Sean Penn’s nonprofit aid group J/P HRO will oversee the demolition of Haiti’s destroyed National Palace, the Haitian government announced yesterday.
The demolition will begin in the next 10 days and will be done with no charge to the Haitian government, according to government spokesman Lucien Jura. The demolition is expected to take about two months to complete.
“Amb. Penn mentioned that his organization (J/P HRO) could provide the engineers and equipment to do the demolition at no cost to the government,” Jura wrote in an email.
Penn holds the position as ambassador-at-large for Haiti.
When the earthquake struck, it toppled hundreds of buildings in the capital city of Port-au-Prince and other cities to the south, including the distinctive National Palace. The building’s distinctive white dome and the rest of the structure slowly collapsed into itself—forcing the government to move its operations to a small police station near the airport. Now the government operates out of a group of pre-fab buildings on the grounds of the National Palace.
The government will certainly be happy to see the structure gone, as it had come to symbolize the government’s inertia in the wake of the devastation. So Penn and his group want to change the view of the government on the island, using the demolition as a turning point. Penn’s group will also work with a department in charge of preserving historical monuments. The effort will include both construction machines along with workers using their hands, said Ron Baldwin, the group’s executive director.
“It’s an important project, an important step for the government, for Haiti, for the people of Haiti to move on,” Baldwin said by telephone.
Baldwin declined to give a value on the cost of the demolition, saying the budget was still being worked on.
It’s still not clear what will follow the demolition. Government spokesman Jura said officials had not decided on how to replace the government building, which has had to be rebuilt before.
The National Palace has an auspicious history in Haiti. While still under construction, it was burned by a mob that assassinated Haiti’s president, Vilbrun Guillaume Sam. It was completed during the 1915-34 occupation by U.S. Marines that followed his death.