The United Nations named former President Bill Clinton on Tuesday as its special envoy to Haiti, with a mission to help the impoverished nation achieve some measure of stability after devastating floods and other crises.
Clinton — who will be paid $1 a year and travel to Haiti several times annually — said he was honored to accept the post.
“I believe Haiti is better positioned to make progress for all its people than at any time since I first visited in 1978,” he said in a statement.
“Last year’s natural disasters took a great toll, but Haiti’s government and people have the determination and ability to ‘build back better,’ not just to repair the damage done but to lay the foundations for the long term sustainable development that has eluded them for so long,” the former president said.
Clinton is popular in Haiti, but the U.N.’s peacekeepers have been widely criticized despite providing the nation with its only real security for years. The peacekeepers have patrolled since 2004 and are training an under-equipped national police force to retake control, but some consider the blue helmets to be an unwanted occupation force.
Having Clinton as the U.N.’s public face in Haiti could temper such sentiment.
Clinton is still well-regarded here for using the threat of U.S. military force to oust a dictatorship in 1994, then sending Army troops and Marines to pave the way for the return of elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who had been deposed in a coup.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also praised the appointment of such “a high-profile envoy,” without mentioning their marriage or the requirement that State Department lawyers review Bill Clinton’s international activities to avoid conflicts of interest.
“It’s the kind of partnership we are looking for across the board,” she told reporters at the White House, explaining that she had already been preparing a team to help Haiti. “This is going to be an added bit of leverage and focus for us.”
Many poor Haitians — Aristide’s power base — still long for their leader’s return from exile after he was toppled a second time by a rebellion in 2004.
In March, Clinton toured the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince with the U.N. chief to encourage investment after a year that saw a food crisis, destabilizing riots and four devastating tropical storms. The former president was mobbed by enthusiastic crowds.
The following month, he attended a donors conference in Washington that resulted in pledges of $324 million for the struggling country. Haiti is the hemisphere’s poorest nation and has been mired for decades in political and social turmoil.
“I am confident that President Clinton will bring energy, dynamism and focus to the task of mobilizing international support for Haiti’s economic recovery and reconstruction,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.
Because of the Clintons’ marriage, State Department lawyers must approve some of Bill Clinton’s international activities under an agreement between the U.S. Senate and the Clinton Foundation, which works in Haiti on a number of issues including health care, AIDS, the environment and economic development.
Haiti does not currently have a special U.N. envoy, and it is not clear what Clinton’s duties will be. The Miami Herald, which first reported the appointment, said he will be expected to visit the Caribbean country — a two-hour flight from Miami — at least four times a year.
Clinton visited Haiti as president in 1995 and again in 2003. Hillary Clinton has also visited several times, most recently for an April meeting with President Rene Preval en route to the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad.