PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton are traveling to Haiti’s rubble-filled capital Monday as part of their effort to raise aid and investment for a country still reeling from a devastating Jan. 12 earthquake.
It is the first joint visit to the impoverished Caribbean nation for the two former leaders, who were tasked by President Barack Obama with leading the U.S. fundraising effort.
After meeting with President Rene Preval on the grounds of the collapsed national palace, they are expected to tour the tarps-and-tent city on the adjacent Champ de Mars, the national mall filled with 60,000 homeless quake survivors living in squalor.
While the government and business leaders hail their appearance as a signal of America’s commitment to help, the visit by two ex-presidents who have played major roles in Haiti’s recent political trajectory is also reminding the country of its tumultuous past.
Supporters of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide have scheduled protests for Monday — demanding the return of their exiled leader and pleading for more aid.
“We are going to bring our message to the presidents, that our situation here is no good. The way people are living in Haiti is no way for anyone to live,” said Fanfan Fenelon, a 30-year-old resident of the Bel Air slum.
Clinton and Bush will arrive in a country struggling to feed and shelter victims of the magnitude-7 quake, which killed an estimated 230,000 people. Another 1.3 million quake survivors are homeless, with many living in camps prone to dangerous flooding in the April rainy season.
Monday will be Bush’s first trip to Haiti. Clinton, who is the U.N. special envoy to the country, has made two visits since the quake and five in the past two years. He also visited as president.
The pair has arguably shaped Haiti’s history as much as anyone alive today.
Clinton presided over a refugee crisis born of the 1991 ouster of Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically elected president. He returned Aristide to power in 1994 with a force of 20,000 U.S. troops.
Bush is remembered by many Haitians — especially the thousands in Port-au-Prince’s teeming slums — as the U.S. leader whose administration chartered the plane that flew Aristide back into exile during a 2004 rebellion.
The nonprofit Clinton Bush Haiti Fund has raised $37 million from 220,000 individuals including Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who gave $1 million, and Obama, who among other donations gave $200,000 of his Nobel Peace Prize. About $4 million has gone to such organizations as Habitat for Humanity, the University of Miami/Project Medishare mobile hospital in Port-au-Prince and the U.S. branch of the Irish charity Concern Worldwide. The rest has yet to be allocated.