23
Mar
10

Former U.S. presidents Bush, Clinton visit Haiti

NEWS
Former U.S. presidents Bush, Clinton visit Haiti

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

••• Former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton clasped hands with residents of one of Haiti’s massive tent cities Monday on a tour of its quake-devastated capital – a visit intended to remind donors of the immense needs facing the recovery effort.

The two former leaders, who were tapped by President Barack Obama to spearhead U.S. fundraising for the crisis, made their first joint visit as part of the mission to raise aid and investment for the impoverished Caribbean nation.

At a news conference with President René Préval on the grounds of the collapsed national palace, Bush said he was struck by the devastation caused by the Jan. 12 earthquake.

“It’s one thing to see it on TV, it’s another to see it firsthand,” said Bush, who was making his first visit to Haiti. “Hopefully our visit will remind people that Haiti needs help.”

Clinton and Bush later greeted quake survivors camped on the Champ de Mars, the national mall filled with 60,000 homeless people.

While many of the homeless welcomed the visit as a sign that the U.S. would continue to supply aid, some said they were disappointed the presidents did not bring anything more tangible.

“The visit is like no visit at all. They walked inside, it’s to show off,” said René Pierre, a 35-year-old homeless man.

About 100 supporters of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide staged a protest outside the national palace, burning tires and demanding the return of their exiled leader.

Clinton and Bush visit as the country struggles to feed and shelter victims of the magnitude-7 quake, which killed an estimated 230,000 people. Another 1.3 million quake survivors are homeless, with many living in camps prone to dangerous flooding in the April rainy season.

The former presidents also visited the Maxima SA woodworking plant where manager Evelien Degier, a native of the Netherlands, said they can build houses for $2,000. She said she hopes the presidents help direct investment to companies like hers that employ Haitians as part of the reconstruction effort.

“It’s wonderful to have the handouts and the food,” she said. “But now people need to go back to work to real life to earn real money.”

Risk of flooding

The 7.0-magnitude quake is believed to have killed at least 200,000 people and left another 1.3 million people homeless, with many living in makeshift camps at risk of flooding during the April rainy season.

Bush and Clinton’s visit aims to spotlight the dramatic need ahead of a critical March 31 U.N. donors conference in New York, where Haitian officials will ask for $11.5 billion U.S. in reconstruction help.

Bush’s trip to Haiti on Monday is his first to the Caribbean country. Clinton, who is the U.N. special envoy to the country, has made two visits since the quake and five in the past two years. He also visited as president.

The non-profit Clinton Bush Haiti Fund has raised roughly $37 million from 220,000 individuals, including Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who gave $1 million, and Obama, who among other donations gave $200,000 of the $1.4 million he got with his Nobel Peace Prize.

About $4 million has gone to such organizations as Habitat for Humanity, the University of Miami/Project Medishare mobile hospital in Port-au-Prince and the U.S. branch of the Irish charity Concern Worldwide. The rest of the money has yet to be distributed.

The two former presidents have arguably shaped Haiti’s history as much as anyone alive today.

Clinton presided over a refugee crisis born of the 1991 ouster of Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically elected president. He returned Aristide to power in 1994 with a force of 20,000 U.S. troops.

Bush is remembered by many Haitians – especially the thousands in Port-au-Prince’s teeming slums – as the U.S. leader whose administration chartered the plane that flew Aristide back into exile during a 2004 rebellion.

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