Earthquake Leaves Haiti's Government In Shambles

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When the earthquake hit Haiti last week, it collapsed buildings and killed tens of thousands of people. Among the casualties: Haiti's seat of government and an unknown number of officials. Interior Minister Paul Antoine Bien-Aime says despite the problems, Haiti is being governed by Haitians.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Its MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And Im Steve Inskeep.

Heres a difference between the earthquake in Haiti and disasters in the U.S.: After Katrina, for example, the national government had tremendous resources to call on, eventually. Thats less true in Haiti, where the devastated cities include the national capital. Coordinating aid now falls on a small group of people in a small building visited by NPRs Carrie Kahn.

(Soundbite of gate opening)

CARRIE KAHN: A skinny, uniformed security guard slowly raises the rusted metal-gate arm in front of the judicial police station, now the new home to the entire Haitian government. The parking lot is jammed with cars, and dozens of people freely move in and out of the one-story, cinderblock building. This is a far cry from the huge, white presidential palace, which before the quake, had a full-time contingent of guards and was protected by a 10-foot-tall, lime-green metal fence. Economic adviser to the president, Gabriel Verret, says the tiny police station by the airport was pretty much the only option left.

Mr. GABRIEL VERRET (Economic Adviser to President, Haiti): In addition to the palace, weve lost the parliament building. Weve lost the office of the prime minister. Weve lost the national courthouse, which is where you find the supreme court, the appellate courts, the

KAHN: The list of lost buildings goes on and on, from the countrys planning department to the Haitian equivalent of the IRS. He says without an officer, staff officials are not going to be able to collect taxes. Gonzagi Day(ph) works for the minister of commerce.

Mr. GONZAGI DAY (Employee, Minister of Commerce, Haiti): Were trying to keep the government working. But what happened now, I think there is already -shown up on the staff - the staff members of the government.

KAHN: He says the government is operating with just 15 percent of its former workforce.

Mr. DAY: That is because theres no places to put them to work.

KAHN: He says the meeting room inside the police station is so small, only the highest-level cabinet members can attend the daily, 8 a.m. briefing with the president. Despite the physical challenges, Interior Minister Paul Antoine Bien-Aime says Haiti is being governed by Haitians.

Mr. PAUL ANTOINE BIEN-AIME (Interior Minister, Haiti): (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: He says the government is in control of the situation and is holding several meetings, coordinating the work of both the national and the international recovery efforts. But many in the Haitian capital, homeless without food and water, continue to ask where is the government and their leaders. President Rene Preval has not given a press conference since the quake struck a week ago, and has been all but absent from public view except when greeting foreign dignitaries.

President RENE PREVAL (Haiti): (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: Monday, Preval whisked to the airport to greet Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who delivered aid and picked up 50 stranded Americans. Preval spoke to reporters for less than three minutes, limiting his comments to Haitis appreciation of U.S. aid. It was Clinton who worked the crowd to make sure their messages were getting out to the Haitian people.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): Wheres the Haitian press? Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, no. You can come. I'm...

KAHN: Preval, an agronomist who studied in Europe and spent much of his adult years away from Haiti, has never been one for flashy press conferences, even during the best of times. Charismatic former President John-Bertrand Aristide, who was ousted from Haiti and has been living in exile, has hinted that he wants to return to the country to aid recovery efforts. However, many believe Aristides return would add political turmoil to the enormous list of troubles Haiti will have to deal with as it heads down the long road to recovery.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Port-au-Prince.

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