Haiti’s president, Rene Preval, speaks a week after quake


Seated under a mango tree with helicopters and cargo planes thundering overhead, Haitian President Rene Preval had few answers to the many questions facing the head of a devastated country. He could not say how many people had died. He did not know when the roads would be cleared of debris. He wouldn’t venture a guess on whether more survivors might still be pulled from the rubble.

“We haven’t ended the rescue operations, but we know that as the days pass, the chances are getting smaller and smaller,” the president told The Times, speaking after a news conference held at what serves as his government’s headquarters: a guarded police station behind cinder-block walls near the airport.

Preval spoke in the police station’s car park. He looked shaken and did little to offer forceful reassurances to Haitians. Asked repeatedly about security, he said the police were acting in “extremely difficult conditions.”

He called on the Haitian people to “organize themselves” to maintain order.

The quake destroyed every major government building, including the National Palace, the Supreme Court and ministries. Preval told of telephoning government office after government office last Tuesday after the quake, then calling U.N. headquarters -- all without answer. He then got on a motorcycle to survey the wasteland.

But he had since been largely invisible to his countrymen. His news conference was held exactly a week after the quake. When it ended, Preval turned to head back to his office in the police station. He was confronted by a woman in red.

“Mr. President! Mr. President!” she shouted. “People are dying. We have no water.

“The mayor has everything and he doesn’t want to give it up!” she said. “Please, please, please, just a bag of rice.”

“OK, a bag of rice,” Preval said. Then he went inside.