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By Patrick Martin in the USA:
Bush, Clinton visit Port-au-Prince
Washington dictates terms to devastated Haiti
24 March 2010
Former US presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton visited the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, in advance of a donors’ conference in New York City called to coordinate international aid and investment in the country in the wake of the devastating January 12 earthquake.
President Obama named Bush and Clinton co-chairs of the US fundraising campaign after the quake. The joint visit combined public displays of concern, in photo-op visits to a refugee camp and two local businesses, and talks with Haitian president René Préval and other officials.
Television coverage showed Bush, who had never before set foot in Haiti, shaking hands with quake survivors with a fixed smile on his face, visibly uncomfortable. He spoke woodenly, telling reporters that his purpose was to see firsthand the destruction caused by the quake and “remind the American people there is still suffering and work to be done here.”
The Bush-Clinton visit to the refugee camp on the Champ de Mars, next to the presidential palace, was a high-security affair, with dozens of US Secret Service agents, Haitian police and blue-helmeted UN peacekeeping troops surrounding them and Préval as they shook hands with earthquake survivors.
The attitude of the Haitian people to the visitors was a mixture of hostility and indifference. Bush, in particular, is hated for the US role in the 2004 coup that removed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and exiled him to South Africa. Clinton, while posturing as a “friend” of Haiti, is identified with a policy of opening the Haitian market to foreign competition that devastated the country’s agriculture. He is now the UN special envoy to Haiti.
About 100 supporters of former president Aristide staged a protest outside the national palace, burning tires and an American flag. They chanted slogans like “Return Aristide! Down with Préval! Down with Bush!” One leader of Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas party, which is now barred from running in the elections, told the Associated Press, “Those people have a lot of money. They could do something for Haiti, but they haven’t done it.”
A quake survivor, 35-year-old René Pierre, who is homeless, told one US reporter, “The visit is like no visit at all. They walked inside, it’s to show off.” The AP reported on a street-corner debate in the Bel Air slum: “Neighbors crowded into a narrow alley behind partially collapsed buildings to shout their opinions: Bush is bad, Préval ineffective and Clinton disappointing as UN envoy.”
The Miami Herald described the scene as Bush, Clinton and Préval entered the refugee camp: “Quake survivors screamed at the three leaders, shouting details of the losses they suffered…. Others took a moment to criticize their own president’s leadership. ‘President Préval has never come to see us before!’ screamed Myrlande Saint-Louis, who lives in the Place Mosolée camp the presidents visited. ‘Now because Bush is here he comes? Now he wants to see us!’ ”
One of the principal purposes of the Clinton-Bush visit was to prod Préval into taking action on a land ownership dispute that has hamstrung efforts to relocate many of the quake survivors. Private landowners in the Haitian elite have been reluctant to make land available, demanding more compensation than the government was in a position to provide. Restrictions on foreign land ownership, rooted in Haiti’s origins 200 years ago in the slave revolt against French plantation owners, have hampered the activities of both foreign NGOs and multinational corporations.
Clinton is a particularly assiduous promoter of the conception that foreign investment, particularly in the garment industry, is the key to Haiti’s economic revival after the quake. During his visit, he repeatedly dropped hints that unspecified Asian and Brazilian companies were just waiting for procedural obstacles to come down before they set up shop in Port-au-Prince and other areas.
Préval responded to the pressure by issuing an executive order forcing Haitian landowners to turn over property under eminent domain, with financial compensation, to be used by aid organizations and foreign investors.
President Bill Clinton, now the UN Special Envoy to Haiti, publicly apologized last month for forcing Haiti to drop tariffs on imported, subsidized U.S. rice during his time in office. The policy wiped out Haitian rice farming and seriously damaged Haiti’s ability to be self-sufficient. On Wednesday, journalist Kim Ives of Haiti Liberté questioned Clinton about his change of heart and his stance on the return of ousted Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide: here.