PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – A charity for former U.S. President Bill Clinton on Monday awarded more than $700,000 to develop the country’s agriculture sector.
The Clinton Foundation announced that the grants will go toward efforts to plant trees, build a coffee farm and train farmers.
Clinton has been the United Nations’ special envoy to Haiti since shortly before the devastating 2010 earthquake. He left Haiti following a two-day visit accompanied by potential investors representing a perfume company, restaurants and a lingerie company.
“The country has been beat down so long and the controversies are so familiar to people that it’s sometimes too easy to see the down side. I’m not naive. I know what the down side is,” he told The Associated Press. But, even so, he said, “This is a place of staggering potential.”
One of the delegation’s visits on Monday was to a brewery Heineken NV purchased last year. The company announced on Monday that it would invest $40 million to expand the brewery and help farmers who supply it with sorghum.
President Michel Martelly is trying to lure foreign investors to help rebuild the Caribbean nation following the massive quake. His administration has routinely employed the mantra, “Haiti is open for business.”
But analysts in both Haiti and abroad say the nation is held back by an old-fashioned banking system and a dysfunctional justice system that provides little legal certainty for investors.
Other deterrents include U.S. government advisories that alert travellers to security concerns, a cholera epidemic and inadequate infrastructure.
The travel warnings didn’t escape the notice of first-time Haiti visitor Mario Batali, an American celebrity chef, even if he did have the luxury of travelling with Clinton’s security detail.
“The danger is in my opinion very overplayed,” said Batali, wearing his signature orange Crocs and shorts.
Batali said he could imagine introducing Haitian products to customers in his Italian restaurants: “I could see using their coffee. I could see using their mangoes. I could see using their rum. I could see using just about everything we’ve bumped into.”