SUNNY ISLES BEACH —Former President Bill Clinton listed projects worth millions of dollars that he has secured for Haiti since he was named the country’s United Nations Special Envoy three months ago.
The news delighted hundreds of attendees at the annual Haitian Diaspora Unity Congress on Aug. 9.
Clinton also told the group gathered at the Trump International Beach Resort to stay involved in its affairs and encourage others working to build the country to continue their efforts, because Haiti is at an unprecedented turning point.
“I’m an outsider, but I’ve been going to Haiti for more than 30 years, and I know a little something about economics,” said Clinton, just days after returning from North Korea, where he helped free two American journalists. “It is my opinion that this is by far the best chance that Haiti has had in the 35 years I’ve been acquainted with it.
He continued: “The most important thing I can say today is that I consider every one of you very vital for this. The more involved you [the Diaspora] are, the better the odds get.”
The appearance of Clinton, as Haiti’s latest “rock-star” cheerleader, drew about 300 Haitians from Haiti, the United States and other parts of the world to the conference. As the day of his appearance drew near, numerous conference participants said they looked forward to hearing what he had to say.
Many said they look forward to the kind of leadership Clinton will bring to this latest round of efforts to develop Haiti’s economy, institutions and, overall, pull it out of the morass that’s given it the infamous designation of poorest country in the western hemisphere.
For Marilyn Leroy, a Miami interpreter, the main concern was how Clinton, Diaspora leaders and elected officials in the governments of both Haiti and the U.S. will create security in Haiti. Leroy’s sister lives and operates an elementary school in Haiti.
“I want to know if they’re going to make any improvements, because things are pretty bad,” Leroy said.
Clinton did not disappoint. After going over his role as U.N. Special Envoy—to coordinate the multinational’s activities in Haiti, raise funds for investment from philanthropists, and portray positive images of the country – Clinton launched into a list of projects and money he’s secured from his friends around the world.
The U.S. State Department’s downgrading of its advisory for travel to Haiti from dangerous is an important first step that Clinton said he helped pass. Advocates for the change had long said changing the advisory would help people feel comfortable about traveling there for business and pleasure, and pump tourism dollars into Haiti’s economy.
Among the commitments are $25 million from the Soros Economic Development Fund for the Haiti Invest Project, former Federal Emergency Management Agency director James Lee Witt committing $250,000 to provide disaster preparedness training for women in Haiti; and the donation of five unassembled windmills from Rolando Gonzalez Bunster, of Basic Energy Ltd., in the Dominican Republic to provide renewable energy at competitive prices in Haiti.
A trade mission with international investors, which Clinton will attend, is also being planned for October, he said.
Leveraging resources from his own Clinton Global Initiative, the former president also mentioned a study his foundation is conducting that may result in numerous energy independence projects across the Caribbean.
“There could be a lot of jobs for you, and a lot of investment,” Clinton told the conference attendees.
The local community is expected to play a significant role in investing in and building the country of 9 million people, either from South Florida or in Haiti.
The conference fell short of meeting its ambitious agenda of sending resolutions on each topic discussed to Haiti’s government by the end of the four-day event. But several individuals said they are committed to doing their part in their fields, hoping their successes will reverberate from Haiti to Florida and vice versa.
Richard T. Champagne, president of the Haitian Lawyers Association and a former Broward County assistant public defender, said that after the conference, he plans to form a task force to help at-risk Haitian-American youth.
“This was a good opportunity for everyone to come together under one umbrella, to discuss the problems that have been plaguing Haiti,” Champagne said.
Numerous Haiti-based organizations also updated attendees on progress they have made in increasing security and lowering violent crime, creating a Center for the Facilitation of Investment to guide potential investors on how to do business with Haiti, and government task forces in the works to coordinate efforts at various levels and build institutions.
South Florida elected officials also promised to support Haitian-Americans in efforts to improve communities here and in Haiti.
“Whatever affects Haiti affects Dade County,” said Miami-Dade County Commissioner Dorrin D. Rolle, whose District 2 is made up of many Haitians. “When there’s chaos in Haiti, there’s chaos here.
As an honorary Haitian-American in the community, if I can create better jobs for the people here, the Haitians here can send more to the island nation of Haiti.
Rolle continued: “With Bill Clinton in charge of Haiti, that’s a big draw, because he carries a lot of weight.”
Photo: Bill Clinton