Bill Clinton: Donors still holding out on billion in pledges for Haiti reconstruction

By Jonathan M. Katz, AP
Friday, August 6, 2010

Clinton: Donors still holding out on Haiti pledges

LEOGANE, Haiti — Bill Clinton said Friday that international donors are still reluctant to make good on billions of dollars in pledges for Haiti’s post-earthquake reconstruction.

Visiting a town where hundreds of thousands of homeless still live under tarps and tents, the former U.S. president told The Associated Press he hopes the presentation of $300 million worth of projects at the Aug. 17 meeting of the commission he co-chairs with Haiti’s prime minister will help open their wallets.

“We’re going for very specific projects at the next meeting and then we’re going to make another run at ‘em and see what happens,” Clinton told AP during a two-day visit to the quake-ravaged country. “We just want to get the show on the road.”

Frustrations are running high nearly seven months after the quake, which killed a government-estimated 300,000 people. Reconstruction remains all but stalled as 1.6 million people remain homeless and rubble continues to choke thoroughfares in the capital and surrounding areas.

Reconstruction and the billions pledged will be major issues in the Nov. 28 presidential election. Scores of candidates are continuing to register until Saturday’s deadline — the most prominent among them multimillionaire hip hop artist Wyclef Jean.

Five countries — Brazil, Norway, Australia, Colombia and Estonia — have so far provided $506 million, less than 10 percent of the $5.3 billion pledged for Haiti at a March donors’ conference.

On July 29, President Barack Obama signed a law approving at least $770 million for Haiti reconstruction, but lawmakers must still decide how it will be spent.

Following a day of meetings with the private sector and commission officials, Clinton traveled by helicopter Friday west of Port-au-Prince to the coastal town of Leogane, which was nearly eviscerated by the January quake.

He attended the groundbreaking for a communal hurricane shelter and toured a sugar mill for which he hopes to gin investment, with an eye toward producing much-needed electricity through bio-fuels and biomass as well as jump-starting a largely dormant sugar industry there.

Though Clinton’s visit coincides with the burgeoning political process, the consummate campaigner was careful to sidestep any show of favoritism.

“I consider (Wyclef Jean) a friend of mine. But I’m not a citizen of or a voter in Haiti. And the thing I need to do is stay out of the election,” he said. He went onto praise former Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis, who is also expected to compete.

“The last thing I need to be doing is telling the people of Haiti what to do with their politics,” Clinton said. “I just want them to have a good election and I want it to reinforce, not undermine the reconstruction of the country.”

will not be displayed