In Little Haiti, Biden pledges a long-term commitment to aid
By Peter Whoriskey
MIAMI -- Vice President Biden swept into the Little Haiti neighborhood promising government and church leaders in the immigrant community here that help was on the way for their relatives in Port-au-Prince.
He said that the Obama administration views the earthquake relief as a long term -- possibly years-long -- effort.
"We are there to rescue," Biden told the community leaders. "We are there to secure. We are there to rebuild....This president does not view this as a humanitarian mission that is going to have a life cycle of a month. This will be on our radar screen -- dead center -- long after it is off of the CNN crawl at the bottom of the screen. "
"This is going to be a long slog," he said.
Biden held meetings with members of the Haitian American community at a Little Haiti community center and the Notre Dame d'Haiti Catholic Church, a parish of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Miami.
The Miami Archdiocese is pressing to get clearance to bring Haitian children orphaned by the earthquake to the United States in an operation similar to one that brought thousands of Cuban children to America after the 1959 revolution.
"It was a significant show of compassion," Father Reginald Jean-Mary said after meeting with the vice president. He said the administration was working on the clearances to bring the children in but that there was no final word on whether it might happen.
"This is not merely just another massive operation," Biden said of the rescue efforts. "This is personal." Biden was accompanied to the meetings by his wife, Jill Biden; White House political director Patrick Gaspard, who is Haitian American; and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Napolitano and Biden later held a third event in South Florida at an airbase that is a staging ground for relief flights to Haiti, meeting with servicemembers and first responders.
Despite the massive aid operation now underway, reports of bottlenecks in getting aid to Haiti were beginning to sour the mood of some who attended the meetings with Biden. Hundreds of Haitian-American doctors and nurses, including many in Miami, are prepared to enter Haiti to assist with relief and rescue efforts, said Marie Etienne, chair of the Haitian American Professionals Coalition and a nursing professor at Miami Dade College. But they have been frustrated because, despite their knowledge of the language and culture, they cannot find a flight in.
"They speak the language and they're ready to go," Etienne said. "It's heartbreaking. We see things on TV and we feel powerless."
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