Clinton cheers investor turnout at Haiti meeting

Clinton cheers investor turnout at Haiti meeting

Posted: Oct 1, 2009 08:06 AM PDT By Moss M.Jack

Updated: Oct 1, 2009 12:46 PM PDT

Written by By JONATHAN M. KATZ
Associated Press Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) - Bill Clinton cheered a large turnout at
an investor conference in Haiti's capital Thursday, calling it a sign
of hope for economic growth and job creation inthe impoverished
Caribbean nation.

At least 200 representatives of U.S., Latin American and other foreign
businesses crowded into an upscale hotel for the conference.
Organizers with the Inter-American Development Bank said so many
people signed up that they abandoned registration and opened the doors
to all comers.

Clinton, making his third visit since being named the U.N. special
envoy to Haiti this year, headlined the gathering aimed at encouraging
investment to expand the country's garment, agriculture and energy

"I've been working very hard on this. I personally recruited a lot of
people to come here," Clinton told reporters. "We've got a lot of work
to do, of course, but I think you'll see a lot of quite impressive new
investment coming out of this."

Haiti was once home to productive farms as well as factories where low-
wage workers sewed clothes for export, but years of political and
social turmoil have destroyed its environment and economy.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon picked Clinton last spring to help
restore the economy, and thus halt upheaval. The choice sparked some
optimism here, though debate over raising the minimum wage in garment
factories - currently less than $2 a day - has brought street protests
and clashes with police and U.N. peacekeepers in recent months.

In a lunchtime speech Clinton said the garment industry could create
as many as 100,000 jobs. He also called for the construction of a new
international airport in the north to bring visitors to the historic
Sans Souci Palace and Citadelle Laferriere fortress, which he is
scheduled to visit Friday.

"In the end all of our efforts will have to be judged by how many jobs
we create, how much we swell the middle class and whether we perform
for the investors and make them a profit for doing the right thing,"
he said.

The former U.S. president saidan important development is increased
attention from Latin America, whose mostly Spanish- and Portuguese-
speaking nations have not always shown interest in their poor French-
and Creole-speaking neighbor.

"We have more people from Latin America and the Caribbean here than we
do from the U.S., Canada and Europe combined," Clinton said of the
conference. "That was always going to be essential for Haiti's
success: having your neighbors embrace you."

The morning session had a corporate, glad-handing energy rarely seen
in a country better known for raucous carnival celebrations and tire-
burning street demonstrations. Blackberry-toting representatives of
companies such as Citibank and Wal-Mart traded business cards with
local shipping magnates.

"Haiti is open for business," Prime Minister Michele Pierre-Louis told
a packed ballroom. "And as you know, time is of the essence."

Few projects are expected to be announced at the conference itself,
but some were discussed. Representatives from George Soros' Open
Society Institute told The Associated Press about a planned $50
million partnership with Haitian shipper Gregory Mevs to build a free-
trade zone of clothing factories.

Following a tumultuous 2008 that saw hurricanes kill hundreds and
violent food riots that toppled the last prime minister, this year's
relative calm is seen as a window to rebuild and invest, especially
taking advantage of a U.S. deal that sharply reduces tariffs on
Haitian-made textiles.

But the blue-helmeted U.N. peacekeepers toting assault rifles on the
cratered street outside the hotel underscored the constant sense of
political and social fragility hanging over Haiti.

The 9,000-member contingent, the United Nations' fifth in Haiti since
1993, is expected to be renewed this month by the Security Council for
a sixth year.

Credited with quelling the chaos that followed the bloody 2004 ouster
of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, they are resented by some
Haitians as an occupation force focused on security while Haitians go
hungry. Under the new mandate the force is expected to reduce some of
its heavy military armor in favor of more police units.

U.N. mission chief Hedi Annabi says the troops should remain at least
until a new president takes office in 2011.

"I think we have done well so far. I would not declare it a success
until we are able to leave without having to return," Annabi told the

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