BY JACQUELINE CHARLES
PORT-AU-PRINCE — Haiti’s prime minister defended his government’s performance, Bill Clinton stumped for aid in Switzerland and the Rev. Jesse Jackson turned to the U.S. Congress Thursday to speed delivery of medical supplies to the earthquake-shattered nation.
“Currently, there are major shortages reported of food, tents and water,” Jackson wrote in an open letter to Congress, which was also signed by actor Danny Glover and Harry Belafonte.
The activists blamed a costly “overemphasis on security, and the deployment of 20,000 troops, to the detriment of delivery of life-saving supplies” to the neediest and sickest among Haiti’s one million or more homeless and wounded earthquake survivors.
The U.S. military has had a key role in the huge sea and airlift to Haiti. The U.S. Southern Command reported this week that it had about 4,700 troops on the ground assisting U.N. peacekeepers and Haitian police distribute humanitarian relief.
“While security can help to ensure a better distribution of aid, the actual distribution of aid is most important,” the men wrote. “From now on, the top priority must be the delivery and distribution of the basic survival needs of the population.”
The Jan. 12 earthquake that destroyed the symbols of state such as the National Palace may be feeding the Haitian diaspora’s perception that the government has disappeared, Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive told The Miami Herald in response to a poll the newspaper published Thursday.
Bellerive said he detected “some contradictions” in the poll that measured dissatisfaction among Haitians in the United States with the performance of the government of President René Preval in the crisis.
“I’m convinced that the images of the destruction of the National Palace and most ministries are the main reasons they believe we disappeared,” said Bellerive.
He blamed a “confusion between the representation of the government, the weakness of the public administration and the existence of a sovereign government.”
Haiti’s government kept a low profile during the first weeks of the crisis. Recently, though, government workers could be seen on the streets distributing food in red-lettered T-shirts declaring in Creole, “The government is with me.”
Ties run deep between the impoverished nation and South Florida, especially among Haitian Americans who have rushed to their nation’s aid. But a clear majority of Haitian Americans surveyed Jan. 22-24 indicated they lost faith in the Haitian government’s ability to rebuild the shattered nation.
Bellerive said he found some of the contradictions troubling, notably the perception of optimism in contrast to the characterization of Haiti as “a failed state” whose government cannot “lead the destiny of the nation.”
He asked, “Do they believe that the U.S. Army will take over, as suggested by their support of the troops in Haiti?”
Meantime Clinton worked the influential World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, in his capacity as U.N. special envoy to Haiti — urging cash donations for immediate needs as well as vision for Haiti’s ultimate rebuilding effort.
“This is an opportunity to reimagine the future for the Haitian people, to build what they want to become, not rebuild what they used to be,” said Clinton.
He recited a litany of woes — a lack of food and water, urging donors give “cash more than anything else” but said if anyone had some pickup trucks, “I need 100 yesterday.”
Miami Herald wire services contributed to this report, as did Miami Herald staff writer Carol Rosenberg in Miami and Jim Wyss in Port-au-Prince.