Clinton named special envoy to Haiti

The former president is charged with helping the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation recover from four devastating storms last year.

Ramon Espinosa/ AP/ File
In this March 2009 file photo, former US President Bill Clinton greets United Nations workers in Port-au-Prince. The United Nations named Clinton Monday as its special envoy to Haiti.

The peripatetic Bill Clinton has a new job: United Nations special envoy to Haiti.

On Monday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon tasked the former US president with steering a $350 million effort to help the island nation recover from last year's knock-out storms. Mr. Clinton helped restore a democratic government to the poor Caribbean country while in office, and his foundation is now heavily involved there.

"No one is better placed for this mission," Mr. Ban said Monday.

The announcement formalizes an assignment that was first announced last month, shortly after Ban and Clinton visited Haiti together. Ban witnessed firsthand the Haitian people's wild enthusiasm for Clinton.

"He knows the country, he loves the people, and they love him," he added.

Another factor in Clinton's selection was his effectiveness as co-chairman with former President George H.W. Bush in the international recovery effort following the 2004 South Asian tsunami, Ban said.

In accepting the $1-a-year post, Clinton said his focus would be on helping the Haitian government implement their own recovery programs with international assistance. A recent international donors' conference in Washington pledged $353 million.

Clinton brings optimism to Haiti – the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation, which for decades has been beset by either stifling dictatorships or political instability. His foundation's work in Haiti has focused on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, and – since last year's storms – on the island's economic and environmental recovery.

"I think Haiti, not withstanding the total destruction of four storms last year, has the best chance to escape its dark history in the 35 years I've been going there," he said. "What I want to do is help the Haitian people take control of their own destiny."

UN officials hope Clinton will help smooth relations between Haitians and the UN peacekeeping force that remains there as a check on political rivalries that spill into violence and gangs that challenge the government's authority.

Clinton's wide-ranging international philanthropic and business involvements raised questions when President Obama named Clinton's wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, as secretary of State. But Clinton says he sought both a White House and a State Department OK to take the new post.

The US already has a significant role in Haiti's recovery, Clinton said, and he did not want to "complicate" it. The US provides hundreds of millions of dollars in aid annually, and last year it extended important trade incentives to boost the Haitian economy. But Clinton added that he would seek to boost the US commitment.

"The secretary of State has been going to Haiti about as long as I have," Clinton quipped. "I assume I won't have to say much."

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