PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin began a tightly stage-managed visit to Haiti on Saturday in which she visited cholera clinics while avoiding crowds and the press.
The 2008 vice presidential candidate was a guest of Rev. Franklin Graham, whose aid group works in the impoverished country. Haiti is facing a brutal cholera epidemic while struggling with an electoral crisis and reconstruction from the January earthquake.
Palin, who traveled in part by helicopter, provided access on her tour solely to the U.S. cable network Fox News.
Graham's organization, Samaritan's Purse, refused to discuss Palin's itinerary with other media and asked Haitian and American reporters to leave its compounds, citing a "security lockdown."
"I've really enjoyed meeting this community. They are so full of joy," Palin was quoted as saying on the organization's website. "We are so fortunate in America, and we are responsible for helping those less fortunate."
Associated Press television journalists saw Palin talking with foreign aid workers. She wore cargo pants, a T-shirt and designer sunglasses on her first trip outside the United States since speaking to investors in Hong Kong last year. That speech was also closed to the media.
Samaritan's Purse posted pictures online of Palin touring a post-quake shelter, touching the hand of a Haitian child and laughing with Graham and Fox News host Greta van Susteren.
Palin's visit comes amid a cholera outbreak that has killed more than 2,000 people and sickened more than 96,000 others.
This week the country was rocked by riots following the announcement of preliminary results from the Nov. 28 presidential election, which eliminated a popular carnival singer from a run-off in favor of the government-backed candidate.
On Saturday, two of the three leading candidates rejected an offer to participate in a re-count. Protests began again in parts of the capital in the evening.
Though Port-au-Prince was calm for most of the day, Palin avoided the capital, heading north to visit a Samaritan's Purse project in the small town of Bercy.
No Haitians interviewed had heard of Palin, but when told she is an American politican, they said her visit was welcome.
"It would be good if she came, because we could tell her that we need medicine and jobs," said Roseline Frederique, a 21-year-old resident of the capital's Cite Soleil slum who is being treated for cholera symptoms.