Humble police station is new base for Haitian govt

2010-01-21 10:31

The Cabinet holds meetings outdoors on an uncovered concrete slab

under the broiling tropical sun. The communications office is a folding table

beneath a tree, and the president greets dignitaries inside a drab, one-story

building.

The earthquake that destroyed the Haitian capital’s most prominent

institutions, including the now-crumpled presidential palace, has left the top

layer of government for a country of 9 million people operating in a tiny police

station.

Struggling with a massive humanitarian crisis, officials say they

barely notice the humble surroundings.

“I am serving the nation. I don’t have any time to make any comment

about the location of the president’s office,” said Yves Mazile, chief of

protocol, who was ushering foreign delegations in to see President Rene

Preval.

A Haitian flag flies at half-staff inside the driveway of the

judicial police headquarters, one of the many reminders of the estimated 200 000

people killed in the January 12 earthquake.

A Foreign Ministry worker with a string of pearls around her neck

smiles for visitors, keeping up appearances despite the loose ceiling panels and

hanging wires in the concrete police building. The staff was busy on Wednesday

with visits from Dominican, Korean and Israeli delegations, all of them

coordinating aid.

The Haitian Cabinet met outside on Wednesday morning to discuss aid

because there was no room inside the cramped building. After Preval arrived, his

visitors passed through the lobby of flaking blue paint for private

meetings.

In a capital that is burying tens of thousands of people in mass

graves, officials say they are grateful the Cabinet still is intact.

“We are alive but each of us, like people across the country, have

people in our lives who died,” said Communications and Culture Minister Marie

Laurence Jocelyn-Lassegue, who was attending to a couple of dozen local and

international reporters in one corner of the driveway.

The police station was chosen because of its proximity to

Port-au-Prince’s international airport, the entry point for a stream of aid the

hemisphere’s poorest country is on counting to endure the quake’s effects.

The US government takes pains to stress that Haitians are still

running the country despite the arrival of some 10 000 American troops. With

local police stretched to their limit even before the quake, US soldiers have

become a common sight on the streets of Port-au-Prince, even guarding the

entrance to the General Hospital.

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