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Haiti’s Cruel Twist of Fate

January 14, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Just as Haiti was beginning to turn the economic corner, disaster struck. Judy Woodruff examines how the timing of the earthquake is especially catastrophic considering the country's slow recovery from its rocky past.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Next: the cruel irony of the earthquake’s timing.

This is not the image Haiti had been projecting to the global community in recent months. The earthquake that has plunged the country into chaos comes just as Haitians appeared to be making progress in their long struggle to overcome political turmoil and deeply-rooted poverty.

KENNETH MERTEN, U.S. ambassador to Haiti: Haiti is no longer the place where people are kidnapped by the score every month. It is no longer a place where armed people drive around in vehicles shooting up the town.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In a report broadcast on the “NewsHour” just three days ago, the U.S. ambassador to the country was one of those who told special correspondent Kira Kay that facts on the ground in Haiti were beginning to improve.

KIRA KAY: The task of rebuilding Haiti is undeniably huge. More than half its people live on just a dollar a day. Public services like health care and a free education are almost nonexistent.

JEAN-MAX BELLERIVE, prime minister, Haiti: Somebody say that we would just want to get out of misery to get into poverty. And I believe that is a beautiful sentence for Haiti, because it is exactly what we are aiming for right now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Former President Bill Clinton, the U.N.’s special envoy to Haiti, was recently promoting investment opportunities in the country.

BILL CLINTON: We know that this is a great opportunity not only for investors to come and make a profit, but for the people of Haiti to have a more secure and a more broadly shared, prosperous future.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That kind of high-profile support was keeping Haitian businessman Georges Sassine busy. The local point person for new investment, his phones didn’t stop ringing, even during his interview with Kira Kay.

GEORGES SASSINE, factory owner: I have to — to be like a dispatcher, investors from Brazil, from Ireland, and from Korea coming one after the other. So, it’s been very hectic, believe me. But it’s a good — it’s a good problem to have.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, tonight, Haiti is no longer blessed with good problems. And former President Clinton, along with former President George W. Bush, has a new role, after agreeing to a request from the Obama administration to assist the relief effort.