I find this story about America and France to be bickering interesting on a number of levels. Both countries have long and sordid histories with the island nation.First, we have this situation of France being responsible for enslaved Africans being brought over to Haiti and that population turning around and defeating the French and winning their physical liberation. The problem was the newly freed Haiti were forced to pay their former slave owners reparations or risk future aggressions. America under Thomas Jefferson saw Haiti as a threat and feared that her succesful revolution would lead to enslaved Blacks in the US also revolting. His solution was to isolate the country and prevent freed Blacks from the US going to the island. All this led to massive poverty which has continued to this day. We’re including a link to an interview with long time Haitian activist Pierre LaBossier of the Haitian Action Commitee where he explains all this..
France & America bicker as Haiti aid fails to reach city
The international effort to deliver humanitarian aid to the victims of last week’s Port-au-Prince earthquake was hit by bickering today as a French government minister accused the Americans of trying to occupy Haiti instead of helping it.
Thousands of American soldiers have poured in to Port-au-Prince airport since President Obama announced that he was ordering a “swift and aggressive” campaign to help millions of Haitians left homeless by last week’s 7.0 magnitude earthquake.
Six days after the quake, however, precious little aid is getting beyond the airport perimeters – largely because of security concerns – and aid agencies with long experience of operating in disaster zones have complained that their flights in are being blocked unnecessarily.
Among the aircraft turned back by American air traffic controllers who have assumed control at Port-au-Prince airport was a French government Airbus carrying a field hospital.
The plane was able to land the following day but the decision to turn it back prompted an official complaint from Alain Joyandet, the French Minister for Co-operation who is overseeing the French aid effort.
Speaking to Europe 1 radio from an EU ministerial meeting in Brussels this morning, Mr Joyandet said that the UN would have to clarify the role of the US in the Haitian aid effort. “It’s a matter of helping Haiti, not occupying Haiti,” he said.
Mr Joyandet’s sniping is likely to anger the White House although the Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, warned both governments and aid groups not to squabble as they try to get their aid into Haiti.
“People always want it to be their plane … that lands,” Mr Kouchner said. “What is important is the fate of the Haitians.”
Before becoming a politician Mr Kouchner made his name as humanitarian pioneer, founding the doctors’ charity Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) in 1971.
MSF is among the aid agencies directly affected by the logjam at Port-au-Prince airport. Its operations manager in Port-au-Prince, Benoit Leduc, complained today that five MSF flights have been turned back so far, three of them carrying cargo and two medical staff.
“We clearly had about 48 hours extra delay because of this access problem,” he told journalists in a conference call.
One of the MSF flights turned back on Saturday was carrying a large inflatable hospital of a type that MSF have used in various disaster zones since the Kashmir earthquake four years ago. The flight was diverted to the neighbouring Santa Domingo and the hospital and ther medical supplies are having to be brought in overland.
Six days after the devastating tremor that flattened much of the city and killed an estimated 200,000 people, 280 emergency centres were finally due to be set up, starting from today, to provide shelter and to distribute the enormous stockpiles of donated water and food that have been building up at Haiti’s airport.
The centres are due to be run and the supplies handed out by the United Nation’s World Food Programme. Each will have the capacity for around 500 people, and will be situated in public building like schools and churches in Port au Prince and six nearby towns.
Haitians complain that their Government has been silent – President Preval is himself camped out at the airport and has yet to address his people – and that aid distribution has been either totally absent or at best haphazard. They say that injured and vulnerable people are dying without shelter in the oppressive heat for lack of water.
Ordinary water supplies are polluted and broken, and bottled water is selling for $6 a bottle on the black market in the streets. On the rare occasion that a water truck appears on the streets, it is mobbed.
Even the most visible camp for homeless people – the sprawl of cardboard and blanket shelters in the Champs de Mars public park next to the ruined presidential palace – has not a single fixed water supply, aid distribution point or clinic to assess the needs of the wounded.
The UN says that yesterday it managed to feed 40,000 people and that it hopes to increase that to 1 million people a day within two weeks, and 2 million in a month.
“By the end of Monday, we will have distributed more than 200,000 food rations in and around Port-au-Prince,” the UN World Food Programme announced in a statement. It said that it was establishing food kitchens to feed the hungry.
But a community organiser at one makeshift camp for 10,000 people in Challe spoke angrily of UN blue berets arriving yesterday without warning and flinging small packets of biscuits from the back of their truck – the first aid workers they had seen and the first food most had eaten in days – but failing to bring the water and medical supplies that are most urgently needed.
“We have been waiting since Tuesday and that is all there is!” agreed Vanel Louis-Paul, a father of three, brandishing an empty biscuit packet.
At the airport, many soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division have been hanging around since Wednesday night without leaving the complex.
One of them, Private First Class Patrick Jones, told The Times that only a few supplies of food and water had arrived. ”We don’t want to go out and distribute anything until we are sure we have enough for everyone,” he said. “We don’t want to give to some and not to others.”
The delays are causing anger and frustration, and leading to unrest and violence. Witnesses report large-scale, organised looting by groups of youths armed with knives in the tight grid of streets next to the Champs de Mars homeless camp, stripping the last remaining supplies from the empty city.
The gangs welcome the presence of reporters as protection from police. There are unconfirmed reports of police asking journalists to leave, and then firing live rounds to maim or kill the looters. A New York Times reported seeing four alleged looters dumped by police at the national cemetery, three dead and one dying from gunshot wounds.
Mobs of Haitians are also reported to taking the law into their own hands, with at least one confirmed case of a looter lynched to death.
Dorsainvil Robenson, a policeman chasing down looters in the capital, said: “We do not have the capacity to fix this situation. Haiti needs help … the Americans are welcome here, but where are they? We need them here on the street with us.”