Palin, Visiting Cholera Clinics, Urges Americans Not to Forget Haiti
Port-au-Prince, Haiti (AP) - Sarah Palin urged Americans on Sunday not to forget Haiti as she wrapped up a weekend visit to an aid group's sites in this country vexed by a cholera epidemic, earthquake reconstruction and political crisis.
Accompanied by her husband, Todd; daughter Bristol, a Fox News crew and the Rev. Franklin Graham, who runs the aid group that hosted her, the former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate arrived in Haiti during a respite from the riots and violence that have followed the Caribbean nation's dysfunctional Nov. 28 election.
"I do urge Americans not to forget Haiti," she said at a Sunday afternoon news conference.
Noting that severe problems afflicted Haiti even before last January's devastating quake, she said her fellow citizens should "get out of your comfort zone and volunteer to help."
Palin visited Samaritan's Purse projects including cholera clinics where people are being treated for extreme dehydration. More than 2,000 people have died of the disease, which scientists believe was recently reintroduced into Haiti, and nearly 100,000 have fallen ill.
Palin's trip was largely closed to the press and she declined to take questions at the news conference.
She traveled in part by helicopter, and the aid group declined to share her itinerary, citing security concerns. The U.S. State Department reissued last week its travel warning for Americans considering visits to Haiti.
At the news conference, Palin created some confusion when she referred to a potential drawdown of U.S. assistance to Haiti.
"I know that there's been some discussion of U.S. aid perhaps being lifted from this area," she said. "Again -- not to get political -- but if some of the politicians would come here and see the conditions, perhaps they would see a need for, say, a military airlift to come bring supplies that are so needed here."
It was not clear what she was referring to, and a Palin spokeswoman declined to elaborate.
U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, who is chairman of a Senate subcommittee that oversees appropriations for Haiti, recently called for the suspension of direct budget support to the Haitian government until a solution is found to an electoral crisis that has sparked riots in recent days. But his spokesman said Sunday that he was not referring to humanitarian aid or reconstruction money.
Palin spoke about seeing firsthand the challenging economic, political and environmental conditions in which Haitians live and advocated "fundamental changes," including the need for job creation in agriculture and tourism sectors.
"Certainly I have a better understanding of the problems facing the country now, being here," Palin said.
Exclusive access durign the trip was given to Fox News, whose Greta van Susteren traveled with the group to Haiti. A video was also posted online by the aid group showing Palin holding hands with Haitian children, visiting cholera patients and handing out Christmas presents.
AP Television News journalist David Barraza contributed to this story.