Thursday, January 28, 2010

Haiti, without a palace too

Leticia Martínez Hernández

/PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti. — They say that only majestic place in the Haitian capital was its National Palace. The building, enormous and blindingly white, was yet another paradox in this country, immersed in abject poverty, but able to show off a palace in the style of the grand Petit Palais in Versailles.

History recounts that the National Palace took five years to be built, but it took barely one minute for it to be almost completely destroyed. The January 12 earthquake shook this Haitian national symbol mercilessly. This reporter went to the site and spoke with Fritz Longchamp, minister of the presidency, who was working together with his team in an improvised office in the shade of a tree.

Just a few hours after the tragedy struck, when the extent of the damage was not yet clear, everyone thought that, given the quake had affected the Palace so extensively, weaker buildings must have fared far worse. When our reporting team was visiting, even the helicopters flying overhead made the devastated walls shake.

Longchamp explained that the building’s three cupolas were destroyed; the left and center ones collapsed inward and the one on the right fell forward.

President René Préval’s office, the Council of Ministers room, the First Lady’s office and the meeting room were all buried when the roof collapsed. The central pavilion of columns was likewise demolished. During that collapse, at least four people were killed in the Palace’s central building, and another nine in the Presidential Guard headquarters, now virtually in ruins.

Thirty percent of the palace was destroyed, according to preliminary estimates. Longchamp said the proposal is to repair instead of demolish, because there are no structural problems.

“We would like to rebuild the cupolas, but this time, make them more earthquake-resistant.”

For that purpose, Haitian experts from the National Heritage Institute have been called upon to rebuild the Palace, together with Japanese and U.S. engineers and architects. They are currently assessing its structures and the patrimonial values that still remain among the debris.

The minister of the presidency, still sorrowful over the tragedy, emphasized that the Palace is very much a part of Haiti’s national identity, like its flag and shield.

Translated by Granma International