17 January, 2010 — Trinidad Express
IN DIRE NEED: A woman reacts in a street in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, yesterday. Relief groups and officials are focused on moving aid flowing into Haiti to survivors of the powerful 7.0 earthquake that hit the country on Tuesday. -Photo: AP
THE CARIBBEAN Community’s emergency aid mission to Haiti, comprising Heads of Government and leading technical officials, failed to secure permission Friday to land at that devastated country’s airport, now under the control of the United States.
Consequently, the Caricom ’assessment mission’, that was to determine priority humanitarian needs resulting from the mind-boggling earthquake disaster of Haiti last Tuesday, had to travel back from Jamaica to their respective home destinations..
On Friday afternoon the US State Department confirmed signing two ’Memoranda of Understanding’ with the Government of Haiti that made ’official that the United Stateas is in charge of all inbound and outbound flights and aid off-loading…’
Further, according to the agreements signed, US medical personnel ’now have the authority to operate on Haitian citizens and otherwise render medical assistance without having to wait for licences from Haiti’s government…’
Prior to the US taking control of Haiti’s airport, a batch of some 30 Cuban doctors had left Havana, following Wednesday’s earthquake, to join more than 300 of their colleagues who have been working there for more than a year.
Last evening the frustration suffered by the Caricom mission to get landing permission was expected to be raised in a scheduled meeting at Jamaica’s Norman Manley International Airport with US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton.
Jamaica’s Prime Minister Bruce Golding who was making arrangements for the meeting with Clinton, following her visit earlier in the day to witness the devastation of the capital Port-au-Prince, said he could not comment on details to be discussed.
He, however, told this correspondent: ’I appreciate the chaos and confusion at Haiti’s airport, where there is just one operational runway. But Haiti is a member of Caricom and we simply have to be facilitated and the truth is, there is hardly a functioning government in Haiti…’
Asked whether the difficulties encountered by the Caricom mission may be related to reports that US authorities were not anxious to facilitate landing of aircraft from Cuba and Venezuela, Prime Minister Golding said he could ’only hope that there is no truth to such immature thinking in the face of the horrific scale of Haiti’s tragedy…’
Golding, who has lead portfolio responsibility among Caricom leaders for external economic relations, had a personal first-hand assessment when he flew to Haiti on Thursday.
A contingent of some 150 members of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF has since established a camp with medical facilities in the vicinity of Haiti’s airport.
Ahead of last evening scheduled meeting with Secretary of State Clinton, Prime Minister Golding had discussed on Friday in Kingston some of the problems to be overcome at a meeting he held in Kingston on Friday with the Prime Ministers of Barbados and Dominica and including the Community’s Secretary General..
Among urgent matters to be discussed with Secretary Clinton was to be possible use of the Norman Manley Airport as a primary hub, given its short distance from Haiti (45 minutes), for all emergency missions.
The Community’s Secretary General (Edwin Carrington) explained that proper use of the Norman Manley Airport would be consistent with a decision last week for Jamaica to serve as the Sub-regional Operational Focal Point (SOFP) responses to the Haitian humanitarian crisis.