US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was to leave late yesterday for Haiti and the Dominican Republic before heading to a Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.
Clinton, due to stop first in Port-au-Prince, helped rally international donors who met in Washington on Tuesday to aid the impoverished country, hit last year by food riots and a wave of devastating hurricanes.
Clinton said Washington would give Haiti US$57 million in extra aid this year — part of a US$324 million aid package announced at the conference led by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Haitian government.
Officials said in particular that Haiti needed US$125 million to fill a budget gap for this year, but the IDB said the donors committed only US$41 million for budget support.
The aid announced by Clinton was mainly for roads and other infrastructure projects needed to boost the economy as well as for food and counter-narcotics efforts.
Some US$20 million however was set aside to ease Haiti’s debt burden and free up money in the budget for other purposes.
During a meeting with Clinton on Wednesday, Haitian Prime Minister Michele Pierre-Louis said the aid pledges topped her expectations.
“It was not ... up to the top amount,” Pierre-Louis conceded, but added: “Considering the condition of the financial crisis in the world .... I personally was not expecting that much.”
Clinton said the US wanted in part for the donors’ conference to better coordinate “all of the aid that is already in Haiti or intended for Haiti.”
Such an approach will help “the very thoughtful recovery plan that the prime minister presented,” Clinton said.
Clinton was to meet with Haitian President Rene Preval during her visit, before traveling later in the day to the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.
In Santo Domingo, the secretary is due to meet with Dominican President Leonel Fernandez and “discuss bilateral development cooperation and efforts to combat drug trafficking,” State Department spokesman Robert Wood said.
Clinton will then join US President Barack Obama and 33 other democratically-elected leaders of the Western Hemisphere at the Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain from today until Sunday.
“The theme of the summit is securing our citizens’ future by promoting human prosperity, energy security and environmental sustainability,” Wood said.
The fifth Summit of the Americas will be Obama’s first opportunity since he was sworn in on Jan. 20 to address most members of the Organization of American States.
Cuba, toward which Obama is making cautious overtures, looks set to dominate the summit, even though it has not been invited to the gathering of 34 leaders.