Haitians Disappointed With Preval, Long For Aristide

Nearly two weeks after the deadly earthquake, the Haitian government continues to struggle. Many officials died in the quake and government buildings were destroyed. Some Haitians don't believe President Rene Preval can pull them out of the chaos they're in. They would like to see ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide return to office.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Its MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. Im Steve Inskeep.

Renee Montagne is on assignment this week, and in the studios this week is NPRs Ari Shapiro. Welcome back, Ari.

ARI SHAPIRO, host:

Thanks. Morning, Steve.

Were going to report this morning on how the government of Haiti is responding to this months earthquake. In many ways, the government has been invisible. And while that may be understandable amid the destruction, it has left many Haitians with no faith in their leaders.

INSKEEP: In fact, some Haitians are suggesting they would like to see a change.

NPRS Tamara Keith reports.

(Soundbite of music)

TAMARA KEITH: The funeral for the beloved Catholic Archbishop of Port-au-Prince attracted hundreds of Haitians, some who dressed up as best they could. The president, Rene Preval, was there. He has made very few public appearances since the quake and did not speak at the funeral. As Preval left, protestors chased after his motorcade.

(Soundbite of crowd chatter)

KEITH: Danny Dadol(ph) was one of them.

Ms. DANNY DADOL: (Through translator) Preval is not doing anything for us. We need help now, and he's not doing anything.

KEITH: She would like to see the former president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, return to guide Haiti out of this crisis. Aristide has been in exile in South Africa since 2004, when opposition groups seized control of the government. Hes offered to come back, and Dadol says thats what the people want.

Ms. DADOL: (Through translator) I'd like for Preval to take care of the country, but the country doesnt want him. They'd rather have Aristide to come and help him out, because Aristide would do a better job.

KEITH: Haitis political history has been marked by violent coups and charges of inept or corrupt leadership. Then came the earthquake, almost two weeks ago, today. It struck at the heart of the government. The Haitian equivalent of the White House was destroyed, along with other major government offices. Preval talked about his governments struggles in a statement broadcast a few days ago on the radio.

President RENE PREVAL (Haiti): (Through translator) The big consequence is the government has been paralyzed because the national palace collapsed. The palace of justice collapsed. The parliament building collapsed. All the communication was down.

KEITH: This was only the presidents second official statement to the people since the quake. The first came a full 24 hours after disaster struck his country. Mario Viau is the general manager of radio station Signal FM. He says the president needed to be out there reassuring the public sooner. He says people arent simply feeling the presence of the government.

Mr. MARIO VIAU (General Manager, Signal FM): He's not talking much. So, we dont feel that much. But they good excuse on this, because there have been hate everywhere.

KEITH: Government officials are meeting daily with the various international agencies now working in the country, and there's a daily press briefing.

Ms. MARIE-LAURENCE JOCELYN LASSEGUE (Communication Minister, Haiti): (Through translator) We greet all the journalists here.

KEITH: Haitis communications minister, Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue, sits at a folding table under a lush tree on the grounds of the makeshift government headquarters at a Port-au-Prince police station. At some point, someone comes up and pins a paper sign to the tree. It says: press.

Unidentified Man: We are trying to address this issue, as well, at the level of the problems(ph).

KEITH: A few minutes into the press conference, virtually all of the 20 or so reporters there scramble over to an SUV. It turns out they were all Brazilian, and a dignitary from Brazil was visiting. Lassegue doesnt seem to have much control over her own press conference. We ask if the government is organizing the relief efforts.

Ms. LASSEGUE: The government want to organize everything, but, you know, still now, some NGO, they go there and there, and they do the things the way they want to.

KEITH: She says the NGOs are doing as they please here. And that's certainly what it looks like, but Lassegue insists these groups must listen to the government.

Ms. LASSEGUE: They have to do it the way we want the things to do. Thank you.

KEITH: Are they?

Ms. LASSEGUE: Thank you.

KEITH: Are they?

Ms. LASSEGUE: They have to do it.

KEITH: There's only so much the government can do now. As President Preval put it, the earthquake made everyone feel disoriented. We all became refugees.

Tamara Keith, NPR News, Port-au-Prince.

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