Clinton Visits Haiti Beset by Undecided Election

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to visit Haiti today to meet with Haitian President Rene Preval and presidential candidates as the outcome of Haiti’s election remains undecided and the effort to rebuild after last year’s earthquake is drawing criticism.

“I’m going to do my own assessment about the way going forward,” Clinton told reporters traveling with her to Haiti today after she appeared on U.S. Sunday morning talk shows to urge elections in Egypt, where tens of thousands of demonstrators are demanding the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

The top U.S. diplomat had planned to visit the Caribbean nation earlier, shortly after Haiti marked the one-year anniversary of the 7.0 earthquake that struck on Jan. 12, 2010.

Presidential elections held Nov. 28 were marred by violence and allegations of fraud, with 12 of 18 presidential candidates calling for the vote to be annulled. A second round vote is scheduled for March 20.

“There are strong indications that there was significant, you know, voter fraud and the preliminary findings do not reflect the actual voting of the Haitian people,” State Department Spokesman Philip J. Crowley said Jan. 26.

The Organization of American States urged Preval’s ruling party presidential candidate Jude Celestin to withdraw from the runoff race after a recount showed him finishing behind Mirlande Manigat, a former first lady, and Haitian pop-singer Michel Martelly. Clinton is scheduled to meet with all three candidates.

Support for Withdrawal

“We’ve made it clear we support the OAS recommendation,” Clinton told reporters today. “This is an international message. We stood behind the OAS when they sent their independent” officials to do an election assessment, Clinton said.

Former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier returned Jan. 16 after 25 years in exile. Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, ousted in a 2004 rebellion, is also seeking to return after six years of exile in South Africa.

The Haiti earthquake relief effort has been criticized by the British-based charity Oxfam, which issued a report Jan. 6 saying the relief effort was at a “standstill.”

Reconstruction Inadequate

Reconstruction has been “steady but not adequate to the task we’re facing,” Clinton told reporters today. The U.S. isn’t considering cutting aid to Haiti, she said.

Clinton’s husband, the United Nations Special Envoy to Haiti and former U.S. President Bill Clinton, acknowledged problems at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 27, saying he was not satisfied by progress in rebuilding Haiti.

A survey by the Chronicle of Philanthropy found that of the $1.4 billion Americans donated to Haiti, only 38 percent has been spent to aid the country’s recovery and rebuilding effort.

Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, has only received $1.2 billion of the more than $5 billion pledged in March for earthquake relief, according to a Jan. 28 World Bank report. Such aid is “essential” to rebuilding an economy that contracted by about 120 percent after last year’s quake, the International Monetary Fund said in August.

Slow Recovery

While the pace of reconstruction is “relatively slow,” the Caribbean nation is showing signs of a recovery, led by growth in agriculture, construction and textile manufacturing, the IMF said. In Haiti, 80 percent of the population lives under the poverty line, according to the CIA World Factbook. Two-thirds of Haitians rely on agriculture for their livelihood.

The country of 10 million has a gross domestic product of $6 billion, according to the World Bank. The government relies on international aid, while remittances are the primary source of foreign exchange, equaling nearly a quarter of GDP and more than twice the earnings from exports, according to the Central Intelligence Agency website.

In 2010, the U.S. Congress extended a law to provide Haiti tariff-free access to apparel products. The apparel sector accounts for three-quarters of Haitian exports and nearly one-tenth of GDP, according to the CIA.

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