Manuel Quinones, CNC News
Now that House and Senate lawmakers have approved measures calling for the elimination of Haiti’s foreign debts, they face a more controversial decision on providing aid to the country’s government.
Haitian President Rene Preval was at the White House and on Capitol Hill Wednesday. He knows lawmakers of both parties are wary of giving U.S. taxpayer dollars to a country known for corruption and government mismanagement.
“We know they are reluctant to give direct support to the budget. But we will find a way to have this support,” Preval said.
Congressional leaders and President Obama pledged continued support for the people of Haiti. But they couldn’t offer promises regarding what kind of aid the United States would end up providing.
“You will continue to have a steady and reliable partner in the United States of America,” President Obama told President Preval.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the international community is working to help Haiti recover from the earthquake but also begin moving away from endemic poverty and lack of development.
“This visit takes up further down the track of how we can work together to accomplish that,” Pelosi said in a joint press briefing with President Preval.
Preval was polite but insistent.
“We are here because the revenue of the state dropped. To keep the country functioning, we need some support of the budget,” Preval said. He went on to talk about his plans for recovery and commitment to help transform Haiti.
A Washington Post editorial shows the Haitian leader did not even come close to dealing with international concerns about aid in advance of a planned donors conference.
“If ever there were a place and time ripe for graft, it’s Haiti circa now. Despite laudable steps by Mr. Preval to get a handle on corruption in recent years, the country remains an extravagantly crooked place in the view of international donors, the business community, and, most important, its own people,” according to the Post editorial.
“It cannot be business as usual. The time for blank checks for foreign aid no longer exists. We are a caring and generous nation but not at the expense of our economic future,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., told the Miami Herald.
Other measures have been far less controversial. Last night, the House passed a debt relief measure by a rare voice vote and with little debate. It strongly encourages international organizations to erase about $800 million owed by Haiti. The Senate had already passed a similar bill.
“For them to rebound, the last thing they need to be doing is paying down on the debt,” said Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Fla., whose district includes a large Haitian-American population.
Meek has been outspoken about the need to help Haiti on several fronts. But even he is skeptical of direct aid.
“Congressman Meek understands the call for direct payments to Haiti but believes they are not a realistic solution to the crisis Haiti is facing,” a spokesman for Meek said in a statement. “Haiti’s government has been crippled by the earthquake and, with an international effort of this size, it would be inefficient to move billions of aid through the government.”