PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton assured Haitians last Thursday that the United States’ latest aid is more than a short-term fix for a nation still struggling with some of the world’s worst poverty.
Clinton told reporters that she and President Barack Obama aim to help create jobs and ensure stability in a country that has had little of either in recent years.
“The president and I had an excellent conversation reiterating what is his great hope — that he will see progress begun and finished to give the future back to the people of Haiti,” she said after her gleaming motorcade passed through the capital’s pothole-strewn roads.
The U.S., Haiti’s largest benefactor, pledged $50 million in new aid at a donors’ conference last Tuesday in Washington, bringing the American total for the year to $302 million.
In all, the conference raised $324 million, although U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, former President Bill Clinton and others have said that $600 million more is needed for economic development and hurricane recovery.
But the U.S. commitment to Haiti goes beyond what emerged at the donors’ conference, Secretary Clinton said at a joint news conference with Haitian President René Préval.
“When we start to build roads, we must finish the roads,” she said. “When we start to help farmers once again make their land rich and cultivatable, we want to be sure they harvest their crops.”
Préval said Haiti appreciates foreign assistance, which makes up about 60 percent of the government’s budget, but that his country must become self-reliant.
“This percentage must be gradually decreased as Haiti becomes more able to supplement its own income,” Préval said. “We must also encourage private investment.”
Clinton also said the U.S. is considering requests to temporarily halt deportations of an estimated 30,000 Haitians from the United States. Haiti fears deportations would cost it much-needed remittances and force it to absorb even more people into its broken economy.
The U.S. often grants Temporary Protected Status to block deportations to countries that have suffered natural disasters or conflicts. The status currently applies to immigrants from Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Burundi, Somalia and Sudan.
“We are going to be considering how to help the people who are here continue to have those resources,” Clinton said. “But at the same time, we don’t want to encourage other Haitians to make the dangerous journey across the water.”
Clinton stopped in Haiti and the neighboring Dominican Republic en route to the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad. She toured a health clinic run by the crew of the U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort, where some 13,000 Haitians have been treated so far during its 10-day visit.
She also visited a clothing factory that could benefit from a U.S. trade deal that may spur Haiti’s dormant textile industry. The factory, which produces clothing for Levi’s, Izod, Wal-Mart and others, is owned by the Apaid family, whose members helped lead opposition to former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Clinton said the factory’s 500 workers make at least double Haiti’s minimum wage.
Later last Thursday, she arrived in the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo, where she and President Leonel Fernandez discussed efforts to curb corruption and drug trafficking in the Caribbean.
Clinton’s visit to Haiti is the first by a U.S. Secretary of State since Condoleezza Rice in 2005. It comes at another crucial time for the country, which has not recovered from last year’s food riots or four tropical storms that killed nearly 800 people and caused $1 billion in damage.
Political tensions also were running high ahead of Haiti’s long-delayed Senate elections, which were held on Sunday. The vote, stalled since 2007 by political turmoil, hunger riots and storms, drew an extremely low turnout and occasional violence.
Associated Press Writer Ramon Almanzar contributed from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
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