WASHINGTON – During his visit to Haiti last month to assess the damage from a massive and devastating earthquake, Rep. Jim Oberstar saw 6,200 Haitians were living in a 9,000 square meter tent city. There were only five latrines in the camp – “That’s inhumane,” he said.
Wednesday afternoon, he backed a call by President Obama and Haitian President René Préval for long-term American assistance to the island nation, including ongoing financial aid and help coordinating the 10,000 non-governmental organizations on the ground in Haiti.
“What we said there is that we’re not going to abandon Haiti, we’re going to stay here and support, and that was the commitment President Obama made,” Oberstar said.
Obama and Préval spoke at a Rose Garden ceremony after the two met for a half-hour in the Oval Office. Preval followed with visits to Capitol Hill, where he walked away with similar pledges of long-term aid.
“We must draw the lessons from what occurred in Haiti – the massive, spontaneous, generous help was a good response to the disaster,” Préval said. “However, its effectiveness must be improved, because effectiveness depends on the quality of coordination.”
Obama’s pledge was similar.
“As President Préval and I discussed, the situation on the ground remains dire, and people should be under no illusions that the crisis is over. Many Haitians are still in need, desperate need in some cases, of shelter and food and medicine. And with the spring rains approaching, those needs will only grow. The challenge now is to prevent a second disaster,” Obama said.
“And that’s why, at this very moment, thousands of Americans, both civilian and military, remain on the scene at the invitation of the Haitian government. And that’s why, even as the U.S. military responsibly hands off relief functions to our Haitian and international partners, America’s commitment to Haiti’s recovery and reconstruction must endure and will endure.”
Note: Preval spoke at the Rose Garden in what Oberstar described as “beautiful” French. Oberstar himself is fluent in French, but my command of the language is somewhat more limited. Most of my three years of high school French have now been forgotten, so this report relies on a White House translation to be an accurate transcript of Preval’s remarks.