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U.S. assistance improving outlook for Haiti

WASHINGTON – The United States is playing a large role in a potential turnaround in Haiti, the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation, a U.S. official tells a congressional panel.

Adolfo Franco, assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), addressed this potential March 13 when he said that despite Haiti’s present “bleak picture,” the country has reason for hope. Haiti is at a “particularly important junction” in its history, because of a combination of factors -– new political leadership, a resumption of constitutional governance and support from the United States and the international community, he said.

This mix of positive developments “has the potential to generate a turnaround in Haiti’s economic fortunes and improve the well-being of the Haitian people,” Franco told the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere.

From 2004 to 2006, the United States provided more than $600 million in aid to Haiti, making it the largest single-country donor to Haiti, he said, adding that the aid, primarily humanitarian, helped lay the groundwork for a peaceful transfer of power in the country to a democratically elected government.

Franco said that over the past two and a half years, USAID has supported programs that work with community groups in violence-prone neighborhoods in Haiti. He said his agency helped to reduce political tensions in several Haitian crisis spots with 860 small grants valued at $18.2 million. In addition, Franco said the United States announced on February 1 an additional $20 million for a program in Cite Soleil, one of Haiti’s most dangerous neighborhoods, that aims to improve access to police and justice, strengthen local governance, provide vocational training, and create jobs through public works projects.

Over the next year, Franco said, the United States plans to give priority to expanding development and humanitarian programs in the poorest and most violence-prone neighborhoods of Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince and other towns. USAID also is beginning projects in agriculture, natural resources, health and education, said Franco.

As an example of U.S. support for Haitian education, the United States contributed $18,000 to help renovate a secondary school for more than 5,000 students in Port-au-Prince. The United Nations also helped fund the refurbishing of the 16-classroom school, called Lycée Daniel Fignolé, which had been closed since 2004 because of disrepair and violence in the capital.

U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Janet Sanderson said at a March 9 ribbon-cutting ceremony opening the school that all the sons and daughters of Haiti should enjoy the unfettered right to an education. This fundamental principle is enshrined in Haiti’s constitution and laws, said Sanderson, speaking in French.

Sanderson said in her remarks in the Bel Air section of Port-au-Prince that the community for a long time “was a place of rampant criminal acts and abuse. But the men and women of this neighborhood decided to join forces with Haiti’s national police and a U.N. stabilization force in Haiti [known as MINUSTAH, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti] in order to put an end to the violence. Progressively, order was restored, the kind of peace that leads to stability. And stability plus good governance will lead to the transformational development of Haiti.”

The United Nations, which also sent officials to the ribbon-cutting, quoted one student, Fèdre Lacroix, as saying that since 2004 “I had been tossed around from school to school. Now I’m happy to be back again in my old building.”

Haitian social activist and musician Wyclef Jean told the House subcommittee that he was grateful to the U.S. government for supporting Haitian education. Jean said USAID helped rebuild 20 schools in the city of Gonaïves that were damaged by Tropical Storm Jeanne in September 2004.

Jean announced during his prepared testimony that his nonprofit organization, Yéle Haiti, which provides educational opportunities for disadvantaged youth, has entered into a partnership with a USAID-backed job creation program to build five vocational centers in Port-au-Prince, Gonaïves and three other Haitian cities — Petit-Goâve, St. Marc and Cap-Haïtien.

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