The Bill and Hillary conference at the U.N.
By Lee Hockstader
The Bill and Hillary conference on Haiti started at the stroke of 9:00 a.m. today at the United Nations, a somber pageant of hundreds of international grandees, foreign ministers, diplomats, do-gooders, journalists and hangers-on of every description, many of whom were hanging mostly on to every word and gesture of the real stars of the show: the Clintons.
The real purpose of the U.N. conference, of course, was to pledge billions of dollars for the reconstruction, recovery and renewal of Haiti, the hemisphere’s poorest nation, whose unspeakable suffering stemming from the Jan. 12 earthquake includes at least 250,000 dead and a million homeless.
Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. secretary general, vowed that the world was resolved not just to rebuild Haiti “but to build back better -- a new Haiti.” He pledged the U.N.’s energies to “a wholesale national renewal, a sweeping exercise in nation-building on a scale not seen in generations.”
Haitian President Rene Preval also delivered a heartfelt address, in which he frankly appealed for help rebuilding Haiti’s notoriously broken-down educational system, which even before the Jan. 12 earthquake had produced an illiteracy rate of almost 40 percent among adults and a quarter of all children with no experience of school whatsoever.
But the soaring rhetoric, and the serial pledges of cash from the conference’s co-chairs -- Brazil, Canada, the E.U., France and Spain -- were a sort of sidelight compared to the Clintons, who were the focal points of real power at the conference.
Even before the one-day talk-fest, The New York Times had reported “a certain amount of grumbling” at the U.N. at what many delegates regarded as the State Department’s tight control over the conference, with, the Times reported, a “senior European diplomat calling it “The Bill and Hillary Show.”
That grumbling could only have grown to a growl at the stage-management of the conference’s opening session, in which Moon and Preval were flanked by -- you guessed right -- Bill and Hillary. And despite universal lip service about the necessity of the Haitians themselves taking ownership of their own rebuilding, no one was really fooled. Mrs. Clinton, as U.S. secretary of state, was co-chair of the conference. And not only was the United States financing more than a quarter of the initial, two-year international recovery project of $3.9 billion, but Mr. Clinton himself -- known hereabouts as the “United Nations Special Envoy for Haiti” -- will be calling the shots in the near term in conjunction with the Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive as to the strategy, coordination and direction of the billions of dollars in international aid soon to be flowing into the beleaguered country.
Can you say “Mr. Viceroy”?
The Clintons, who traveled together to Haiti on their honeymoon two months after they were married, have taken a lifelong interest in the place, which, by all accounts, is sincere. Now their task will be to oversee its rescue and recovery.
Mr. Clinton, in a nuts and bolts speech about the urgent needs of shelter and health on the streets of Port-au-Prince, noted that the urgency of helping Haiti was about the only thing that Cuba, Venezuela and the United States all agreed on. “This is a happy thing, a good thing,” said the former president.
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