as some Haitians began an exodus out of the devastated capital and into the countryside.
But there were growing tensions over which country's planes were allowed to land here first, with each nation insisting its aid flight was a priority, according to an official involved in the relief operation.
The French government became so annoyed when a plane with an emergency field hospital was turned back Friday that foreign minister Bernard Kouchner lodged a protest with the State Department, according to the French ambassador to Haiti, Didier Le Bret.
Le Bret said that the Port-au-Prince airport has become "not an airport for the international community. It is an annex of Washington."
"We were told it was an extreme emergency, there was a need for a field hospital," the ambassador said. "We might be able to make a difference and save lives."
At the same time, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton flew in for a visit with Haitian President Rene Preval, as the Haitian government worked to maintain a presence amid the ruins of Port-au-Prince.
The nearly collapsed Haitian government is at least nominally in charge of the relief effort, even though it has ceded air traffic control at the airport to the U.S. military.
With their offices heavily damaged, the president and his cabinet are now working out of a cramped, low-slung Haitian judicial police headquarters near the airport. International aid workers consider the building so fragile -- it has small cracks from the earthquake -- that they hold meetings with the officials on plastic chairs on the patio outside.
Adding to the confusion, the top two leaders of the U.N. mission in Haiti, who normally would coordinate an aid response, are presumed dead. They disappeared after the quake destroyed the building in which they were meeting.
Clinton, while en route to Haiti, took note of the layers of authority in Haiti, which include the Brazilian-led U.N. security force.