UN enlists Bill Clinton to boost Haiti economy

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The Independent US

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, yesterday said he had appointed Bill Clinton as his special emissary to Haiti with the special task of drumming up investment and other economic support for the perennially impoverished Caribbean nation.

The former US President traveled to Haiti with Mr Ban in March to help highlight the woes of what remains the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Its plight has been worsened by a series of tropical storms last year that ravaged its already puny infrastructure and left 800 people dead. The visit was followed by a donors' conference in the US at which Mr Clinton helped raise pledges of $324 million.

"It is an honour to accept the Secretary-General's invitation to become special envoy to Haiti," Mr Clinton said in a brief statement issued hours before the UN had made its own announcements about the appointment. "Last year's natural disasters took a great toll, but Haiti's government and people have the determination to build back better."

It is the first time that the UN has picked a special envoy for Haiti and reflects the frustration felt in New York and also Washington at the seemingly unending cycle of destitution and government failure in the country. Last year, a reporter for the Associated Press reported that some families were resorting to making biscuits out of mud to help stave off the hunger of their children.

Mr Clinton may have been a natural choice because of his long history of sympathy with the country's difficulties. As US President in 1994, he helped overthrow a military dictatorship by threatening force and oversaw the restoration to the presidency of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was deposed in a coup a decade later. Though discredited in some quarters, Mr Aristide remains popular among Haiti's poor.

Haitians may also take heart from the proximity of Mr Clinton to the current US administration where his wife, Hillary Clinton, serves as Secretary of State. She visited Haiti in April on her way to the Summit of the Americas and held brief talks with President Renee Preval. It is assumed that State Department lawyers were approached to give a green light to the new role for her husband.

United Nations peacekeepers have been patrolling the streets of Port-au-Prince since 2004 and are mostly unpopular with local citizens who regard them almost as an occupying force. Mr Ban will be hoping that applying the face of Mr Clinton to the UN's presence in the country will help damp down the hostility. It is likely that the former president will be expected to visit Haiti at least four times a year.