United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, at noon on Monday, 9 March, to raise global awareness of the Caribbean nation’s recovery and reconstruction needs. He was accompanied by former United States President Bill Clinton.
Their first stop was at a school feeding programme in Cité Soleil, the impoverished neighbourhood of the capital, formerly controlled by gangs and now pacified by joint actions of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) and the Haitian police. There they visited some of the primary school children who receive a daily meal as part of an initiative of the World Food Programme (WFP) to feed 2.5 million children across the country. They also visited the Haitian Education and Leadership Programme in the neighbourhood of Turgeau, where they had extensive exchanges with some of Haiti’s best and brightest high school students, from disadvantaged families, who receive scholarships from the HELP programme.
On Monday afternoon, in Port-au-Prince, the Secretary-General met with members of the Haitian private sector, involved in manufacture, banking and agricultural exports, and with representatives from international financial institutions. They discussed the economic opportunities open to Haiti and the obstacles to the country’s recovery.
The Secretary-General and President Clinton then met at the presidential palace with President René Garcia Préval, Prime Minister Michelle Pierre-Louis and members of the Haitian Government. They discussed the recovery needs of the country after a string of devastating hurricanes, and rising food and fuel prices. The Secretary-General said he wanted by his visit to demonstrate his solidarity with the people of Haiti and help put Haiti’s recovery high on the international agenda. Afterwards, Mr. Ban told the press that Haiti can be made into a success story, since it “has many friends and all the right ingredients for recovery”. “But speed is of the essence,” he said. “We must start moving now to create jobs for the poor and give the people hope for a better future,” he stressed.
In a joint communiqué issued after the meeting, the Secretary-General and President Préval took note of the progress achieved in terms of public security, political stability and good economic governance. The communiqué notes that the Secretary-General has undertaken to support the forthcoming donors’ meeting in Washington, D.C., and to encourage increased bilateral and multilateral assistance in order to meet immediate needs and pave the way for longer-term progress. (See Press Release SG/2149)
The Secretary-General and President Clinton later attended a dinner hosted by President Préval, with leaders of parliament, the private sector and civil society.
The Secretary-General wrapped up his trip to Haiti on Tuesday morning, visiting a factory of about 1,000 people working for the garment industry, and meeting with staff of MINUSTAH.
He spoke to the press, telling them that Haiti needs one thing above all else -- jobs. “2008 was a difficult year for Haiti, from the violent reactions to the increase in food prices to the devastation caused by the successive hurricanes,” Mr. Ban told reporters. There is a “growing optimism that Haiti has all the assets it needs to break the impasse”, he stated. The Secretary-General emphasized the need to help small farmers recover from last year’s devastating hurricanes to feed their people, and voiced hope that Haiti’s textile industry will take advantage of HOPE II, a new United States law allowing access to the American market for Haitian garment products. But Mr. Ban cautioned that “this window of opportunity is limited, and it is essential to seize it now, in order to avoid a disastrous slide backward, which would leave the country worse off than ever”, noting that both MINUSTAH and the HOPE II act are time bound.
The Secretary-General left Haiti on Tuesday afternoon and travelled to Washington, D.C., where he would meet later that day with United States President Barack Obama.