Haiti leader Rene Preval pleads for aid

By Doreen Hemlock South Florida Sun-Sentinel
October 4, 2008

CORAL GABLES - Haitian President Rene Preval called Friday for long-term aid to his Caribbean nation after hurricanes this summer caused mass destruction, leaving tens of thousands homeless and hundreds of millions in damages to Haitian agriculture alone.

At a conference in Coral Gables, he also urged the Bush administration to grant "temporary protected status," a kind of refugee designation, to Haitians in the United States, saying his country can no longer afford to accept deportees.

The United Nations has issued an appeal for $100 million in emergency aid to help the storm-ravaged nation. But so far, the country has received only about 17 percent of the amount. That's too little to meet basic needs of disaster victims, never mind rebuild roads, bridges and other systems needed to attract foreign investment and business to spur economic development, Haitian officials said.

Haiti has been relying on U.N. peackeeping forces since at least 2004 to help squelch gangs and restore security in the country that long has been the poorest in the Americas. It now seeks to extend the U.N. presence in a recovery phase, replacing weapons "as much as possible with tractors to rebuild the country," Preval said.

The Haitian president spoke at the annual Americas Conference, which focused this year on the impact of the U.S. financial crisis, economic downturn and elections on Latin America and the Caribbean.

Panelists noted the U.S. slowdown will hurt those nations closest and most dependent on the U.S. market more than those in deep South America, which have more diversified trade with Europe and Asia.

Some Caribbean nations foresee a decline in U.S. tourism and sales to the U.S. market and a dip in remittances, or cash sent back from immigrants to their relatives and friends back home. Haiti gets about $1.6 billion in remittances annually, mainly from the United States, a vital lifeline for its economy.

Many panelists urged a new U.S. administration to become more engaged with the Americas, but noted that U.S. financial turmoil may divert Washington's funds and attention to internal problems.

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