By Joseph Guyler Delva, NNPA Haiti Correspondent –
PORT-AU-PRINCE (NNPA) - Many survivors of the earthquake that ravaged Haiti three months ago said they were disappointed that US president Barack Obama has not yet paid a visit here to personally show solidarity and to see with his own eyes the tragedy the Caribbean nation is going through.
The Haitian government says more than 300,000 people may have been killed in the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that also left more than 1.5 million people homeless, living in makeshift tent camps without access to most of the basic commodities despite an unprecedented international effort to provide assistance to the country.
Haitians, who feel very close to Obama partly because of his racial background, said they thought Obama would have already visited the country after such a huge disaster to see for himself what was going on and to show solidarity with the Haitian people who suffered unprecedented losses.
“We are the first Black independent Republic of the world, and Obama is the first US Black president,” Baptist Minister and political leader, Chavannes Jeunes, told NNPA.
“I think it was a great initiative to send the two former presidents (Bill) Clinton and (George) Bush here,” Jeune said. “But we also expected him to be here personally after such a disaster,” he stated.
Haiti declared independence from French rule in 1804 in a slave revolt that inspired blacks and other oppressed people else where, prompting former colonizers and slave owners to implement measures to block the news from spreading, fearing more slave revolts could follow in other countries, including the US.
The US pledged $1.15 billion as part of a $5.3 billion aid package to help rebuild the country over the next 24 months, exceeding requests made by the Haitian government. The international donor community has pledged a total of $9.9 billion over several more years and more commitments are expected as the reconstruction effort move along, diplomats say.
“We have received tremendous attention from the international community and President Obama has demonstrated great attention from day one of the disaster,” said Stephanie Jean-Jacques. “I believe Haitians are very grateful to him and his administration, but we are dying to see him come here to see us,” said Jean-Jacques. “We are requesting that of him because we love him,” she said.
Others said they were surprised to see French President Nicolas Sarkozy set foot here on the disaster site before Obama, who is just a couple of hours away.
“Actually, we expected to see Obama before we could see the French president who came all the way from France, in Europe,” said Marlan Joseph, a 26-year-old student, sitting on a bench handing a book in a camp in the champ de Mars area in Port-au-Prince.
“When you feel so close to somebody, you expect to receive his visit when you’re facing hard times such as these,” said Joseph. “So you cannot avoid being disappointed when it does not happen,” he said.
Most Haitians feel particularly connected with Obama because they believe their ancestors, who broke the chains of slavery to access freedom and fought for equal rights for black people, made it possible for Obama to become the leader of the most powerful nation on earth.
“We feel like Obama is one of ours, our achievement and a result of our own struggle as former slaves,” said Mama Jeanty, a 32 year-old high school teacher. “We might be wrong but I feel like we can ask a bit more of him,” Jeanty said.
Several Haitian personalities publically blamed Haitian president Rene Preval for accepting to pay a visit to Washington recently to meet Obama, arguing Preval should have been the host, not the guest.
“When you mourn your dead, friends come to see you to mourn with you, but this not the time when you go to pay visit to friends,” former Planning and External Cooperation Minister, Anthony Barbier, said during an interview on one of Haiti’s most popular stations, Radio Caraibes FM, in Port-au-Prince.
The situation here is still very dire and many fear the rainy and hurricane seasons may cause other catastrophes if adequate steps are not taken to protect the population particularly from possible flooding and mudslides.
Preval said his government and its international allies are preparing to move thousands of Haitians living in makeshift tents in places exposed to flooding, mudslides and other risks to special camps set up by the government with the help of the U.N. and other NGO’s.
US soldiers from the 82nd airborne division have been very active helping with the relief efforts and providing security for humanitarian and recovery operations.
“President Obama has quickly deployed troops here to help after the earthquake. We appreciate his quick response and he has committed a great amount of funds to help us,” said Marlene Beavoir, 40.
“But showing solidarity is not just to give money. We need to see him here in person,” Beauvoir said. “It is just like coming to his back yard because Haiti is right there.”
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