Clinton lands in Haiti
Updated 4:31 p.m.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton landed in Haiti shortly before 3 p.m. Saturday, where she met with Haitian president Rene Preval and is assessing disaster recovery efforts.
Clinton and Preval embraced warmly as they greeted each other outside an air-conditioned tent where earlier she had been meeting with U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Ken Keen and U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Kenneth Merten. Cheryl Mills, the State Department chief of staff who made numerous trips to Haiti last year and been a central actor on Haiti policy, also embraced Preval.
The tent was inside a cinderblock warehouse with a corrugated aluminum roof, according to a pool report. Soldiers sat at their desks, in four rows. Outside, helicopters landed and took off, and the mountains were visible in the distance.
Clinton arrived aboard a Coast Guard C-130 plane carrying supplies for American embassy workers in Haiti and with plans to transport 50 Americans injured in Tuesday's quake back to the United States when she departs. She is not expected to remain in Haiti overnight.
Lachlan Carmichael of Agence France Presse filed this pool report from Clinton's plane during a stop for supplies in Puerto Rico en route to Port-au-Prince:
State officials on background:
Clinton flew to Coast Guard Air Station Borinquen in Puerto Rico, where she will take a US air force transport plane (C-130, we're told by state department officials) to Port-au-Prince. She is flying with 100 cases of water and 100 cases of MREs, as well as several thousands dollars worth of food and toiletries that her staff bought last night from CVS, Safeway and Costco in the DC area.... [A later pool report clarified that the water and MREs were for the Haitian people while materials bought at the drugs stores were for the 140 embassy staffers in Haiti.]
When Clinton leaves Haiti later, she will take with her a total of 50 American citizens back from Haiti.
ITEMS: toothbrushes, toilet paper, bagels, donuts, socks, underwear, deodorant, breakfast cereal like fruit loops,facial scrub, soap, cigarettes (there was a debate at first, but decision was finally in favor of cigarettes, presumably because of stress)
When we land at airport Clinton will meet with U.S. Ambassador [Kenneth] Merten, Tim Callaghan, Ambassador Lew Luke, Carlene Dei, who heads up the USAID mission and who met the Haitian health minister the other day.
She will meet President Preval immediately afterward. There will be a joint presser... She will meet with UN officials, including the new representative Edmond Multe, who replaced the one who died. She will tour MASH units where casualties will be.
Clinton, wearing a turquoise-colored sweater, and holding a drink and her sunglasses in her left hand, talked to reporters in back of plane.
She was asked why the military did not parachute supplies in.
She replied that was one of the first question State asked the military.
She said they replied: "They won't do that. They don't think that's a good idea. It's too dangerous.... You can do that in rural areas. In urban areas it causes riots....and causes injuries to people." By the latter, she meant, they can fall on people in crowded areas.
She said the military had other logistics problems related to the crowds. For example, the military identified landing areas for helicopters, but then when they return, it's "covered with people" and impossible to land.
[USAID administrator] Rajiv Shah was standing next to Clinton and he said the World Food Program, which USAID is working with, has identified 14 distribution sites throughout the capital, has had roads cleared in the network, and apparently has some functioning already. "We're looking to expand that," the distribution system, he told us.
He said the US military is prepared to provide security and logistics for these distribution sites.
Clinton talked of the different layers of authority. There is the Haitian government, the Brazilian-led Minustah, which Clinton says has "primary responsibility for security." She added: "We are working to back them up, but not to supplant them."
"They (Minustah) have been there for years," she said,
Clinton says the Haitian government, the sovereign entity, has given the US government and others some leeway to meet emergency needs. "The government says the highest priority is to save lives."
However, it will help the US if the Haitian parliament issues an emergency decree, something they were expected to debate this morning, because it gives the Haiti government "enormous authority" to meet people's needs or, as is more likely, to delegate tasks to the US and others.
She said, when asked about what that would mean, that it gives the government authority to impose curfews and other measures.
We asked if there is a problem with NGOs refusing to have the US military to distribute relief, even though it may be the most efficient means currently available. She replied some NGOs are "begging" for such help, but many others don't want the military involved because it goes against the NGO "culture"
Asked what she expected to do in meeting President Preval, she replied: she wanted to "listen to him, to be sure we are as responsive as we need to be."
One of the great problems is the lack of fuel, which is "running out" around the country -- and that which is stored at the port is "inaccessible."
Raj and Clinton were asked if the US is anticipating a major health crisis, such as diseases that might stem from this disaster. Raj Shah said: "You plan for everything as if it's a big risk, in this environment." He said there were water hygiene and sanitation (WASH) teams studying the situation.
"In any disaster like this, you have to plan for the worst eventuality," Clinton said.
You have to help them set up morgues and burial areas, and in such a way as to respect voodoo customs.
She was asked about a timetable for a functioning government? "It's yesterday. But we have to be realistic."
[State Department spokesman] P.J. Crowley also said that there were hopes to make Cap Haitien operational as a container port.... which would give the country a second port.
Clinton said only the US would be able to get the main port in Port-au-Prince working but gave no details about how that would happen.
Raj said three sets of water purification systems, around half the size of a trailer have been flown to Haiti from Miami. They can produce 100,000 liters of clean water per day. There are also plans to send very soon another six such systems from Dubai and a site in Latin America (he did not know which country).
Web Politics Editor
January 16, 2010; 3:44 PM ET
Categories: 44 The Obama Presidency
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