Haitian President René Préval
Born: Jan. 17, 1943, in Port-au-Prince
Education: studied agronomy (scientific agriculture) in Belgium at Gembloux and Louvain universities; also studied geothermal science at the University of Pisa, Italy
Family: married to Elisabeth Préval; they have two daughters
Politics: Feb. 13, 1991, appointed prime minister by President Jean-Bertrand Aristide; forced into exile during a coup in September 1991
• Returned in October 1994 and became general director of the Social Investment Fund — funded by the World Bank and the Inter American Development Bank
• February 1996-2001, first term as president; launched economic and institutional reforms and began a number of infrastructure development projects
• Retired to his hometown of Marmelade, where he sought assistance to implement programs in agriculture and agro-industry, microcredit for farmers, protection of the environment, health and sanitation, and other improvements
• May 14, 2006, sworn in as the 55th president of Haiti
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — With the National Palace uninhabitable and his own home destroyed, Haitian President René Préval is trying to run his country from a dilapidated police station near the heavily damaged national airport.
The U.S. military controls his airport. International aid workers fret about a lack of government control. The Haitian police force is severely overworked.
Saturday brought Préval's troubles into sharp focus. He convened his Cabinet ministers in a circle of plastic chairs under an open sky and hustled to welcome U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Préval also urged aid donors to stop arguing.
"This is an extremely difficult situation," he said after one meeting. "We must keep our cool to coordinate and not throw accusations at each other."
Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, with a history of corruption, political infighting and negligent administrations, resulting in decades of poor-to-mediocre services for ordinary citizens, half of whom live on less than $1 a day.
The country slowly had been regaining its footing in the last couple of years, thanks largely to the presence of 9,000 U.N. peacekeepers sent to help restore order following the 2004 rebellion that ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. New businesses were opening and former President Bill Clinton, now the U.N. special envoy for Haiti, had been working to attract foreign investment.
The earthquake has turned back the clock. For days, quake survivors and aid workers have complained about a lack of police. Law-and-order needs have fallen to the 9,000 U.N. peacekeepers and international police in Haiti — themselves coping with tremendous loss.
Meanwhile, Aristide, said he wants to return from exile in Africa to help, though no plans for that were apparent.
Against that backdrop, Hillary Rodham Clinton was careful to say the U.S. government would not be taking power from Haitian officials. "We are working to back them up, but not to supplant them," she told reporters accompanying her on her flight to the Caribbean nation.
Asked about her plans for meeting with Préval , she said she wanted to "listen to him, to be sure we are as responsive as we need to be."
Acknowledging the government's insistence that its "highest priority is to save lives," Clinton said it also would be helpful if the Haitian parliament would issue an emergency decree.
Such an action would give the Haitian government "enormous authority" to meet the people's needs, Clinton said, and to delegate tasks to foreign governments trying to help — not replace — the government.
U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Kenneth Merten said U.S. officials are in regular contact with Haitian officials but communications continue to be a problem.
"We can't even communicate amongst ourselves at the Embassy," he said.