Haiti’s “Wizard-of-Oz” president – nowhere to be seen
There’s something weirdly symbolic in the sight of thousands of homeless Haitians massed in a sprawling tent city bang in front of the collapsed icing-sugar white presidential palace.
They’re here because it’s the biggest open space in the capital, but it somehow looks like an appeal for President Rene Preval to come out and speak to his people and reassure them that he stands behind them, that together the country will get through the catastrophe caused by Tuesday’s earthquake.
Four days after Tuesday’s earthquake the Haitian flag that once fluttered above the National Palace still lies in a wilted heap over the toppled white ruin. In the park opposite, men and women strip to their underpants to bathe in a large fountain and scrub their clothes. The hang their laundry on the park rails.
Garbage is scattered everywhere and the smell of urine and excrement is getting worse.
Far from coming to address them, Preval is holed up in the judicial police headquarters near the airport, mumbling that he can’t do much when half the government’s offices are destroyed and he doesn’t even have a cell phone signal.
Meanwhile, the hundreds of thousands of Haitians who lost their homes and families have been left to fend for themselves, with no food handouts and no proper medical treatment. In many cases, they are seriously injured.
Foreign rescue workers are battling round the clock digging for survivors. But in the absence of a working government, the disaster relief teams who are supposed to be delivering food, latrines and medical supplies are still mostly dithering about sorting out logistics.
From the shambles outside the presidential palace, you wonder if anybody is in charge at all.
“The country is not working right now. It’s not even eating,” remarked Louis Widlyne, one of the countless people sleeping on a sheet that marks out his living quarters in the park.
A police officer called Joe was more sympathetic. He had received no orders since Tuesday’s disaster, but decided on his own on Saturday that it was time to go back on the beat.
“Preval should have come and spoken to his people, but he hasn’t,” he said. “He is like that. It’s just the kind of president he is.”
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