Clinton begins tenure as UN Envoy to Haiti

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Former U.S. President Bill Clinton began his tenure as UN Envoy to Haiti on Monday with a joint news conference with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who appointed Clinton to the US$1-a-year post on May 19. Ki-moon told a news conference that “no one is better placed” than the former U.S. president to help Haiti’s president and prime minister promote their new economic development program and to help ensure that governments deliver on the US$335 million they pledged in April for Haiti’s recovery. “Haiti is at a turning point,” Ban said. “It has a real chance for stability and potential prosperity. … And we wanted to send a message to the international community: Haiti needs and deserves our help.”

Sitting beside the secretary-general, Clinton said that even after the devastation caused by last year’s storms “I think Haiti … has the best chance to escape the darker aspects of its history in the 35 years I have been going there.” Clinton said he will follow the “very impressive program” produced by the Haitian government — which is similar to one commissioned by the U.N. but focuses more on immediate needs — and work to generate new jobs and improve the availability of basic services. Schools, hospitals, housing, public facilities, roads and infrastructure will be “built back better” and improvements will be made to prevent and mitigate future disasters and speed recovery, he said.

Clinton said he will also encourage international investment, make Haiti a more attractive prospect including by improving power supplies, accelerate efforts to promote clean energy, encourage donors to honor their commitments, and put the spotlight on “both the pain and the promise of Haiti” and its economic opportunities. “I will be accountable in this work to the secretary-general and the United Nations, and to the people of Haiti and their governmental leaders,” Clinton said. He said he had read speculation in the Haitian press that his job “was somehow an imperialist plot to take over Haiti. All I want to do is help the Haitians take over control of their own destiny,” Clinton stressed. “That’s all I have ever wanted for Haiti, and that’s all the secretary-general wants.”

Haiti’s Foreign Minister Alrich Nicolas read a letter from President René Préval praising Ban for focusing attention on Haiti’s urgent needs and saying “our country and our people could not hope for a better friend and advocate than President Bill Clinton.”

Clinton said he would be putting together a small staff over the next few days and hoped to visit Haiti “pretty soon.” In response to a question, he said both the White House and the State Department had given a green light for him to take the U.N. job. “I would not have done this otherwise,” Clinton said. Clinton said he will try to do in Haiti what the U.N. attempted to do when he was the top U.N. envoy promoting recovery from the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami — “to leave things better than they were before the natural disasters.”

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