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Haitian Leaders to Clinton Global Guests: We Need Your Business

Thursday, September 23, 2010

WNYC

The President and Prime Minister of Haiti are asking for aid, but also for investment. Both spoke on the last day of the Clinton Global Initiative, former President Clinton’s yearly effort to get business leaders involved in solving world problems.

Haiti is in part Bill Clinton's portfolio -- he’s the United Nations Special Envoy to Haiti and he co-chairs the country's Interim Reconstruction Commission. And in response to critics who say the recovery has moved too slowly, Clinton asked his audience what they would do, reminding people that 17 percent of the government workers died in the January earthquake. 

In his pitch to investors, Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said the more than $5 billion of aid coming to Haiti over the next three years will help. But when you do the math, it equals about $180 dollars per Haitian citizen, per year. So to make Haiti's recovery sustainable, he said, the country needs private sector investment.

“Don't be discouraged by images of Haiti today,” he said. “We are wounded, we are in pain, but we are alive. And we are going to rebuild.” But he said it will take time to avoid mistakes of the past. 

Panelists with ongoing investments in Haiti spoke of the country's rich arts and crafts and of its potential to attract tourists to coastal areas and hard-to-reach historical sites like the Citadel, a mountain fortress designed and built by Haitians two centuries ago to defend the newly independent country against invaders.

Haitian President Rene Preval ended his speech by unexpectedly calling hip hop star Wyclef Jean to the stage and praising his love for Haiti -- despite the fact that Jean bashed him in a recently released single. A few years ago, President Preval named Jean a Goodwill Ambassador for Haiti. But after the electoral council in Haiti put a stop to Wyclef’s attempt to run for President -- saying he doesn't reside in Haiti -- the singer accused President Preval of orchestrating the council’s decision.

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama joined Bill Clinton for the conference’s closing panel: President Obama adoringly introduced his wife, Michelle Obama who urged the audience to employ U.S. war veterans and their spouses. She said in the military, soldiers learn many of the same skills needed for aid efforts around the world. 

“You see, this kind of potential is just too precious and unique to squander,” she said. “And for these extraordinary individuals, the story of their service doesn’t end when they move off the base or hang up their uniform. Rather, it’s just the next chapter of their work to build a better America and a better world.”

Michelle Obama also urged the private sector to accommodate the unusual lives of military spouses, whose frequent moves make it hard to keep jobs.

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