Bill Clinton Digs In to Speed Haiti's Recovery

Photo: Bill Clinton Says He Will Not Be Running Haiti: In Exclusive Nightline Interview, Ex-President Describes Government Plans for Renewal

The numbers in Haiti following the Jan. 12 earthquake are staggering: An estimated 3 million people displaced and as many as 140,000 dead. International pledges to answer the emergency have grown to more than $800 million.

Into the middle of it all has stepped former President Bill Clinton. The former president has served this past year as the United Nations Special Envoy for Haiti. This week, at the request of the secretary general of the United Nations, he took on a new role: coordinating all international quake assistance.

"Nightline" accompanied Clinton on his second visit to Haiti since the earthquake, as he met with Haitian leaders, visited Gheskio clinic in Port-au-Prince and delivered essential supplies. In a series of exclusive interviews, the former president discussed details of the recovery effort, the status of U.S. missionaries arrested on kidnapping charges earlier this week and more.

President Clinton in Haiti
Restoring a Nation: Bill Clinton in Haiti

Our day started in a helicopter in the Dominican Republic. An hour-and-a-half later, we neared the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. The Hotel Montana, the site of both enormous destruction and stunning rescues, came into view. By now the devastation to the capital is evident everywhere.

We arrived at Port au Prince airport just in time to see the president's plane descend.

Even before Clinton disembarked, boxes of aid start to be offloaded. This was a working trip for Bill Clinton. The plane was packed with supplies, including 1,900 pounds of medical supplies, tents, protein bars, generators ... and 50 laptops earmarked for the Haitian government to get itself back and functioning.

The president stepped off the plane and made some quick hellos to local dignitaries. And then it was off to his first meeting of the day, with Haitian President Rene Preval.

The meeting was held at the police headquarters -- or what's left of it. It now serves as the seat of government. There was a protest outside, local telecom workers calling for the arrest of Preval. The mood grew tense, until the crowd was dispersed with tear gas.

The headquarters where Clinton met Preval is also the location where the 10 Americans accused of kidnapping Haitian children were being held. The Americans were whisked away about a half hour before the former president's arrival.

The 10 defendants had a court date, it turned out ... conveniently timed to avoid any overlap with Clinton.

Clinton spoke to Preval and assembled government officials.

"First I'm glad you all survived, I believe that you have a done a remarkable job, and the people on the ground have done an amazing job," Clinton said. "You lost a lot of people in your agencies, and under the circumstances you have a done a great job."

The former president offered personal condolences to a minister who had lost a son.

'They All Survived'

There is no question the former president sees this as an opportunity buried inside the curse of an earthquake, an opportunity that comes within some decisions that need to be made now. "Build back better" has become the catchphrase.

"Nightline" spoke with Clinton directly after the government meeting.

"It was good," Clinton said.

He said Haiti still has a functioning government.

"Yes, you heard, they all survived," Clinton said. "But they have, they lost all their office space, as you can see." Clinton's new "leadership role," heading up and coordinating international relief, is a formidable one.

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