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Clinton Promises Haitian Leader Broad US Support

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Haiti's President-elect Michel Martelly take part in a joint news conference at the State Department, April 20, 2011

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Haitian President-elect Michel Martelly Wednesday the United States will back him "all the way" in his efforts to revive the country’s economy after last year’s earthquake and years of political turmoil. Martelly is in Washington for key meetings in advance of his May 14 inauguration.

Neither Martelly nor Clinton made any attempt to minimize Haiti’s daunting problems, but both set a hopeful tone about the country’s future with the secretary of state promising him full U.S. backing.

Martelly, a political novice and former entertainer, won a presidential run-off vote in March, capping a months-long electoral process marred by violence and fraud charges.

He has mapped out an ambitious political program focusing on resettling the huge number of Haitians still living in tents after the January 2010 earthquake, tacking the earthquake-related cholera epidemic, and reviving an economy that contracted by more than five percent last year.

Standing alongside Martelly after their meeting, Secretary Clinton said helping Haiti recover is not only a U.S. foreign policy goal but a personal priority of herself and her husband, the former U.S. president now the United Nations envoy for Haiti.

She made light-hearted reference to Martelly’s trademark shaved pate, which became a campaign icon, as she affirmed traditional U.S. support for Haiti.

"Some of you may know that Mr. Martelly’s campaign slogan was ‘tete kale.’ Now, I’m told the literal translation of that slogan is bald head, which doesn’t need any further explanation," she said. "But tete kale is also an expression that means all the way. And the people of Haiti may have a long road ahead of them. But as they walk it, the United States will be with you all the way."

Martelly, for his part, said that despite nearly $3 billion in U.S. government and private earthquake aid, the recovery process is "despairingly slow." He warned that the cholera epidemic could worsen again with the onset of the rainy and hurricane seasons.

"These were the complaints that were expressed by a desperate population throughout my election campaign," he said. "This is why recovery and restarting the economy is a fundamental necessity for my government. This is why I plan on work relentlessly toward the reconstruction of the framework of international aid, to give new life to the business sector and to develop the capabilities of government institutions and of civil society."

Clinton said the Obama administration acknowledges successes by Haitian authorities in some areas of reconstruction.

But she pointedly urged a streamlining of government procedures for approving building permits, new businesses and investments, and lamented an overcrowded Haitian prison system where she said 80 percent of detainees have yet to face trial.

Martelly’s first meetings Tuesday were with the leaders of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund for meetings focusing on rising world food prices and policies in Haiti that can spur employment.