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Senate Panel Discusses Governance for Haiti

Haitians and international aid workers continue to grapple with immediate rescue and relief efforts, pulling a teenage girl out of the rubble Wednesday, 15 days after the initial devastating earthquake. But in Washington at a hearing on Haiti, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee turned its attention to intermediate and long-term issues, such as good and sustainable governance for Haiti.

Ranking Republican member Senator Richard Lugar cited a new poll of 400 Haitian Americans in the Miami Herald newspaper, which shows that a clear majority have lost faith in the Haitian government's ability to rebuild their shattered homeland.

"Sixty-three percent disapprove of how Haitian President Rene Preval's government has responded," senator Lugar said. "The unhappiness runs so deep that a majority of Haitian Americans support the United Nations and the international community taking over Haiti's day-to-day operations, at least until Haiti recovers from the catastrophe."

The survey, conducted in Creole and English, said two-thirds of those Haitian Americans polled are so concerned they would be willing to move back to Haiti temporarily to help with the reconstruction.

In contrast to their dissatisfaction with the Haitian government's response, 96 percent of those Haitian Americans polled said they approve of the U.S. government's response, and 88 percent approved of the United Nation response.

Some Haitians have criticized President Rene Preval for not being more visible and for not communicating better in the two weeks since the disaster. Dr. Rony Francois, the incoming Director of Public Health for the U.S. state of Georgia said he personally had only seen President Preval on television once since the earthquake.

"I can certainly understand that there would be an initial paralysis in any leader," Dr. Francois said. "But in my perspective, crises again are where good leaders define themselves."

Francois and most of the people testifying at the hearing emphasized the magnitude of the destruction, with government buildings in Haiti's capital wiped out.

Paul Farmer, the U.N. Deputy Special Envoy for Haiti said as he flew into Washington, D.C. he tried to imagine a similar scenario.

"What would it be like to look around you and see every federal building collapsed? The White House, the Dirksen building, all of them," Framer said. "And that is of course what we have seen in Haiti."

The senators and witnesses were in broad agreement the United Nations should be the one to provide temporary leadership of recovery and reconstruction efforts in Haiti.

RAND corporation Director of International Security and Defense Policy James Dobbins said the bad news is that Haiti is going to require an international security presence for quite some time. But he said contrary to some media reports the vast majority of Haitians are neither heavily armed nor prone to any sort of violence.

"One has only to regard the patience with which the people of Port-au-Prince has awaited succor over the last two weeks to recognize its essentially peaceful character," Dobbins said. "Haiti is no Somalia, Iraq or Afghanistan."

Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, Democratic Senator John Kerry, said the immense tragedy in Haiti provides an opportunity to rebuild the country in a sustainable way, and there is a real chance for Haitians to re-imagine their country as they rebuild it.