U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, meeting with Haitian Prime Minister Michele Duvivier Pierre-Louis on Wednesday, promised that the Obama administration will be a "committed partner" of the Caribbean state. Clinton is scheduled to visit Haiti and the Dominican Republic on Thursday before joining President Barack Obama at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.
Clinton says Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, has endured almost unimaginable difficulties during the last year, including four hurricanes that slashed the island nation's economic output by 15 percent.
She says her visit is aimed at underscoring U.S. support for the government of President Rene Preval and its economic program, which Clinton said had put the country on an upward path until the string of disasters.
"Haiti was making tremendous progress until the national disasters so tragically and unfairly interrupted that progress. In 2007, Haiti had the highest rate of GDP [i.e., gross domestic product] growth since the 1990s, and there was no doubt Haiti was on the right track. Things happen. Hurricanes happen. But we think by focusing on security, job creation, infrastructure development, sustainable agriculture, we're going to be able to help the people and the government of Haiti," she said.
Clinton appeared at a State Department press event with Haitian Prime Minister Pierre-Louis a day after both attended an international donor conference aimed at covering an estimated $125 million shortfall in the Haitian government's 2009 budget.
The meeting of more than 20 countries and financial institutions raised only about $40 million in new funds. But Prime Minister Pierre-Louis said she was not disappointed given problems the donor community faces.
"It was not up to the top amount, as you mentioned, but it was more than we expected. I must tell you, considering the condition of the financial crisis in the world, we were not, I personally was not, expecting that much. So it's a real encouragement for us and we're going to make sure to use these funds properly," he said.
Clinton told the conference that the United States, traditionally, Haiti's largest aid donor, will provide $287 million in non-emergency aid this year, including funds targeted for security and job-creating infrastructure projects.
The secretary will meet President Preval and other officials in Port-au-Prince before crossing to the other side of Hispaniola on Thursday to meet Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernandez for talks that are expected to focus on curbing regional drug traffic.
Clinton is due to fly from Santo Domingo to Trinidad and Tobago for the 34-nation hemispheric summit on Friday.