PORT-AU-PRINCE, haiti // Working from a police station close to the airport, the Haitian government is trying to provide some governance to the country, whose main symbols of power have been torn down by Tuesday's earthquake. The National Palace, a big white structure that was home to the presidency, was destroyed, along with several other buildings that housed ministries. "We have decided to temporarily place the seat of the presidency and government in these police barracks to be closer to our international partners," said the president Rene Preval, walking around in shirtsleeves.
The airport, which serves as a link between Haiti and the outside world, has been taken over by hundreds of US troops who are trying to organise delivery of aid. The seat of government may move in a day or two, said people from the president's entourage. The president works in an office protected by two guards from his security detail. In another office, the prime minister Jean-Max Bellerive was holding a meeting with several ministers, who can still move around the city. His original office now serves as a shelter for hundreds of families left without homes.
"The government has lost its capacity to function properly, but it has not collapsed," said the president, who looked exhausted with dark pockets under the eyes. Sitting behind a round table, the president spoke on the phone with his Dominican Republic counterpart, Leonel Fernandez. "I thank you Leonel for what you are doing for us," the president said into the phone handed to him by the Dominican ambassador. "Communication is difficult, I will move to another place."
It is no longer a secret that the Haitian government is working without secure means of communication. The president recalls that in the hours that followed Tuesday's earthquake, he got on a motorcycle and, followed by his ministers, toured the Haitian capital to survey the damage. "I was personally touched by this tragedy," Mr Preval said. "I sleep at a friend's house. And I have trouble falling asleep ... I have lost people close to me."
The president rattled off a macabre list: two senators, the prominent writer and geographer Georges Anglade and his wife, the parents of one minister, the children of another, who had been a longtime friend. "We are all victims," the president said. He let out a sigh as drops of sweat appear on his forehead: the office has no air-conditioning. "The generator has given up the ghost," explained one of the presidential aides.
In the middle of the conversation, the president presented his excuses and left to help a senator, who had just been pulled from under the rubble and will now go to the Dominican Republic to receive medical assistance. "No one is alone in this situation. I understand that people suffer because they have relatives under the rubble, but they must understand that there are thousands of people in that very same situation," Mr Preval said.
He called on Haitians to show patience and condemns those who accuse the government of inaction. "There are people that under- estimate the extent of damages and claim that we don't work quickly enough to bring in relief," Mr Preval said. "It is indecent to take advantage of people's pain in a bid to score political points." * Agence France-Presse