January 29, 2010

In defence of Guido Bertolaso (updated)

A couple of days ago La Stampa newspaper ran an interesting piece by Lucia Annunziata, whose interview with Guido Bertolaso, Italy’s top disaster official, caused a furious reaction on the part of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Now I am pleased to re-publish it in English—translated by Mirino, who is a regular contributor to this blog (thank you!). I really appreciated the article, and I hope my readers will appreciate it as well.

It’s true. Of all nations the USA have made the most important engagement in supplying help to Haiti. But does the fact that the Americans are the protagonists of the operation also mean that they have done everything properly? The words of Bertolaso, head of Italian Civil Protection, representing a government “friend,” have caused a disproportionate reaction.

Unless one reads from this that no one is allowed to criticise the USA. After all, what has Bertolaso said? That help has arrived, but the population isn’t receiving it as rapidly as should be the case. He said that the Americans have an enormous military structure which is nevertheless unsuitable for dealing with an emergency disaster.
The question is: Are Bertolaso’s affirmations false? Is this perhaps not what all our correspondents are writing and seeing every day in Haiti? Are things then normalised in Port-au-Prince? Have we seen any large camp sites anywhere? Is it right that fifteen days after the earthquake the principal square of the city (not just a labyrinth of ally ways in a tiny quarter), thousands of people are massed without tents and without being regularly supplied with food and water? Are the criticisms of Bertolaso and Sarkozy inventions, the collapse of local government and that of the United Nations? And would it be sheer chance that Bertolaso’s words have also been amply repeated by other international media, especially English? If this affirmation be so echoed, it’s certainly not because of the importance of the personality (may Bertolaso forgive us), but perhaps because an exposed nerve has been touched.

It’s true that Europe hasn’t done a great deal, and even that, not well enough (Baroness Ashton has certainly done us proud!) and we could do with a lot of criticism ourselves, but the USA have engaged themselves in Haiti in such a big way, not because Americans are better than Europeans, but because for a century they have virtually been governing the place. From 1915, the year of the first US debarkation on the island, until today, Haiti has in fact been an American protectorate. And it’s really the awareness of this that incited Obama to move (his words). Among the Presidents that have been very concerned about Haiti is also Bill Clinton. Another engagement- this too- and also very generous, but not necessarily successful: if one refers to Foreign Policy one can read the auto-critic on those years by David Rothkopf, the man who directed the Clinton agency for Haiti’s economic revival. Today Obama has burdened Clinton with the responsibility of following the Haitian emergency. Unfortunately it’s undeniable that he only went there once.

To thus indicate today any shortcomings of this intervention doesn’t signify demeaning such generosity, but understanding the complexity of the situation. In this concern: Bill is also the husband of Hillary. We are persuaded that an American secretary of State is above all suspicion- but I don’t believe I’m wrong if I say that if one was dealing with an Italian case, we would have indicated a conflict of interests in such an affair.


UPDATE Jan. 29, 2010, 9:00pm
Speaking at a ceremony in Coppito, Abruzzo, marking the handover from the national to regional government, Prime minister Silvio Berlusconi announced (Italian) this afternoon his intention to reward Guido Bertolaso for his great job in Abruzzo. “After what he did in L’Aquila,” he said, “to make him minister is the least we can do.”