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  HOME | Caribbean

Spanish Military on the Ground in Haiti

By Jose Luis Paniagua

PETIT-GOAVE, Haiti – Members of the Spanish navy are working in Petit-Goave, a city with beautiful tropical surroundings reduced to just another Haitian tragedy after last month’s devastating earthquake and currently the destination of buses with names like Lamentation.

In a concise expression of the country’s woeful plight, the word Lamentation is emblazoned on the back of one of the buses covering the route separating Port-au-Prince, about 70 kilometers (43 miles) away, from the new destination of the crew of the naval vessel Castilla.

The bus is full.

Thirteen days after the Castilla set out from Spain, one of the ship’s LCM mechanical landing craft lowered its enormous metal ramp onto the rubble-scattered head of an inlet in what is left of Petit-Goave’s port.

The Spanish humanitarian mission, which will remain here three months, landed under the watchful gaze of a small group of Haitian onlookers, port workers who observed with both gloom and amazement the deployment of the Spanish military.

“Only ships come here, people come but we don’t see anything. I haven’t seen one sack of rice yet,” Fredo, a 33-year-old Dominican who has lived most of his life in Haiti, said.

Capt. Carlos Rodrigo, a Spanish air force doctor, told reporters that according to unofficial data, several hundred people died here as a consequence of the earthquake, which killed at least 212,000 nationwide, Haiti’s prime minister said Friday.

But to speak of the number of injured and homeless in a city in which there is not even the certainty that there is really a population of 100,000 would be nothing but guesswork.

At least for Francois Diebou, a 55-year-old worker, the arrival of the Spaniards is cause for celebration.

“Let’s hope they fix the hospital and the school, because this is the only hope we have,” he said.

Petit-Goave is just another repeat of a sight seen all over the country: the city’s church with a few crosses on the only wall left standing faces houses collapsed like sandwiches of concrete and plaster lining streets covered with rubble and dust.

The sappers who came on the Castilla, with its contingent of 450 marines, will have all the work they can handle here and on the highway leading to Port-au-Prince.

The first kilometers are covered with tons of sand and dirt that tumbled from the hills around the town; a little farther along the highway the paving is broken up like pieces of glass while the sidewalk is separated from the road as if the two had become unzipped.

The Spanish marines know the place well, in fact some, like Lt. Saul Fernandez, were in Haiti six years ago when on top of the traumatic end of the government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the nation was hit by a hurricane in yet another episode of annihilation.

“I was surprised at the time by the beauty of the island in a place where people were hacking each other to death with machetes,” the officer said.

The Castilla arrived with a sizeable cargo of equipment including heavy machinery, helicopters, vehicles of all sizes and a medical team of more than two-dozen people aboard four helicopters suitable for evacuation duties. EFE

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