Deja-Katrina? US rescue bogs down in Lebanon July 18, 2006Posted by C.A.R.D in African-American, Americans, Beirut, Black, Bush, Bush administration, Card, Citizens Against Racism and Discrimination, Civil Rights, Cyprus, Discrimination, emergency services, Human Rights, Hurricane Katrina, Israel, Katrina, Lebanon, minorities, New Orleans, Politics, President, Race, Racism, rescue, response, UN.
BEIRUT — Thousands of Americans whose vacations and business trips to Lebanon have degenerated with sickening speed into stints in a battle zone remained stranded here under Israeli bombardment Monday, their frustration and anger mounting because the U.S. government hasn’t gotten them out faster.
Waiting around Beirut with bags packed and fingers crossed, U.S. citizens derided the embassy for busy phone lines, a lack of information and gnawing uncertainty over when and whether they will get out. Hundreds were expected to be shipped to Cyprus today, but how long the full evacuation will take remains uncertain.
“I had heard it might take a week, two weeks. You hear so many things,” said Pamela Pattie, a 65-year-old professor. “Why in the world aren’t we getting it together?”
The frustration has been intensified by news that other countries have already pulled many of their citizens out of Lebanon, efficiently and free of cost. A ferry chartered by the French government carried about 800 of its citizens and several dozen Americans to Cyprus on Monday. The U.S. military evacuated about 60 Americans by helicopter Sunday and Monday.
Other nations have packed people into rented tour buses and driven them over the mountains to Syria. The U.S. State Department has warned Americans against traveling to Syria.
The main U.S. evacuation plan involves a Pentagon-contracted cruise ship, the Orient Queen, due to arrive in Lebanon today to ferry people to Cyprus. The ship can carry about 750 passengers for the five-hour trip. Defense Department officials said other private ships were likely to be hired as well.
Americans have been told to wait for a telephone call that could come in hours — or days. They’ve also been told they can’t board a ship unless they’ve signed a contract agreeing to repay the U.S. government for the price of their evacuation.
The rules have angered Americans who are already fatigued and nervous after days of explosions. “I’m freaked out that our government is treating us this way,” snapped a Rutgers University student who had been studying Arabic at the American University of Beirut. She declined to give her name for fear she would be taken off the passenger list in retribution for criticizing the evacuation effort.
“Are we a Third World country or what?” she said.
The interesting part of the story is that this week the Bush administration denied there was any racism in the Katrina response. Based on what we are seeing going on with the rescue in Lebanon it would seem they are telling the truth: race has nothing to do with it, just a complete disregard for American citizens in danger.
Bush administration denies racism in Katrina response
WASHINGTON — The Bush administration Monday conceded mistakes in the government’s initial response to Hurricane Katrina but disputed allegations by some organizations that the response reflected governmental racism.
The defense was submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which said it would review allegations from about 142 nongovernmental organizations that also allege human rights violations by the U.S. government on issues ranging from the detention of “enemy combatants” to administering policies that are unfair to black citizens, including its implementation of the death penalty and general prison conditions.
Among those attending the Human Rights Committee meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, were three New Orleans residents who expressed hope that the panel will confront their concerns about the government’s Katrina response in a report due at the end of the month.
“In the Gulf Coast, we are facing a variety of racist governmental actions that are denying our basic human rights,” said the Rev. Lois Dejean, 70, of New Orleans in a statement prepared for delivery at a Geneva news conference. “Our government built a substandard flood-control system that caused 80 percent of the predominantly African-American city of New Orleans to flood. . . . Before Katrina occurred, our government knew that the majority of African-Americans and the poor would not be able to evacuate because they don’t have vehicles or the money to pay for a hotel room.”
Ensuring civil rights
In a statement to the U.N. committee, the Bush administration said it has taken aggressive steps to ensure that all groups were treated fairly in terms of housing, education and job opportunities in Katrina’s aftermath.
“President Bush has acknowledged the magnitude of destruction resulting from Hurricane Katrina strained and initially overwhelmed federal, state and local capabilities as never before during a domestic incident within our country,” according to the statement by the U.S. State Department. “Valuable lessons are learned from all disaster responses and certainly from one of Hurricane Katrina’s magnitude.”
So what will they learn from the painfully slow Lebanon rescue of American citizens? Apparently that they should charge citizens to be rescued.
U.S. Government billing citizens for evacuation from Beirut
I am currently enrolled in an intensive summer arabic program at the American University in Beirut, and am holed up at the university, probably the safest place in the city right now. Basically my choices have been to make a run for the border with Syria and try to catch a flight out, or wait for the USG to carry out the evacuation plan. Because I heard reports about the dangers of the former (and based on a statement by the American embassy), I opted for the latter. They are finally getting everything together today, but they dropped a little surprise: they are going to be billing us for giving us emergency transport to Cyprus, and then basically dropping us off on our own to get commercial flights back to the US. Most other goverrnments evacuating people here are actually flying them back to their home country without cost. But not the USG. They are perfectly happy to fund the World Toilet Summit (in Ireland, if my memory is correct) to the tune of $13 million or something. But 25,000 or so Americans stranded in the middle of a (quite unexpected) war zone? They better be ready to pay up if they want out.