- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Haiti needs “massive” support from the United States and international donors to address widespread poverty and the crippling effects of political and social instability, President-elect Rene Preval said yesterday.

In an address to the Organization of American States (OAS) and a press conference at the end of his Washington visit, Mr. Preval appealed for increased international support for the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country.

Mr. Preval also called for a more generous break on Haitian textile exports to the United States, saying concessions in a bill before Congress should be extended from three years to 10 years to give investors more confidence. Some U.S. producers fear the longer concession would cut into their markets.

“Haiti asks its international partners for a massive increase in international aid to address problems that cannot be put off any longer,” Mr. Preval said in his OAS address, speaking in French.

The 63-year-old agronomist, who met briefly with President Bush on Tuesday, was studiously silent on the fate of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, living in exile in South Africa after leaving the country amid violent street clashes and gang fighting in 2004.

Mr. Preval, who served a five-year term as president from 1996 to 2001, was considered a protege of Mr. Aristide, although he has distanced himself from his mentor in recent days. Many in Mr. Preval’s political base among Haiti’s poorest sectors have a strong sympathy for Mr. Aristide.

The Bush administration has opposed Mr. Aristide’s return to Haiti, fearing it could revive old divisions.

In previous public comments, Mr. Preval has said only that the country’s constitution allows any Haitian citizen the right to return.

“The response isn’t with me. It’s with the constitution,” he said at a recent press conference.

Mr. Aristide has told reporters in South Africa that his return will depend on Mr. Preval, the United Nations and the attitudes of Haiti’s Caribbean neighbors.

The president-elect said Haiti needs international support across several sectors, from its education system to the civil service to the judiciary and security forces.

The warm OAS welcome was a mark of the diplomatic progress Haiti has made since Mr. Preval’s Feb. 7 election.

Leaders of the Caribbean Community and Common Market nations, meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last week, agreed to “re-engage” with Haiti after breaking with the interim government that was established in the wake of Mr. Aristide’s ouster, offering Port-au-Prince aid to develop governmental institutions.

U.N. officials, who met with Mr. Preval in New York on Monday, said a donors conference for Haiti will be held in May in Brazil, and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John R. Bolton, said Washington is offering $500 million in reconstruction funds for Haiti.

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