PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — As the spontaneous outpouring of international aid threatens to further weaken the embattled Haitian government, Canada pressured the country’s prime minister to give it a leading role in reconstruction efforts.
Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive met with Canadian ambassador Gilles Rivard at the embassy Thursday afternoon, during which Rivard raised a number of issues on Ottawa’s behalf.
“What I am trying to get from the prime minister is that Canada has the lead on a certain number of things,” Rivard told reporters at the embassy.
He said Canada was seeking assurances it would take charge of a project to build temporary buildings to house displaced Haitian ministries. Canada also wants responsibility for assigning experts to help with reconstruction.
Bellerive is due in Montreal on Monday for a series of meetings aimed at organizing a larger donors conference on Haiti’s future.
“For him it’s important that Haiti remains on the map and this is the kind of thing that will help him to make sure that the tragedy will remain in the mind of all,” Rivard said.
The meeting comes as the international aid effort continues to struggle to reach the estimated 2 million Haitians in need of food assistance.
Bellerive blamed the slow pace of emergency distribution on the sudden influx of supplies that failed to take into account Haiti’s limited ability to coordinate such a massive operation.
“The spontaneity of this aid is one of the sources of the problem of distributing this aid in certain corners of the country as well as the capital,” he said before meeting Rivard.
“We didn’t really know what was in the airplanes, which created problems for prioritizing landings.”
In some cases, vital supplies had to sit on the tarmac for days while authorities tried to organize the necessary equipment to offload and transport them.
Distribution was complicated by the more than 280 informal sites-including parks, a golf course and soccer stadium-where survivors have settled, Bellerive said.
Many Haitians feel the government of President Rene Preval and Bellerive has failed to show leadership during the crisis. Preval didn’t tour any of the refugee camps in the days following the earthquake and was heard more often on CNN than Haitian TV or radio.
Bellerive acknowledged the government was facing serious legitimacy issues as people question whether it exists at all. But he insisted the heavy criticism in the streets is a positive sign.
“That means they recognize there is a government, and that it is this government that owes them answers,” he said. “The answers so far haven’t met their expectations.”
He also moved to assert the government’s responsibility in terms of distributing aid to the population, recognizing that the scores of private groups in the country could permanently undermine its authority.
“We have to reinforce the coordination with our partners so that they understand that all that is done is done with the government,” Bellerive said.
The large number of foreign troops, Canadian and American among them, concentrated in the relatively small country, lends an appearance to many Haitians that the country is being overrun.
“You have to be careful,” Rivard said at the suggestion military presence could engender negative feelings. “Even though the Haitians suffered a lot, they still believe the government has to remain in charge.”
Water shortages have eased in Port-au-Prince, the security situation has improved and the Haitian government hopes to reopen the country’s banks on Saturday, according to the ambassador.
If true, the hope is that economic and social activity will begin to normalize, which in turn will help stabilize Bellerive’s government.