Department of conjecture

Letters to the Portland Editor, January 29, 2010
By PORTLAND PHOENIX LETTERS  |  January 27, 2010

The Haiti disaster will not serve to turn a state from toss-up to safely Republican as the George W. Bush Administration's calculated response to Hurricane Katrina did in Louisiana. But in discounting the political consequences of the Haitian earthquake here, I suspect David S. Bernstein ("Disaster, Then Détente," January 22) had not, by deadline, seen the reports that Washington's slow-motion response has been, in effect, worse than FEMA's inept response to Katrina. Like Katrina, it should have political consequences: public censure, officials' dismissals, perhaps impeachments.

Distant China and Iceland and soon Ireland and Israel quickly joined Venezuela on the quake scene with water, food, medical supplies, doctors, nurses, and some rescue personnel and equipment.

The US military had done a Caribbean disaster rehearsal the day before (a curious and suspicious coincidence given reports of a US high-frequency weapon purportedly used previously to cause quakes and the presence of the US Southern Command deputy commander in Haiti when the quake hit). Yet, it paused a day for a needs assessment, and then, as after Katrina, gave priority to injecting troops to provide security when the desperate need was for doctors, mobile hospitals, and rescue efforts. Significant insecurity could be found only in US relief authorities' imaginations and those of reporters bent upon finding conflict and reinforcing stereotypes of Haiti.

An hour away by air, we sent ships, which took days to arrive and for which there were no docking facilities to quickly offload aid. Granted control of the Port-au-Prince airport, the US military waved off flights from Doctors Without Borders (one flight with 12 tons of aid was denied landing four times) and others experienced in disaster relief, flights carrying medical supplies, doctors, and rescue teams and equipment, in favor of landing troops and evacuating Americans. Relief flights were diverted to the Dominican Republic, a full day away overland.

With thousands trapped in collapsed buildings and millions without food and water, dying by the hundreds or thousands daily, it was Day 5 before US aid began to penetrate unwarranted security obsessions to reach victims. Meanwhile, aid piled up at the airport, within sight of the dying. In 2005, Cuba provided earthquake relief in Pakistan, 14,000 miles away, in less time and had 17 field hospitals and 700 doctors there in short order.

On Day 11 in Haiti, hundreds of thousands in Port-au-Prince had still received no water, food, or medical care. Forget everywhere else hit by the quake. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, faced amputations, have died, or will die for lack of antibiotics to prevent infections in injuries requiring surgery.

Illustrative of the US response was parachuted supplies on Day 10, carted by truck into a nearby town, and, after five hours, still not distributed. The distributors had to lunch first.

Unlike New Orleans where private boats did much of the life-saving rescue of the foolhardy and those overlooked in the evacuation plan, desperate Haitians pounding on concrete slabs with hammers could save pitifully few.

Such rescue equipment as there was or got through the US military gauntlet was concentrated on saving the hated UN "peacekeeping" mission's personnel and Hotel Montana guests, many foreign. Only 130-odd of thousands trapped have been rescued. Fewer than two dozen Haitians in need of special medical care have been allowed into the US.

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