Tales from the Trail

Where’s an embattled leader to go?

Spa treatment or desert retreat?

With so many possible locations from which to choose and no worries about stretching the 401K, where’s an embattled leader to settle in retirement? GERMANY/

Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak has announced he will not run for reelection in September. But protesters who have taken to the streets of Cairo and other Egyptian cities by the thousands are demanding he leave office now.

Mubarak, 82, vows never to flee and says he will die on Egyptian soil.

Nevertheless, a departure with dignity may be among various scenarios under discussion as stakeholders continue searching for ways to bring the crisis in Egypt to an end.

Will it end  with Mubarak traveling to Germany for a prolonged medical stay?

Germany’s Spiegel Online reports, based on information it obtained, a luxury clinic near Baden-Baden — a German spa town on the edge of the Black Forest — is  favored as a likely destination.

But wired.com reports it’s more likely Mubarak will land in Saudi Arabia.  The article cites Recorded Future,  a data mining company funded by  Google and the CIA.

Washington flatfooted by return of Haiti’s “Baby Doc”

He departed Haiti in 1986 aboard a U.S. Air Force plane, winging to stage-managed exile after weeks of pressure from the Reagan administration.

HAITI-DUVALIER/Haiti’s infamous “Baby Doc”, Jean Claude Duvalier,  made a surprise reappearance in his homeland this weekend, and Washington’s planners had less than an hour to prepare.

“We were informed about an hour before the point that he landed this weekend,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said. “If I look at the list of challenges that Haiti faces today having a former dictator return to Haiti just adds to Haiti’s ongoing burden.”

Washington Extra – Swallows and Democrats

In the words of Aristotle: “one swallow does not a summer make, nor one fine day; similarly one day or brief time of happiness does not make a person entirely happy.”

Nevertheless, Democrats might not be feeling quite so down in the dumps today, as evidence comes in that in early voting (allowed at election offices and satellite locations in 32 states) the Democrats are off to a stronger-than-expected start. It is impossible to tell how people actually voted, but Democrats do appear to be showing up in greater numbers in some key states than some had feared. But things are still not going as well for them as in 2008.

The “enthusiasm gap” is expected to be one of the Democrats’ biggest handicaps in the midterms, this early evidence, and rallies next weekend by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, notwithstanding.

Washington Extra – Building a better Haiti

Returning home from a fascinating week in Haiti today, and meetings with the prime minister, UN mission chief, aid workers, business leaders and middle class and poor Haitians. HAITI/

In a sense, Haiti is another test case for the international aid and development effort. A disaster on the scale of the January earthquake — striking a poor country with a weak government and private sector — has highlighted all the well-known pros and cons of the international aid effort, which now seems to run much of the country and economy. 

Today, there is very little malnutrition, epidemics and major disturbances have been avoided and healthcare for most Haitians is better than before the quake struck, all major achievements.

Washington Extra – Storm clouds over Haiti

There was a tremendous outpouring of goodwill and money for Haiti after the quake, which prevented a further humanitarian catastrophe. But so far, nine months after the capital was devastated, progress in “building back better” seems painfully slow. haitiRubble still chokes the narrow streets of Port-au-Prince, and 1.3 million people occupy every available scrap of land in tents awaiting resettlement, or even just a government plan on what to do with them.

Given the mind-boggling scale of the disaster, the weakness of the government and economy even before the earthquake, the lack of land as well as clearly defined land ownership records, it is unfair to expect too much.

But today everyone seems to be asking: What has all this goodwill achieved in terms of lasting benefits to Haiti? One thing that is clear from our interviews this week is the government, local elites and the international community seem to be playing something of a blame game.

The complicated question of Haiti’s orphans

HAITIThe devastation caused by Haiti’s earthquake has extended to some of its youngest and most powerless victims: orphans awaiting clearance to join adoptive families in the United States.

The U.S. government has already said it will allow orphaned children from Haiti to come to the United States temporarily for needed medical treatment, and on Wednesday expanded its effort.

Now three departments — State, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services — say they’ll join together to deal with what is a complicated question, according to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

Haiti’s “Wizard-of-Oz” president – nowhere to be seen

QUAKE-HAITI/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.” 

QUAKE-HAITI/

 

Click here for more coverage of the Haiti earthquake.

Haiti’s forgotten bodies

QUAKE-HAITI/As a ragtag group of Haitian rescue workers tried to dig a dead man from underneath a collapsed telecoms company building in Port-au-Prince this week, the firm’s owner told me how the 40-year-old security guard had been a cherished employee.
 
Only a short time before, Tarek el Bakri, a Lebanese businessman who lived at the top of the now perilously slanted building, had paid for the funeral of the man’s grandson, so much was he part of the family. Now he was paying workers to free his corpse.
 
The workers yelled and squabbled about how best to get at him — only his arm, shoulder and head were visible — without causing the structure, which had desks sandwiched between its layers, and a car crushed underneath, to collapse further.
 
A water mains had burst, causing a small fountain to spray out near the dead man’s head. At one point an excavator churned toward the site, but the workers waved it away.
 
The man had three children, el Bakri told me. He was crushed along with two cleaning staff. In all, Bakri lost 11 employees in offices across the city, as well as his own home.
 
He said he was the only one pushing for the bodies to be pulled out. He hadn’t heard anything from city officials about what he should do. “In any other country people would gather together to help each other,” he said. “Here you are on your own. Nobody cares.”
 
When I returned a day later, the man’s corpse was still there. His dark skin dustier than before. The fountain was still spurting.
 
I remembered then what el Bakri had told me: looters squeezed in to steal all the office computers and cell phone stocks well before anybody had tried to free the victims.

 

QUAKE-HAITI/

Reuters photos by Eduardo Munoz and Carlos Barria.

Click here for more stories on the Haiti earthquake disaster.

Haiti – shutting out the cries

QUAKE-HAITI/Last night, I slept on the floor with the cries of the wounded searing through the night air across the hills of Port-au-Prince. Every so often, there was an outbreak of wailing and shrieking, when someone died. Sometimes, prayers were sung and chanted. We are all becoming inured to the pain – I found myself longing for earplugs.

At 5 a.m. in the morning, there was an after-shock from the earthquake, one of the strongest yet. The ground shook, sending more rubble falling off the half-destroyed Hotel Villa Creole, waking up dozens of exhausted journalists, and causing more pain to the many wounded and homeless Haitians sleeping on the street outside the hotel. The few waiters still working here served us coffee, while volunteers at the impromptu hospital on our porch tried to close gashes and keep people alive.
 
By midday, I had visited a dozen makeshift refugee camps where no one had received a drop of water or a bite to eat from authorities or aid agencies. I found nine mass graves outside the capital, the putrid smell of piled up corpses still hanging on my T-shirt. I saw chaos at the airport where Haitians are clamoring to get out, and the world is clamoring to get aid in.
 
Now, after grilled chicken at the hotel (where does it keep coming from?) it is time to step over the bodies on the porch again to go and check reports of rioting downtown and burning bodies in a nearby refugee settlement. Then, it will be back to the Villa Creole to see if the water is back on for a shower in the room I share with about a dozen colleagues. Despite the large comfortable bed, no one dares sleep there because of the after-shocks. But until the water went off, it was worth the risk for a few minutes to shower and get clean.
 
Yesterday, the wine and beer flowed for some during dinner, though conversation was interrupted by chilling groans from over the wall. Don’t take any of that flippantly  — it is most certainly not written that way. After nearly two decades covering the trouble-spots of Latin America, Africa and elsewhere, this correspondent and most of the multitude of veteran colleagues here still find the surreal juxtapositions deeply disturbing. Everyone reacts in their own way — some stop to help, others walk on by. But nobody is sleeping soundly, believe me.

 

QUAKE-HAITI/

Reuters photos by Carlos Barria and Jorge Silva

Click here for more stories on the Haiti earthquake disaster.

Clinton says Haiti’s development prospects can still be good

Former President Bill Clinton, who is helping to coordinate global relief for Haiti with former President George W. Bush, CLIMATE/COPENHAGEN-BILLCLINTONsays the quake-stricken country could bounce back much more quickly than people might think.

Clinton told NBC’s Today show that Haiti had made it onto the path to modernization when the earthquake struck on Tuesday. But he denied claims that the devastation may have set the impoverished country’s development back by half a century.

“Because they started from a low base, we can reconstitute where they are quicker than everyone thinks. I just do not agree that they’ve been set back 50 years,” he said. “If we go back to work, we’ll be all right.”