Hopes are running high that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon's appointment of former President Bill Clinton as special envoy to Haiti is the first step in laying the groundwork for improving conditions in the poorest nation in the Americas. It is long past due for serious efforts to help Haiti, and Clinton is the right person to lead the way.
Calling Clinton a "great friend of Haiti," Prime Minister Michele Pierre-Louis said: "We will work with him to better make the case of Haiti to the international community and build a new, solid and efficient partnership to improve the Haitian people's living conditions." Pierre-Louis credited Clinton with helping the government win $324 million in new aid pledges at a recent donors' conference in Washington.
Even with his star power, proven leadership and fundraising skills, Clinton faces formidable challenges in Haiti. The Caribbean nation, already in economic ruin, was battered by four major hurricanes in less than a month last year. The storms caused mud slides and flooding and destroyed homes, amounting to an estimated $1 billion in overall damage. More than 800 people died. All this occurred as the global food crisis had raised staple food costs, causing more misery for Haitians who live on less than $2 a day, according to the international relief agency Food for the Poor.
Then there is the seemingly intractable problem of corruption in every branch of Haiti's government that will challenge the former U.S. president. For years now, aid to the nation has been funneled to private groups or arrives as nongovernment investments. Haitian officials have demonstrated time and again that they cannot be trusted to spend the money as it was intended.
The good news is that Clinton is no stranger to Haiti. During his presidency, he initiated several rebuilding projects there, and he played a major role in restoring ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power in 1994. Aristide lost power again 10 years later, and the country remains impoverished. Clinton said he is aware of Haiti's many urgent needs, including reforestation, renewable energy sources, jobs that pay a living wage, houses and a government that can be trusted.
"I believe Haiti is better positioned to make progress for all its people than at any time since I first visited in 1978," Clinton said the day before his appointment as envoy was confirmed. "It offers unique opportunities for public and private investment to improve health and education in ways that will be good for Haitians and their partners in our interdependent world."
The United Nations made an excellent choice in appointing Clinton as its first special envoy to Haiti, but the challenges he faces remain formidable.