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Former US President Clinton, the Man for Haiti

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The choice by UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon of former US President Bill Clinton to serve as chief coordinator for relief and rebuilding of earthquake- devastated Haiti seems as natural a fit as possible.

However, Clinton has been quick to dispel any notion he would become any grand overseer of Haiti.

"What I don't want to be is the governor of Haiti. I want to build the capacity of the country to chart its own course. They can trust me not to be a neo-colonialist; I'm too old," he said Friday after he arrived in the devastated Haitian capital of Port- au-Prince.

The 42nd president of the United States made his second visit to the island nation since the January 12 earthquake registering 7.3 on the Richter scale that killed an estimated 200,000 people, injured 300,000 more and left 2 million in need of aid, a million of them homeless.

His first visit was just few days after the temblor when he arrived with a plane load of medical supplies. Friday was almost a repeat performance of his aid-delivering first post-quake visit.

One of the prime reason for Ban's decision Wednesday was that he had chosen Clinton as the world organization's special envoy to the island nation in May 2009 after a series of tropical storms and hurricanes swept through during the 2008 hurricane season and claimed about 1,000 lives.

Then, too, Clinton has a history with the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere going back to his first visit in 1975 with bride Hillary during what he called a delayed honeymoon.

While in the White House, Clinton engineered the return of a democratically-elected government following a military coup, further reflecting his interest in the hard-struck nation.

After completing two terms as the US president, Clinton has concentrated on philanthropy through his New York-based William J. Clinton Foundation which focuses, among other topics, on economic development in Africa and Latin America, including Haiti.

Clinton apologized Friday to angry protesters in Port-au-Prince complaining of delayed aid, pledged to make every effort to speed up the transportation and distribution process but said he was pleased to already see progress.

"I'm trying to get to what the bottlenecks are; part of it is just shipping the volume of food here that is necessary," Clinton told reporters.

"Flying into Port-au-Prince for the second time since the earthquake, I was pleased to see continued signs of an expanding relief effort," he said in a statement posted on the Clinton Foundation website. "More than three weeks after the earthquake, the relief efforts in Haiti have been increasing to meet staggering needs, but the long road to recovery has just begun."

Clinton is working with the UN Development Program (UNDP), with Ban's Special Representative Edmond Mulet, the acting head of the UN Assistance Mission in Haiti known by its French acronym MINUSTAH, other UN agencies and Haitian leaders to coordinate the international response and mobilize international aid, Ban's communication chief Michael Meyer told Xinhua.

"The leaders there want to build a functioning, modern state for the first time and I will do what I can to faithfully represent and work with all the agencies of the UN and help them get it done," Clinton said.

Just over a year ago an adviser to the secretary-general on Haiti, Paul Collier of Oxford University, suggested in a brief proposal a team be set up to oversee development of the impoverished nation. After January 12, he has altered his view slightly and suggested a leader of international stature team up with a respected Haitian leader to oversee development.

"President Clinton has a longstanding commitment to Haiti and is the ideal international figure to provide leadership in alliance with a Haitian counterpart," Collier told Xinhua in response to an emailed request for comment. "I fully support the secretary-general's initiative."

Another reason Clinton has emerged as the international man for Haiti is US President Barack Obama asked him to join with former US President George W. Bush, to raise funds for the immediate relief and long-term recovery efforts in Haiti. They established the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund.

If that rings as somewhat familiar, Clinton joined with Bush's father, former US President George H.W. Bush to help with relief and rebuilding following the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.

He has a record in post-disaster aid and development.

Clinton now is expected to help prepare for a second UN appeal for funding relief and reconstruction in Haiti and a donors conference tentatively scheduled for next month. However, UN officials have told Xinhua they would rather see that conference delayed until mid-April in order to get a better handle on just how much of what is needed and exactly where it should be placed before the conference begins.

(Xinhua News Agency February 7, 2010)

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