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Haiti: Italy disavows envoy's criticism

'Earthquake relief effort pathetic,' says Bertolaso

25 January, 13:06
Haiti: Italy disavows envoy's criticism (ANSA) - Washington DC, January 25 - The Italian government on Monday distanced itself from remarks by its special envoy to Haiti, Civil Protection chief Guido Bertolaso, who described the international earthquake relief effort there as ''pathetic''.

On a state visit to Washington to meet with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini underlined that ''the Italian government does not stand by that assessment''.

Frattini granted that ''Bertolaso has made some important recommendations to the Haitian government regarding sheltering orphans and conducting evacuations''. But he stressed that Bertolaso was not speaking for the Italian government when he slammed the international aid machine at work in Haiti, which is largely being directed by the United States.

During an Italian TV broadcast from Port-au-Prince on Sunday, Bertolaso was asked to describe the situation there two weeks after the Caribbean nation was devastated by an earthquake estimated to have claimed as many as 350,000 lives.

The civil protection chief, who headed up the relief effort after the April 2009 earthquake in L'Aquila, responded with a broadside against the lack of central coordination among the various relief agencies present.

''A lot of them are more interested in parading in front of the cameras than rolling up their sleeves and going to work to find survivors,'' he said.

''It's like the bonfire of the vanities''. Bertolaso also said the US had done a poor job of spearheading the relief effort, sending too many troops and not enough people trained in disaster management.

''What's really needed here is a person like (President Barack) Obama to come and take charge of the emergency''. ''Instead, they sent in a bunch of starlets,'' he said in an apparent reference to a handful of celebrities, such as actor Sean Penn, who have made their way to the island over the past week.

Regarding United Nations envoy to Haiti, former US president Bill Clinton, Bertolaso said he ''ought to be running this operation from headquarters instead of having himself filmed while he hands out bottles of water''.

But Frattini said the Italian civil protection chief's statements were ''technical and not political'' observations intended to help ''improve the situation on the ground''.

''It's not our policy to criticize the work of other governments,'' said Frattini.

''We've said all along that there's an inadequate level of coordination, but that doesn't amount to criticism of the United States''.

''It would be a mistake to interpret those comments as directed at the US's role in Haiti or any of the international organizations at work there,'' he concluded.

Haiti will be the main topic of discussion during Frattini's meeting with the US secretary of state on Monday in addition to the NATO mission in Afghanistan and western relations with Iran.

Photo: Bertolaso in a hospital run by Italian volunteers.

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