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CARACOL, Haiti – Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton encouraged foreigners to invest in Haiti as she and her husband,Bill, led a star-studded delegation gathered Monday to inaugurate a new industrial park at the center of U.S. efforts to help the country rebuild after the 2010 earthquake.
Actors Sean Penn and Ben Stiller, fashion designer Donna Karan and British business magnate Richard Branson were among the luminaries at the opening of the new Caracol Industrial Park, which is projected to create thousands of jobs more than 100 miles from the earthquake-ravaged capital of Port-au-Prince.
Clinton told a roomful of investors gathered for a luncheon that she had made Haiti a priority when she became secretary of state.
“We had learned that supporting long-term prosperity in Haiti meant more than providing aid,” she said. “It required investments in infrastructure and the economy that would help the Haitian people achieve their own dreams.”
Earlier Monday, thousands of Haitians lined the roadway to wave at her motorcade as it wound its way from the airport. Clinton and other U.S. officials, including Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., toured a housing development for industrial park workers supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Former President Bill Clinton, now a United Nations special envoy for Haiti, arrived in Caracol separately from his wife.
The Clintons and their allies hope that the $300 million industrial facility will transform the northern part of this impoverished country by providing thousands of desperately needed jobs. But critics say the industrial park does little more than replicate failed efforts from the past and will benefit outsiders more than Haitians.
The stakes are high in large part because the Clintons have been so heavily involved.
The Caracol project was in the works before the earthquake but it became a top priority for the Obama administration soon after the disaster. Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, has made almost monthly visits to the site on Haiti’s northern coast. Bill Clinton also took an interest and he attended the project’s groundbreaking a year ago.
The $124 million put in by the United States makes the park Washington’s biggest single investment in the aftermath of the earthquake and it is certain to shape the legacy of the Clintons, who last visited Haiti together in 1975 as a wedding gift following their honeymoon in Mexico.
Monday’s trip is Hillary Rodham Clinton’s third to Haiti since the earthquake, and there have been more than a dozen visits by her husband, who was co-chairman of an earthquake recovery panel before its mandate ended a year ago.