Secretary Clinton's Remarks at the Haiti Donors' Conference

  • Posted on: 14 April 2009
  • By: Bryan Schaaf

Below are remarks made by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the Haiti Donors' Conference today.  While the United States provides in kind contributions of food, she notes that this is not the answer to Haiti's hunger.  She instead emphasizes the importance of environmental rehabilitation, agriculture, livelihoods, and infrastructure.  She also highlights the potential of alternative energy.  After the conclusion of the conference, Secretary Clinton will visit Haiti en route to the Summit of the Americas.


SECRETARY CLINTON:  Well, thank you very much, and I congratulate the IDB, President Moreno and the staff for hosting this important donors conference.  I thank Secretary General Ban Ki-moon not only for the United Nations commitment, but your personal commitment with the recent trip that you took with my husband to Haiti.  And I congratulate the prime minister for an excellent plan that was laid out and clearly explained, and now presented to all of us.  And to Minister Oda, thank you and your government for linking the aid that we hope comes from this donors conference with the effectiveness that needs to be present.


Now, for some of us, Haiti is a neighbor, and for others of us, it is a place of historic and cultural ties.  But for all of us, it is now a test of resolve and commitment.  Now, some may ask, and I am sure there are some in my country and my Congress who may ask, why a small nation in the middle of the Caribbean should command so much attention.  Why should countries in the Western Hemisphere, Europe, the Middle East and Asia offer assistance to Haiti in the midst of a global economic downturn (inaudible)?  And I think the answer is very clear.  Because what happens in Haiti affects far beyond the Caribbean and even the region.  This small nation of 9 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. 


On a personal note, my husband and I went to Haiti for the first time shortly after we were married, so we have a deep commitment to Haiti and the people of Haiti.  Our homes are filled with art from Haiti.  We have friends who hail from Haiti.  But it is not only my personal concern that brings me here today.  On behalf of the United States, we are here because Haiti is a neighbor and a friend.   


Our ties reach back to the early years of both of our nations.  They have endured for generations, through our struggles for independence, through the defeat of slavery in Haiti which inspired slaves and abolitionists in my country, to the hundreds of thousands of Haitians who have emigrated to the United States and have strengthened us through their contributions in politics and business and health and education, in science, sports, and culture – the benefits of which I experienced firsthand as a senator representing New York, which has a vibrant Haitian American community.


We are also committed to creating a hemisphere in which every nation, no matter their present level of wealth or their current political circumstances, is moving in the same direction, toward greater peace, prosperity, freedom, and opportunity.  With Haiti, we have the chance through global cooperation and collaboration to stand in solidarity with a government and a people who are seeking that way forward, a nation where small investments and assistance from other countries are beginning to reap dividends in economic growth, wider access to education and healthcare, stronger governmental institutions, greater safety and security, and a higher quality of life that results when material conditions improve.


Now, today Haiti is the poorest nation in our hemisphere, with one of our region’s biggest gaps between the haves and the have-nots.  But just two years ago, in 2007, Haiti achieved the highest rate of real economic growth since the 1990s.  It is on track to reach the completion point for the IMF’s Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative in the next few months.  Now, that will mean that significant debt relief is on the way, freeing up approximately $4 million a month, money that Haiti can invest directly in improving the lives of its people and building futures of self-sufficiency and confidence.


Haiti does have the region’s highest rate of HIV/AIDS, the highest rate of maternal mortality and child mortality.  But the numbers of maternal deaths have stabilized and the numbers of HIV infections and child deaths are coming down. 


Not long ago, from the 1950s until the 1980s, Haiti endured a brutal military dictatorship.  The U.S. removed a military dictatorship in 1995, clearing the way for democracy.  And after several years of political disputes, common in any country making a transition, Haiti began to see progress.  And the national and presidential elections in 2006 really moved Haiti’s democracy forward.  What the president and the prime minister are seeking is to maintain a strong commitment to democratic governance which will take another step forward with elections for the senate on Sunday.


Now, like many nations, Haiti struggles against crime, particularly the global scourge of drug trafficking.  But reforms to improve policing, strengthening the justice system and fighting corruption are now underway.  And a peacekeeping force, led so ably by Brazil, has helped to bring stability to many communities.


Haiti made these strides through the efforts of its government and its citizens and many of the nations and institutions represented here.  This represents the full range of resources and relationships, from businesses and universities to NGOs and religious and cultural groups, as well as committed individuals, which is at the heart of smart power.


The trajectory of progress for Haiti, however, has been undermined by the combined winds of hurricanes and the global economic recession.  So Haiti is in danger of stalling.  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.


The president and the prime minister have identified what Haiti needs to stay on track.  And with these priorities as our guide, we can make progress.  Now is the time to step up our investment in Haiti, not just because the situation is dire and because the consequences of inaction could lead to significantly greater human suffering, but because Haiti has a real opportunity to make substantial progress.  It has a plan to do so, and it has demonstrated the determination to carry it out.


Just think, for $150 we can pay to send one Haitian child to school for a year, or we can immunize 15 children.  That is a tiny fraction of the costs of solving these problems if they escalate over time.  The United States will target our support toward four areas that President Preval and Prime Minister Pierre-Louis have requested, all of which are essential for national and regional progress.  First, the Haitian people need and deserve to be secure.  They must be able to travel safely to work and school, and participate in civic lives without fear of violence.  Second, the country needs stronger infrastructure, particularly roads, which are the circulatory system of any robust economy.  And going along with the infrastructure needs is the need for jobs.  So we can accomplish two things at once:  putting people to work, building roads and other infrastructure throughout the country.


Third, last year’s hurricanes blew a hole in the government’s budget.  Now Haiti is facing a huge deficit which will make it harder for them to meet their own goals and the needs of their people.  Their debt obligations further constrain their ability to lay the groundwork for the future.  And fourth, agriculture – you heard the prime minister refer to it – once again, providing a strong agricultural base for the people of Haiti to become more self-sufficient, as well as to move toward reforestation as part of that agricultural initiative, will give Haiti tools for growth it desperately needs.  Now on each of these issues, we will lend our assistance and we seek partners with other nations to maximize our collective impact. 


First, security.  As you heard, the Secretary General referred to Cité Soleil.  It was a no-man’s land.  Now there is a new sense of security and freedom in its streets.  The Haitian National Police have been supported in their work by the UN peacekeeping operations.  Those peacekeeping forces are more than half from Latin American and Caribbean countries.  And with Brazil’s lead of determination and skill, there has been an upgrade in both police functions and basic security. 


But criminal networks operating in Haiti have not been eliminated.  They continue to fight drug traffickers who have made the country a transit point for illegal drugs heading to the United States, Canada and Europe.  We will give $2 million to fight drug trafficking through the Merida Initiative, a plan conceived by Mexico, Central America and the United States.  This money will fund a secure communications network for the Haitian police, provide a maritime base, vehicles, and operational support for police drug units, provide training to promote cross-border cooperation between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and sharpen the investigation and prosecution of drug crimes.


Once security is established, opportunity can take root, and nations from Canada to Spain to Japan offered generous assistance to help repair the damage from last year’s storms.  But now is the time to take the step beyond – beyond peacekeeping and disaster relief to long-term reconstruction and development.  Haiti has the highest unemployment rate in our hemisphere.  Seventy percent of its people do not have jobs.  It also has one of the region’s highest growth rates.  Together, these trends have created what Paul Collier has called a youth tsunami.  Nearly one million young people are expected to come into the job market in the next five years.


To spur the creation of jobs, the United States passed the HOPE Act of 2006 to give garments made in Haiti tariff-free access to U.S. markets.  Last October, we did extend this trade preference for another decade.  Apparel is one of the largest sectors in Haiti’s economy, and we see great possibility for job creation in this field, and we are especially gratified by Brazil’s interest in supporting the Haitian apparel industry.


But to build a diversified economy, Haiti needs more than trade deals.  It needs an infrastructure to support the flow of goods and services.  The roads in Haiti, for anyone who has ever visited, are beyond inadequate.  Many communities are isolated, in the year 2009, by the lack of passable roads.  That prevents people from holding jobs, children from going to schools, farmers from bringing crops to market.  Better roads are essential.


Haiti also needs better roads and tourist areas to promote that sector of the economy.  In addition, urgent infrastructure needs include digging water catchments to prevent floods, completing a garment workers training center, and creating canals to help irrigation.  As part of the $287 million in nonemergency assistance we will provide Haiti this year, we have authorized $20 million in aid to generate jobs in building roads and infrastructure.  And we know that there are other ways we can use this money, but we will be more effective if we coordinate together so that we are all working off the same page, the page of the recovery plan that the prime minister described.


Now even the most responsible government in the world cannot prevent a natural disaster.  The hurricanes didn’t just wash away crops and houses.  They washed away months of government planning.  Haiti is facing an approximately $50 million budget deficit which could undermine its plans.  We will provide $20 million to help pay Haiti’s upcoming debt service obligations and to free up other resources, and we invite other donors to join us in taking care of this budget deficit.


Now fourthly, there is an urgent need for sustainable agriculture and food security.  The combined effects of rising food prices globally and the destruction of crops of hurricanes have exposed millions of Haitians to malnutrition and destructive effects on health and productivity.  We all know the effect of malnourished people.  They’re too weak to work.  Children are too hungry to learn in school.  So food security is not only a source of suffering; it is a direct threat to economic growth and global stability.


Here, we need to be creative.  Now, the United States will provide a $15 million in-kind contribution of food to help Haiti as it rebuilds, but that is not an answer.  We need to revitalize Haitian agriculture.  We need to reforest the upper watersheds.  We need to borrow from the intelligence of other nations to learn how, as we help rebuild Haiti, it can become more energy independent. 


Brazil has shown the extraordinary energy efficiency of using sugar cane.  What other crops could be used in Haiti?  We know Haiti, like the Dominican Republic, have some of the windiest areas in our hemisphere.  What more could be done to promote wind energy and solar energy?  We are ready to partner with any of you who have such good ideas working with the Haitian Government.  But think of the people we could put to work doing the work that Haiti needs. 


Now, this work is not only a matter for governments, but it is a mission for the people of our country.  I’ve heard from many individuals and groups who care deeply about Haiti, but they don’t know how to invest their time and money in a way to make a real impact.  We will, through our government, help to create a 501(c)(3) charitable organization that the Haitian Diaspora and the United States can contribute to.  And we will help coordinate other NGOs, particularly those that have been started by Haitian Americans who want to give back and are looking for the best way forward. 


When I think about all of that eroded bare land that I see when I fly over Haiti – and I can always tell where the Dominican Republic starts, because that’s where the green starts – I think about what other countries have done to reforest.  When our daughter was born, a dozen people paid to plant trees in Israel in her honor.  Think of what we could do for individuals to pay to plant trees in Haiti, and then to pay Haitians to learn foresting techniques to nurture and grow those trees, and to come with alternatives to burning wood so people can be warm and cook their food.  All of this is connected, and we’ve got to start making those connections working together. 


Now, we know from empirical data that small investments go a long way, and I’ve seen this for myself in Haiti.  In addition to traveling there as a newlywed, I traveled as First Lady.  I traveled out into the country to meet a doctor who had emigrated to the United States, joined the United States Air Force, had become a colonel, but then wanted to give back to the country of his birth – return to Haiti to his hometown in Pignon, to run a center for health, women’s literacy and microcredit.  They had few resources, but they offered a comprehensive range of services to thousands of clients. 


I have visited a family planning clinic, one of the great urgent needs in Haiti, where young people were trained to educate their peers about how to protect their health and prevent teen pregnancy.  And I have met with women from a group called Women in Democracy who had attended a global conference on women’s leadership that I helped to sponsor ten years ago in Montevideo.  When they returned home, thanks to the Vital Voices network that they joined, they began to help support Haitian women running for office, who wanted to see a better life for their own families.  Eleven years later, their organization is growing strong.  They hold trade fairs for women entrepreneurs, run civic education programs to teach women their rights, support women journalists and build even more connections to the broader region.  These Haitian women remind us of the resilience of the people of Haiti, but also that we will never achieve real progress unless we reach deep into Haitian society. 


When I think of the successful Haitian Americans who serve in state legislatures and on city councils, who populate our hospitals as doctors and nurses from New York to Florida, who run businesses, who are creative entrepreneurs, there is no reason that could not have happened in Haiti.  Talent is universal; opportunity is not.  And it is our task through this donors conference to open the door of opportunity for Haitians and to send a message of what does occur through the power of collaboration. 


Every poor nation that has worked hard to gain a foothold in the global economy that has been knocked off their footing is looking to see what we can do together.  I’m confident that we will make not only significant pledges here, but we will match those pledges by our follow-up efforts and our coordination, and that we will demonstrate to ourselves as well as to the people of Haiti and far beyond that we can, working together, make a significant difference.   Thank you all very much.  (Applause.)

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