Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday expressed outrage over foreign criticism of the U.S. response to this month’s earthquake in Haiti and instructed embassies around the world to “push back” against unfair media coverage.
Speaking two days after a senior Italian official called the American rescue and relief effort “pathetic,” Mrs. Clinton said that Washington’s decision to send thousands of troops to the devastated country was “either misunderstood or deliberately misconstrued.”
“I deeply resent those who attack our country, the generosity of our people and the leadership of our president in trying to respond to historically disastrous conditions after the earthquake,” Mrs. Clinton said at a town hall meeting with State Department employees to mark her first year in office.
“I have absolutely no argument with anyone lodging a legitimate criticism against our country. I think we can learn from that and we are foolish if we keep our head in the sand and pretend we can’t,” she said. “What we are asking for is that people view us fairly.”
The secretary did not name specific media organizations, but State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said he has complained to the Qatar-based Al Jazeera TV network and CNN. He also cited criticism by Italy and France.
“We sent cables to all posts. We asked our entire teams to be prepared to respond to any misleading media report,” Mrs. Clinton said. “We are not going to leave unanswered charges against the United States of America and the kind of work that we do every single day.”
In Port-au-Prince, U.N. troops fired tear gas at desperate Haitians crowding a food handout area outside the wrecked presidential palace on Tuesday, as delays in getting help to earthquake survivors persisted two weeks after the catastrophe.
The 7.0 magnitude quake killed up to 200,000 people and destroyed most buildings in the capital.
Despite the positive international reaction to President Obama’s election in 2008, negative attitudes toward the United States remain in many quarters around the world — including among longtime U.S. allies — and the vast relief effort in Haiti has been no exception.
U.S. officials were not surprised by criticism from countries such as Venezuela, Bolivia and Cuba, which have accused the United States of occupying Haiti. However, they were shocked by comments from Guido Bertolaso, head of Italy’s Civil Protection Agency.
Mr. Bertolaso said on Sunday that the United States “tends to confuse military intervention with emergency intervention,” and that despite the presence of 13,000 American troops in Haiti, “no one is giving orders.”
“They thought they could bring something to eat and drink and the problem would be resolved,” said Mr. Bertolaso, who won praise for coordinating relief efforts after last year’s earthquake in the Italian city of L’Aquila, which killed at least 300 people.
He met Mr. Obama personally and showed him around the quake area in central Italy when the president visited the country for a summit in July.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, who met with Mrs. Clinton in Washington on Monday, distanced his government from Mr. Bertolaso’s comments, even though the safety chief holds a Cabinet-level post.
“I want to repeat here how highly we value the important and generous efforts of the United States to help the people in Haiti,” Mr. Frattini said, standing beside Mrs. Clinton at the State Department.
That, however, was not enough to undo the damage, so Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was forced to respond to Mrs. Clinton’s outrage, too.
“Without the generous and significant intervention of the United States everything would have been much more difficult,” Mr. Berlusconi said in a statement.
“In critical situations like this, it is unfortunately inevitable that difficulties will emerge,” but comments “that might inadvertently spark debate should be avoided,” he added, in an apparent reference to Mr. Bertolaso’s criticism.