Haitian President René Préval said yesterday that his impoverished country is in desperate need of economic assistance and is seeking as much as $100 million to fill a budget gap that he said could send Haiti back into anarchy.
"I believe we are at a very serious turning point," Préval said in an interview. "We can either win or lose."
Préval said he pressed the case for an emergency aid package in meetings Thursday with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, congressional leaders and officials at the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. He said he argued that his long-troubled country was on its way to normalcy when rising food prices, the economic crisis and a series of devastating hurricanes left it reeling.
Préval was the first head of state to meet with Clinton in her new role as chief U.S. diplomat, but he may be only the first in a long line of world leaders seeking enhanced aid packages from the United States during this period of economic turmoil.
A State Department official said Clinton told Préval that she would consider his request but could make no promises.
Préval said he also urged Clinton to convert some of the $250 million in annual aid the United States now gives to Haiti into direct budget support for the government, instead of distributing the money through nongovernmental organizations. The United States is the biggest aid donor to Haiti, but he said "every last cent of the contribution" continues to be funneled through aid organizations, even though the government is better managed.
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"Political stability has been restored, but what is necessary is the creation of jobs," he said.
He said Clinton appeared receptive to his appeal, saying she had a "soft spot in her heart for Haiti."
Préval acknowledged that there has been "donor fatigue" over Haiti, but he noted that a series of U.N. peacekeeping missions have each cost nearly $500 million. He said he told officials in Washington that it would be cheaper to give the country the $75 million to $100 million he is seeking rather than have to pay for yet another expensive U.N. mission later.
"We are going to go back to the series of missions unless we do the work necessary to put the country back on the rails," he said.
Préval spoke through an interpreter, but when asked when Haiti needed the money, he broke into English and simply declared, "Now."