PORT-AU-PRINCE – In a visit hoping to rally support for Haiti, Bill Clinton and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon came to Haiti asking international donors for more aid to keep the troubled country from sliding back into chaos.
The former U.S. president and the U.N. chief toured Haiti’s capital and met with officials struggling with high food prices and the enduring effects of four devastating 2008 storms. The leaders called for more foreign aid and urged Haiti’s weak central government to take charge of its own development.
“We are here to mobilize international support … but at the same time, we expect the Haitian government” to do its part, Ban told The Associated Press on Monday afternoon.
With both a critical, long-delayed donor’s conference in Washington and elections for 12 Senate seats scheduled in April, the International Crisis Group and others have warned that Haiti’s leaders must both get billions of dollars in international aid and better manage affairs at home or its short-lived period of political calm will end.
Ban and Clinton met with President Rene Preval at the national palace on Monday evening to discuss storm recovery, environmental repair and economic assistance, including credit for farmers and increasing textile production under the 2006 U.S. trade deal “HOPE II.”
In a speech, Preval recounted the “three shocks” Haiti experienced last year: high oil prices, high food prices and the storms, which he said ruined a prime opportunity to lift Haiti out of poverty.
“We now more than ever need the solidarity of the international community,” Preval said.
The Haitian president has faced growing criticism for an alleged failure to lead, including not speaking out until nearly a week into last April’s food price riots. The unrest led to the ouster of his prime minister, who was not replaced for months because of political bickering.
“Preval said he’s providing security, but every day people are being robbed. The country is tired. We’re going to make a better choice next time,” said Femil Ladouceur, a 19-year-old student standing along the motorcade route.
Underscoring that tension, at least 1,000 supporters of ousted former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas party shouted outside the national palace during the meeting and held up signs displaying the Creole pun “Ban Ki-moon, Ban m Titid” — “Give me back Aristide.” Earlier, hundreds demonstrated near the airport as the dignitaries arrived, waving signs reading, “Clinton, we need your help.”
They waved banners which read “Ask Obama to return Aristide” and “There can be no election without Lavalas.” There were no serious incidents and police carrying riot shields kept the protesters away from the presidential palace compound.
Lavalas candidates have all been disqualified from the elections by the government. Some supporters are threatening to hamper voting if they cannot participate.
Ban, Clinton and Haitian-American recording star Wyclef Jean met with university scholarship recipients Monday afternoon to speak about the environmental devastation that has made Haiti prone to deadly tropical storms. Last year, storms killed nearly 800 people and ravaged the struggling nation’s economy.
“Haiti was (once on) the richest island in all of the Caribbean … because of the natural resources, because of what God had put into the land,” Clinton told the students. “It can be again, because of the resources in your mind and in your heart.”
Clinton, who visited Haiti as president in 1995 and again in 2003, is popular among Haiti’s urban poor because Aristide was returned to power under his watch in 1994.
The United Nations has some 9,000 peacekeepers in Haiti, which has long been afflicted by political instability and violence and was heavily damaged by hurricanes last year.
U.N. officials say the anti-poverty plan focuses on job creation, food security, reforestation of the almost treeless country and provision of basic services such as healthcare.
Clinton told the students that 200 years ago Haiti had been the richest part of the region because of its natural resources. “You can be again because of the resources in your mind and your heart,” he said.
Aides to Ban said he had been encouraged to visit Haiti by a report he had received from Paul Collier, an academic at Britain’s Oxford University.
The report said that despite its problems, Haiti was well-placed to recover because of the U.S. trade concessions it enjoyed, its proximity to the U.S. market and its low labor costs. It recommended focusing on developing the garment industry and growing mangoes as an export crop and to help reforest the nation, which suffers flash floods and erosion.
After talks with Preval, Ban warned in a statement that failure to act quickly could lead to a “disastrous slide backward.” In a joint communique, the Haitian leader pledged to take measures to open up the country’s economy to investment, but gave no details.
A U.N. statement said Ban had asked Clinton to accompany him because of his attention to Haiti during his 1993-2001 presidency and a “call to action” on Haiti at a session of his Clinton Global Initiative foundation last September.
The United Nations launched an appeal last September for $108 million for hurricane relief, but less than half of that amount had been pledged as of December. A high-level donor conference is scheduled for next month in Washington.
Immediately after Ban’s visit, the U.N. Security Council will stage a three-day trip of its own to assess progress in Haiti and how the U.N. mission is fulfilling its mandate.