Haiti's President Rene Preval is in Paris as part of a European tour to drum up financial assistance and help in restoring security and the rule of law to the impoverished Caribbean island. Lisa Bryant reports from Paris that Mr. Preval's presidency is being viewed positively by European governments.
President Preval's European trip has already delivered results. During his visit to Brussels Tuesday, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the EU was increasing its aid to Haiti to $293 million for the period of 2008-2013 - up $82 million from this current five-year period. Mr. Barroso described developments in Haiti as going in the "right direction" since Mr. Preval's election as president this year.
Now, Haiti's leader is in France for talks on restoring security and the rule of law in Haiti, as well as more development assistance. He meets with French President Jacques Chirac Friday and top government officials. France is one of Haiti's leading donors, and French officials say Paris is prepared to increase its bilateral aid. In an interview with France's leading Le Monde newspaper, Mr. Preval also called for French help in writing off some of its international debt.
Christian Girault, a specialist on the Caribbean at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, says European countries view Mr. Preval's presidency as offering new hope for the country, after years of conflict and poverty.
"I think it's a fresh start," he said. "Haiti has been in a very bad situation for a long time. It's in shambles and the crisis is everywhere. On the political side, but also on the economic and social side.
Haiti is one of the world's poorest countries and it's infrastructure and economy are in tatters. Besides being torn by conflict, Haiti is also rife with corruption and organized crime, which Mr. Preval vows to fight. Besides being in desperate need of financial assistance, Haiti also needs technical know-how - many of the country's best and brightest have emigrated to richer countries.
Mr. Preval served as Haiti's president from 1996 to 2001. Today, analysts like Girault view him as someone able to unify the country's various factions.
"I think it's good in a sense we have a man who is known, obviously, but he's also willing to work with all the parties involved," he said.