Haiti has secured significant aid commitments at an international donors conference hosted by the World Bank in Washington. Donor countries and organizations say Haiti must break from decades of political instability, lawlessness and corruption if it is to embrace a more promising and prosperous future.
Nearly five months after former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled into exile, foreign aid is flowing once again to Haiti, the poorest nation in the hemisphere.
Secretary of State Colin Powell was the first to address aid donors at the World Bank Tuesday, the second of a two-day gathering. "Today the Haitian people have a new opportunity to fashion a better future, and a new government that is determined to help them seize the opportunity that is before them. The proud and enterprising people of Haiti deserve this chance," he said.
Mr. Powell said Haitians must see a rapid improvement in living conditions if they are to retain hope for the future, and that the international community has a significant role to play. The secretary of state pointed out that, going into the donors conference, aid commitments fell more than $900 million short of the $1.36 billion that multilateral organizations concluded Haiti needs over the next two years. "We must close that gap. For our part, I am pleased to report that the Bush administration has tripled the amount of aid that we designated for Haiti this fiscal year. Our fiscal year 2004 total comes to about $180 million."
Mr. Powell said an additional $52 million has been earmarked for 2005, bringing the total U.S. commitment to $230 million. Additional pledges have come from the Inter-American Development Bank, the European Commission, and other sources.
International assistance to Haiti was curtailed in 1999 after then-President Rene Preval dissolved the country's parliament and began ruling by decree. Donors further reduced aid two years later, when legislative elections designed to restore constitutional rule were marred by widespread allegations of fraud. Estimates of the funds Haiti lost since 1999 range from several hundred million dollars to well over $1 billion.
But, with an interim government in place to guide Haiti to elections scheduled for next year, it would seem that all is forgiven, if not forgotten, by the international community.
The United Nations special representative to Haiti, Juan Gabriel Valdes, said the challenges Haiti faces are enormous. "No one should underestimate how fragile Haiti remains. Armed groups continue to endanger stability. The rule of law has not yet been restored. Political forces remain at loggerheads. Basic services heed urgent rehabilitation. Unemployment is widespread. The people of Haiti will be sorely tested in the difficult period ahead. So will the international community," he said.
For his part, interim Haitian Prime Minister Gerard Latortue sought to dispel any doubts that he is committed to honest public service. "All the members of my government, willingly, have renounced all participation in the coming elections," he said. "They all took the commitment to accept no job at all in the next government. The government wants to show, thus, its total neutrality in the upcoming elections and guarantee free and honest elections."
Mr. Latortue said his priority is to fight poverty, unemployment, malnutrition, and disease. Haiti has the hemisphere's highest HIV infection rate, at five percent of the population.