PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The United States has no plans to halt aid to earthquake-ravaged Haiti despite an ongoing crisis over who will be the nation's next president, but is insisting that the president's chosen successor be dropped from the race, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Sunday.
Clinton arrived in the impoverished Caribbean nation for a brief visit Sunday. She is scheduled to meet with President Rene Preval and each of the three candidates jockeying to replace him.
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Only two candidates can go on to the delayed second round, now scheduled for March 20. The U.S. is backing an Organization of American States recommendation that the candidate from Preval's party, government construction official Jude Celestin, should be left out.
The top U.S. official at the United Nations, Susan Rice, said recently that "sustained support" from the United States required the OAS recommendations be implemented. Many Haitian officials, including leaders of Preval's Unity party and rival candidate Michel Martelly, interpreted that to mean the U.S. was threatening an embargo and cutting off aid.
On Sunday Clinton flatly rebuffed that suggestion: "We're not talking about any of that."
"We have a deep commitment to the Haitian people," she told reporters. "That goes to humanitarian aid, that goes to governance and democracy programs, that will be going to a cholera treatment center."
Asked if there were any set of circumstances that would prompt Washington to cut off aid, Clinton said, "at this point, no."
Still, she insisted that the United States would press the recommendations by international monitors after a fraud-ridden first-round presidential vote in November. They determined that Celestin finished last and should drop out. Celestin has yet to do so.
"We're focused on helping the Haitian people," Clinton said ahead of meetings with Preval and the three presidential candidates. "One of the ways we want to help them is by making sure that their political choices are respected."
Haiti is in a deepening and potentially destabilizing political crisis. The announcement of preliminary results from the disputed first round, which was marred by fraud and rampant disorganization, led to rioting in December. Final results are expected to be announced Wednesday.
Just five days after, on Feb. 7, comes the constitutional end of Preval's five-year term.
A law passed by an expiring Senate last May would allow him to remain in power for an extra three months, but it is not clear if his government would continue to be recognized by donor countries. But Preval has said he does not want to hand power to an interim government and elections for a successor are not expected until late next month.
"That's one of the problems we have to talk about," Clinton said. "There are issues of a continuing government, how that can be structured. And that's what I'm going to be discussing."
Acknowledging the tight time frame for Haiti, she said that she wanted to hear ideas on how Haiti's transition should be handled but then make her own assessment on the best way forward.
The political crisis comes as the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation tries to restart its economy after decades of stifling poverty and unemployment, and the massive loss of life and infrastructure in last year's earthquake.
Hundreds of thousands of people remain in homeless camps and major rebuilding has not started. Core underlying issues such as land-tenure reform and the development and reconstruction of government institutions has barely been addressed. Massive piles of rubble and collapsed buildings remain throughout the capital city.
Meanwhile, a cholera epidemic that started outside the quake zone and has killed more than 4,000 people continues to rage. Clinton was scheduled to visit a treatment center Sunday.
She said reconstruction has been "steady but not adequate to the task that we are confronting."
"The problems are significant," Clinton told the pool of reporters who had traveled with her. "Like what do you do with all the rubble? It's a really big problem."
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