PORT-AU-PRINCE, (Reuters) – U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and former U.S. President Bill Clinton visited Haiti yesterday and urged the Caribbean state to use international backing to haul itself out of grinding poverty.
Ban and Clinton are on a mission to promote an anti-poverty action plan for the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.
Speaking to students at an educational center, the U.N. chief said Haiti had a “window of opportunity” because of the presence of a U.N. peacekeeping mission on its soil and because of the country’s tariff-free access to the U.S. market.
“This window of opportunity is not unlimited. It is very limited. You must seize this opportunity,” said Ban, who was due to meet later with President Rene Preval.
“That is why President Clinton and I are here personally to first of all demonstrate our solidarity and send a very strong message to the international community that we need Haiti to be able to emerge as a very stable, democratic and prosperous country in the region,” he added.
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.
Clinton and Ban were visiting just over a month before Senate elections in Haiti, already controversial after the nation’s biggest party, The Lavalas Family Party associated with exiled former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was barred on a technicality.
As they visited, several thousand supporters of the Lavalas Family Party staged a demonstration to protest against its barring from the Senate polls and to demand that U.S. President Barack Obama arrange Aristide’s return to Haiti.
They waved banners which read “Ask Obama to return Aristide” and “There can be no election without Lavalas,” but there were no serious incidents.
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.