Bush, Clinton visit Haiti

Photo by Jorge Saenz

Photo by Jorge Saenz

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton toured Haiti's rubble-filled capital Monday 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 walked through the tarps-and-tent city on the adjacent Champ de Mars, the national mall filled with 60,000 homeless quake survivors living in squalor.

Both men, surrounded by Secret Service agents, Haitian police and U.N. peacekeepers, waded into the giant encampment to shake hands with earthquake survivors.

Clinton said they hoped to get all the aid agencies working together to make the most of the huge global outpouring of support.

''We have to get the whole universe of people who want to help Haiti operating on the same page,'' he said.

Bush told reporters their purpose was to see the devastation first hand and ''remind the American people there is still suffering and work to be done here.'' He said they also wanted to encourage entrepreneurship in Haiti to create jobs and grow the economy.

''Hopefully, our visit will remind people that Haiti needs help,'' Bush said.

Lucharles Jean-Laudius, one of hundreds of thousands of people left homeless by the earthquake, welcomed the visit as a sign that the U.S. would continue to supply aid. He feared the recent withdrawal of American troops was a sign the world was losing interest in their plight.

''But if the presidents are coming it's because they want to help, that's a good thing,'' said the 34-year-old Jean-Laudius, who lives under a plastic tarp with his wife and two children near the national palace.

While the government and business leaders hail their appearance as a signal of America's commitment, 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 staged a protest outside the national palace, with about 100 participants, burning tires and demanding the return of their exiled leader.

Clinton and Bush visit as the country struggles 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.