U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday urged more international assistance for Haiti, saying the impoverished Caribbean state is in jeopardy because of the global recession and hurricane damage. Clinton is scheduled to visit Haiti and the neighboring Dominican Republic later this week before joining President Barack Obama at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.
Clinton said Haiti leads the Western Hemisphere in unemployment and infant mortality, yet the Caribbean state's future is by no means hopeless if it receives properly-targeted international support.
Already the region's poorest country, Haiti was battered by four successive hurricanes last year that wiped out about 15 percent of the country's economic output and further damaged roads and other elements of an already weak infrastructure.
Addressing a conference of prospective donor countries organized by the Haitian government and the Inter-American Development Bank, the secretary said Haiti may be at a historic turning point and that countries around the world have a stake in whether the government of President Rene Preval succeeds.
"What happens in Haiti affects far beyond the Caribbean and even the region," she said. "This small nation of nine million people is on a brink. It is on a brink of either moving forward with the help of the collective community or falling further back. And it, as well as this region, will be shaped to a large extent by the decisions that we make."
Clinton, who is set to visit Haiti on Thursday, said that despite its status as the Western Hemisphere's poorest country, it has made progress in democratic governance since elections in 2006 and stands to take another step forward with elections for a new senate on Sunday.
She said with help from the Brazilian-led U.N. stabilization force, Haiti is also making strides on domestic security, and tackling corruption and the drug trade. But Clinton said the trajectory for progress has been undermined by what she termed "the combined winds of hurricanes and the global economic recession."
"So Haiti is in danger of stalling," she said. "This conference gives us all an opportunity to reignite its path to progress by working as a team with Haiti at the helm to advance a comprehensive, long-term strategy for Haiti's growth, by coordinating hemispheric and international efforts, by targeting clear goals, by setting benchmarks to gauge our progress, and deploying our diverse skills and resources efficiently and effectively."
Clinton pledged more than $50 million in U.S. aid on top of an annual program exceeding $200 million for debt relief, food aid, counter-narcotics programs and job-creating road projects.
Clinton praised hurricane aid to Haiti from countries like Canada, Spain and Japan. But she said it is time to go beyond disaster relief to long-term development to counter a so-called "youth tsunami" of an estimated one million Haitian young people who will enter the job market during the next five years.
The secretary's remarks were echoed by Haitian Prime Minister Michele Duvivier Pierre-Louis, who said Haiti is treading on fragile ground and that without help for economic growth, the consequences will be catastrophic.
There were no immediate pledge totals from the Washington meeting. But its stated goal was $125 million in new aid during the next two years.