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President Clinton’s Address to the Second Annual International Congress of the Haitian Diaspora

9 August 2009
Office Of The Special Envoy For Haiti

Good morning. Please be seated. I don’t want you to be tired, so sit down. I got up at 5:00 am this morning to come and I think one of us being tired is enough. I want to thank Dr. Lauredan for that introduction. I really liked it. When you’re actually in office as President, no one is supposed to introduce you, they are just supposed to say, “The President,” and you show up. But they always play a song when you come in the room so that’s how you know when to talk. And even though there was no song, I liked the introduction (laughter).

I use to tell people that the worst thing about leaving office was that no one played a song when you walked in the room anymore [laughs]. For the first three months after I left office, I was lost, I never knew where I was ‘cause nobody played a song. Madam Prime Minister, I’m glad to see you, Dr. Morris and Mr. Voltaire, thank you for your work with me, with the United Nations. I was honored to be invited to come down here today, and I, I want to get right down to business. I was delighted that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asked me to serve as the UN Special Envoy for Haiti to try to coordinate the efforts of the UN agencies and do a few other things, too.

I want to begin by thanking you for your commitment to sticking together for your work on behalf of Haitians in the United States, and your concern for your native land. Because this is the first time many of us are together, I’d like to begin by just briefly outlining what I believe my job is as the UN Special Envoy. I guess I should start with the biggest drawback: nobody gave me a pot of money to spend down there. But, I have a very clear idea of what my mission is supposed to be, based in part on the two years of work I did for the United Nations in the tsunami affected countries of South Asia: principally in Aceh in Indonesia, in Sri Lanka, and Thailand, and in southwest coast — southeast coast of India.

First, my job is to do everything I can to make sure that all the United Nations agencies support the government of Haiti and the implementation of its recovery program, with its focus on generating new jobs, improving the delivery of basic services and food security, and strengthening the infrastructure. There is no UN agenda in Haiti other than to help advance the plans and the aspirations of the government and the people. I thank the Prime Minister and the President for outlining its main goals. I’ll be working with them, with national and multi-national donors, non-governmental groups, philanthropists, business people, and I hope with many of you, to transform those plans into specific actions. My work is, and will continue to be, in complete alignment and coordination with the Haitian government, in so far as I can do that. I will not manage the UN peace keepers, nor will I be involved in domestic Haitian politics.

Second, I will support greater disaster prevention, mitigation, and recovery efforts. We need to ensure that people, and their homes, and the infrastructure, are better prepared for the storms that will surely come in the future. The work already being done there now proves that this will create jobs and provide the opportunity, in many cases, to build back better, to do more than mitigate the effects of future disasters.

I want everything from re-building the buildings as well as possible to reforestation with strategies that make trees worth more planted than cut for charcoal, and with work that improves their ability to withstand the storm. It’s a very interesting thing about the series of storms that hit Haiti last year. Typically, when a hurricane hits Florida, or any place in the United States, 80 percent of the damage is done by the wind, mostly to buildings that have not been built to higher specifications, and 20 percent of the damage is done by the water. In Haiti, it was exactly the reverse. So, one of the things I think that your government has done, Madam Prime Minister, that makes a lot of sense, is to immediately go about dredging and deepening the water-ways to make sure that if there are storms this year, you won’t have 80 percent done by the water. And I saw some very impressive work around Gonaïves which made me hopeful in that regard.

You might be interested to know, by the way, that the only storm in my lifetime where we had the same experience you did was [hurricane] Katrina. Because, if you will remember, there was an extra channel dug from the Gulf of Mexico up to New Orleans, and a metal gate on that channel broke. And it’s instructive for Haiti’s recovery efforts because the water was going so fast, so powerfully, that even though the dikes might have held the levees, the metal gate broke first, and then the levees gave way. A subsequent study said that if the wetlands south of New Orleans had been in the same condition they were in 30 years ago, in other words, if all the trees and vegetation hadn’t been torn down, the speed of the water would have been less than half what it was, and the gates would have held. So, we had our own experience, in part of our country, that Haiti experienced last year with those storms. And it’s a good thing to remind ourselves that at least our goal ought to be, in Haiti, and in the United States, to make sure that when the water comes calling, at least the damage should be 80 percent from the wind and 20 percent from the water, not the other way around, and if that’s the case, the damage will always be much less.

The third thing that I will seek to do is to get more international, private sector investment in Haiti. With your help, we can improve the perception of Haiti by promoting opportunities made possible by the leadership of the current government. In this regard, I am glad to say that I intend to take a major trade mission to Haiti in October. I have already secured the support of the United States Department of Commerce, the United States Department of Agriculture, and tomorrow morning, I will see the Secretary of Energy, and I’m going to try to get them to all support this [applause]. Between now and October, we are going to identify specific opportunities in agriculture, construction, textiles, tourism, and other sectors, to create jobs and increase incomes in both urban and rural areas. Businesses need roads and ports, and reliable, affordable power and financing. I know that many of you here are concerned about hurdles that can undermine the confidence of investors and their willingness to invest. But, separately and together, the President, Prime Minister Pierre Louis, and various Parliamentarians have told me they are committed to making Haiti an easier and better place to do business. And I noticed, they released an announcement today, that shortened the length of time between an investor proposal and approval. It is a very good beginning. I also hope that the recent change in the travel advisory status by the United States and Canada will help. I lobbied very hard for that [applause]. I must say, unlike temporary protected status, the question which must be resolved by the Department of Homeland Security, that issue was resolved in the State Department, so I had a better in [laughter]. The fourth thing I intend to do is encourage donors who have made commitments, to honor them, and to do so promptly. There are about $400 million almost committed to projects in Haiti, but unfulfilled pledges do not replace irrigation systems, or replenish forests, or build roads, or power systems. I’ve been doing this a long time now, and one of the things that I resolved to do when I was President – the United States you may know, spends the smallest percentage of its budget on foreign assistance than almost any other country. It’s really a hold-over from the Cold War, when we provided the defense umbrella and the Europeans provided the aid. But after the Cold War, we never caught up because we had until 2006, the Congress hostile to that. The Congress has now approved a substantial increase in aid and I think that you’ll get more than your fair share. [The] Prime Minister recently saw the Secretary of State’s Chief of Staff, Cheryl Mills, who’s been down here a couple times already, and who has a deep personal commitment to this project. But I am going to be going all over the world to try to hector every last dime out of everybody who promised to give money at that donors conference [applause], and I will continue to do it.

The fifth thing that I’m supposed to do is try to increase the contributions of philanthropists, non-governmental organizations, and civil society groups to recovery and to development. And, to do everything I can to get them to work together more so that their combined efforts have greater impact without duplication or wasting scarce resources. And that all this money is spent, in-so-far as humanly possible, in a way that is consistent with the priorities of the Haitian government’s development plan. Now, this may not seem like a big deal, but Haiti has 10,000 non-governmental organizations doing something there, and as dearly as I can plea, that’s all you hear about that. As nearly as I can figure, there’s no central list, nobody can really say. And I have — just since I agreed to do this — I have been deluged with emails from people I don’t know, and from people who are friends of mine that I didn’t know were involved in Haiti. I can say that one of the most rewarding aspects of the work I did in the tsunami area was the way we got coordination as never before from all the UN agencies and all the NGO’s, and we formed a board, and they worked together, and then they sent out information to all the smaller NGO’s, it really made a very significant difference. I think you could talk to people in any of those areas that were affected, saying that was the number one thing they noticed, that — that this had happened. Now to be fair, it may be harder here because, with the exception of India, you have more NGO’s per capita operating down there than anybody else, but nobody’s got a list, nobody really knows what’s going on. A lot of the stuff is really good that’s going on. But we need, just think what would happen if we all put our heads together and nobody overlapped anybody else and everybody had a copy of the development program, absorbed it, and said: ‘this is what I’m doing against this’ [applause]. So we’re going to try to do that.

The sixth thing I will do in-so-far as I possibly can, is to present the best possible image of Haiti to the rest of the world [applause]. The other day, a guy came up to me at an event I was doing in New York for a friend of mine, and he said: ‘You know, in the 80’s, I ran a big textile operation in Haiti, and I thought they were the best people I ever worked with. All I had to do was train the people.” He said, ‘They were so loyal, worked hard, they were great.” He made a ton of money. He since retired from his industry, and he gave me the name of someone that’s still active. He said “You ought to call this guy, he can get you a lot more investment there,” because he had personal knowledge, not something he’d read in a newspaper, not something he’d heard.

The bad news is always more compelling than good news, I know. But I will say this, and I had nothing to do with it, but I’m sure all of you have noticed this recent spate of articles lauding Haiti for the way the AIDS problem has been handled there. Against all the odds, with all the economic hardships, the dramatic improvements in every aspect of that, and I spend a lot of my life working on this all over the world. We have, we sell medicine in 70 countries, and have offices in 40 countries working on HIV and AIDS, and I can tell you that it’s made a real impression. People have read it and they said “Oh, I didn’t know that, I didn’t know that.” We need to give people the opportunity to read other stories that they didn’t know about, that are good, and I’m going to do what I can to help that [applause].

Finally, I am committed to doing everything I can to involving the Haitian Diaspora, not just in the United States, but also in Canada and Europe, in this endeavor. I know that many of you have already got activities in Haiti. I know that many of you have tried, and maybe been frustrated in the past to do more. But I think that we are on the verge of really being able to make some significant changes. And, so, I think we have to go forward from here. When I was in Haiti about a month ago, I traveled with President Préval to Gonaïves, and I saw some of the dredging work, as I said. But the most important thing to me was just walking through the streets of a neighborhood and talking to people. I met one woman who lost six of her eight children in the floods and she was determined to fight for the survival and the recovery of what was left of her family. I think very often, people think about countries they don’t know, and they just look at GDP numbers, or headlines of whatever– you forget there are real people involved here. And those people, that woman’s courage, and her children’s future, are worth our best efforts [applause].

I know that a lot of you, as I said, are already involved here, but I want to talk a little bit about some very specific things that, that I saw, and that I, that we are already doing, in addition to the general description of my job. First, I tried to get a feel for the landscape. The Prime Minister will tell you that when I was in Haiti, I tried to meet with every group I could meet with. I practically went out on the street and begged people to come in and talk to me. I met with leaders of the legislative branch, with non-governmental organizations, with business people, with leaders of women’s groups, and women’s business leaders, separately, with bi-lateral donors, and with the UN officials that are there. I visited a mango exporting business in Port-au-Prince, and was shocked to learn that half the mangos that come off the tree are never exported because they get bruised on the way from falling off the tree, to the markets in New York City, where I live. And, I was interested to learn how little money it would take to secure a higher percentage of that crop, and how much more could be done there.

I talked to people about the prospect of producing cane ethanol, with the same technology used in Brazil. You might be interested to know, I think first that could stop you from having to import any oil, and secondly, you could find a ready market in the United States, because being in the Caribbean, you are not subject to the .53 cent-a-gallon tax that would be imposed if Brazil tried to send that cane ethanol directly to the United States. And for those of you who don’t live with this the way I do, because I spend a lot of time with this energy stuff, if you make ethanol from corn, it’s the cheapest way to make it. But, you only get about 2.3 gallons for every one gallon of oil it takes to make, and it’s 30 percent less efficient. If you make it from agricultural waste, so-called cellulosic ethanol, with today’s technology, you can get about four gallons for every one gallon, so it’s about twice as good, but it costs more than twice as much to do the conversion. By far the most efficient process in the world is what the Brazilians do. They get now 8-9 gallons of fuel from cane ethanol, and they are beginning to be very concerned about the ability of their country to produce more. And their investors are looking for other places to do this because they have to be worried about deforestation, they have, the Amazon Rainforest is still being rather rapidly deforested even though the government is trying to protect it. And, approximately 20 percent of all the oxygen on planet earth that is generated from land, as opposed to water, comes out of the Amazon Rainforest. So, they are very sensitive to this – they don’t use rainforest land, but the more land they use, the more it pushes the soybean farmers, and the cattle men, and others back into the rainforest. I just went to Brazil and spoke to a huge ethanol conference, there must have been 2,000 people there who were involved in this, and the one thing they kept saying is ‘we know this is great technology, we know this is great product, we have to find other places to produce it.’ And I said, ‘have I got a deal for you’ [laughter, applause]. So I think this, this is not some ‘pie in the sky’ deal, this is a real possibility that I believe we should aggressively look into.

I think there are some other things that are more mundane. Besides the mango business, I went into a neighborhood to look at people producing these [holds up briquette]. You know what this is? There is a neighborhood in Port-au-Prince that had a very high unemployment rate, and very high crime rate. They formed a community council, I met with them all – about nine people – run by a very charismatic 27-year-old man, who could either be a movie star or a politician, and what he did was, to get people to go collect the garbage off the street. And then, that took a lot of people. Then, they had people separate the garbage into organic material, paper, plastic, metal, and glass. No market for any of it; they started doing this. Then they shredded and mashed up the paper, cut it into little bits, and saturated it with water and mixed it with sawdust from a local furniture manufacturer. And the furniture manufacturer gives them the sawdust, he’s just glad to have somebody clean up his place. Then they developed their own hand press, it was very interesting. They put these – it’s something about this shape [cylindrical], but about this long [a few feet], but into a canister. And they put 12 of them under this hand press, and then they pull the press down and it squeezes all the water out, takes about a third of the volume out. Then they slice it and dry it, and you get this [again holds up briquette]. They sell these for a penny a piece, approximately, in American dollars, and with four of them you can cook dinner. It is approximately one-fifth the cost of [using] charcoal for dinner [applause]. And, and the people I met with – so you got all these people working right, you got people collecting the garbage, you got people sorting the garbage, you got people making this [the briquette], then you got to have people go sell this. So you get 10 or 20 times as many jobs as you would cutting down trees and making charcoal [applause]. And, what they recommend is, you make dinner with – you cook it in a pot – but, taking three of these and putting it in a pot and then breaking up a fourth one so it’s easier to light. It’ll burn about 45 minutes.

Now what’s the importance of this? They told me that if they could find, they’re going make with the organic material, the food junk – they’re going to make fertilizer, and provide organic fertilizer to farmers at a low cost. They said if they could sell just one, just one of the plastic, metal, and glass mass they are collecting for recycling, they could continue to sell this at a penny a piece. Now, consider what — this could be done in every neighborhood in Port-au-Prince. It could be done in every city in Haiti. And if it were successful, it would sweep the poor urban areas of the world. This could be done everywhere. Labor intensive, environmentally responsible. So, I brought about two dozen of these (briquettes) home and I just carry one around with me, just showing people this. Because, just consider this, it’s not a hi-tech deal, so when I was down there recently, Madam Prime Minister, with my friend James Lee Witt, who was my Director of Emergency Management when I was President, he reminded me that we have a friend in my native state, Arkansas, who needs lots of recycled plastic, and he’s going to come down there. And if he starts buying this plastic, you’ll be off to the races, and this could literally provide employment for thousands of people and enormous incentive to leave the trees standing. Make money out of the fruit trees and other things, and reconstitute the soil of Haiti, while solving a big headache. And parenthetically, the council of citizens told me that the crime rate in the neighborhood had dropped precipitously because people had jobs and because they were proud of their neighborhood: It was clean, and it was healthy, they had something going, they had something to look forward to in the morning. So, this is something where not a lot of investment is required. I just got to find somebody to buy the plastic, or the metal, or the glass, and we’ll be not cooking with gas, cooking with this [laughter].

So, let me mention just a couple of other specific things. In October, introducing to the trade mission that I intend to bring – the Inter-American Development Bank is going to hold a big trade conference for business people and investors, not just in the United States but also from Canada, Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean. So I think we may see some real movement there. And I believe that there will be some, there will be a lot of interest in tourism investment now that the travel advisories have been changed. And more than the heartiest, loyal Haiti lovers will be able to imagine going to the Citadel in safety. And other places. I think this is a big deal, potentially, if we can get it going. Let me mention just a couple of other things that we’ve been working on. Madam Prime Minister’s former employer Mr. Soros has set up an economic development fund called ‘Haiti Invest.’ Beginning with $25 million, with a goal of raising $150 million for investments in garment manufacturing, agriculture, logistics, and other things.

The second thing that has happened is that an Irish businessman, Michael Carey, and a group of other Irish businesspeople, have established a new foundation called ‘Soul of Haiti Foundation’, after a number of visits, and have offered to host a delegation of Haitian businesspeople in Ireland to demonstrate that they should do business with them, and have more joint ventures. And let me just say that that’s the best of all. We need more joint ventures so that you’ll build the entrepreneurial capacity of the country. Third, James Lee Witt, as I said, my former Emergency Management Director, has committed a quarter of a million dollars to provide disaster preparedness training for women in Haiti, and that’s very important because women are often the most affected by natural disasters, and most effective in communicating life saving information to their families when one strikes. Their activities will be coordinated with the other ongoing efforts, and the United Nations is now helping to identify partners in civil society and government to make sure that we don’t duplicate or undermine anything else that is already going on.

Fourth, one of the people I took with me to Haiti in March, an Indian, remarkable man, Desh Deshpande, who is a member of my global initiative that gathers people, like him, from around the world with the opening of the UN every year, has offered his help and his foundation’s help to expand school feeding in Haiti. The Desphpande Foundation runs a school feeding project in India that currently provides nutritious, hot meals everyday to one million school children [applause]. And, he can really help us a lot, and I think I can get some more money for this. When I was President, in my last couple of years, I got the agriculture department to give me $300 million to offer to the poorest countries in the world to feed kids a good meal everyday, but they had to come to school to get the meal. The first year we did it, school enrollments increased by six million. It costs $50 a year, a student to feed them and get them in school. So, Madam Prime Minister, if we’re going to re-build these schools, we want the kids to show up and have the parents do the work. And I think this is something we can do. I’m happy to say that when he was in office, President Bush continued this program. President Obama has supported it, the Congress has supported it. It has enormous bi-partisan support, it’s one of the most cost-effective things that the United States does to help children in developing nations get an education. So, I believe if we can develop the capacity, and I went to a school feeding program where Wyclef Jean helps a group of nuns run in Port-au-Prince. You’ve got a lot of this going on, but to be able to do it on a nation-wide basis at a, at a scale appropriate to the need would be very, very important.

Fifth, a friend of mine that, who I believe is now the largest electricity provider in the Dominican Republic, Rolando Gonzalez Bunster, has offered to install, initially, five windmills with eight megawatts of capacity that are made by Vestas, the number-one manufacturer of windmills in the world, very high quality. They are now unassembled next-door in the Dominican Republic. They were originally intended to go there through a deal that I helped to put together with the government of Finland’s aid program, and for reasons unrelated to their quality, the Dominicans have decided not to do it now. So, he just wants to give the windmills to Haiti [applause]. And I think it’s a very, very good thing to do because, if we can put them up in the right place and have adequate distribution, which is a big issue there, we have to work through all the details, but this would provide renewable energy at competitive prices within a matter of months. You can do this a lot faster than you can build new plants.

And so, I believe, let me just say, one of the other things I do in my foundation life that has nothing to do with what I’m doing here, is to, I work in 40 cities on six continents on energy issues, including how to turn solid waste into clean energy like this, close landfills, do things that need to be done. And we did a detailed study of a lot of options around the world. For example, solar energy is really expensive now because of what’s in the photovoltaic cells, so they haven’t caught on many places. But now, in India and in Africa, people have figured out how to do it much more cheaply, and so there’s a lot of that being done. The most efficient way to do it is to find a place that’s really hot and sunny all the time and build an old-fashioned power plant, just put a huge solar reflector out there, let it heat water and generate a massive turbine and generate electricity. There are a few places you can do that, the southwest United States, the Western Desert in India, Australia, most places you can’t do it. But there are opportunities in wind everywhere, and there are opportunities for low-cost solar, there are opportunities for tidal energy in and around Haiti, and our survey concluded that the Caribbean in general was the place where it would be easiest for people to become completely energy-independent. And your neighbors not far away in Puerto Rico have us working on a project to try to literally figure out how they can become energy independent. Because they get a lot of tax breaks, as you probably know, for manufacturing to go down there because it’s the poorest part of the United States, and the wages are lower, but the lower wages have been almost completely offset for the last three years by the enormous cost of importing all their fuel. So, they are really taking this seriously. And, they’re also figuring out that they can generate a heck-of-a-lot more jobs if they provide all their own energy and then they maintain the infrastructure to do it. So, we should explore this here because I think there’s a lot of jobs for you here, and a lot of good investment opportunities, so we’re working on that.

I want to thank all these people for their commitments. This is just the beginning. Last year after the storms, we had a special session on Haiti at my global initiative, and about a dozen different non-governmental organizations committed to spend $130 million over a three year period. We’re going do it again this year and try to raise some more money. So there’s a very important role here for non-governmental groups who may be able to come up with solutions that then you can take national. And, if you have one model that works, it’s easier to go to the United States or the European Union or some other donor and say: “Look at this, this should be done all over Haiti, here’s the price, give us the money.” So, I think these are important things that can be done [applause].

But the most important thing I can say today is: I consider every one of you vital to the success of this, and I think you know that, or the Prime Minister wouldn’t be here. It really matters.

I can’t tell you how strongly I feel about this temporary protected status, and how strongly I feel that we should grant it [applause]. But, to be fair, I have sat in President Obama’s chair and I know what they’re doing. And I have literally talked to nobody in the White House about this, I have gone through the regular channels. But I can just imagine if I were there, I can hear the conversation now: President says “how can we send these people back, they just went through all these storms? I know it’s tough here, but how can we do that and say they depend on our remittances for over 19 percent of GDP last year? Even this year in the recession, 16 percent of GDP have come from remittances. And somebody says: “Well, it’s not that we want to send them back, but if we do this, what will everybody else say? How will we draw the distinctions? We have people here from all over the world who will make similar claims, do we let them all stay? And if we are gong to send some home, and keep some, how do we make these distinctions?” And you know, America has people here from almost 200 countries.

So I’m, and I don’t know any of this, but I’ve been there, my guess is that in the end they’ll do the right thing, and will respond to what the Haitian community has asked for, what is in Congressman Alcee Hastings’ resolution, if you’ve had, Kendrick Meek, and Senator Bill Nelson, and Congressman Charlie Rangel, the chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, they’ve all lobbied like crazy for this. So, I feel pretty good about it, and I’m sorry it’s taken so long, but I had to defend the White House, because I’ve been there, I know what’s happening. Everybody’s thinking: “of course we should move these people here, but if we do, how do we make distinctions?” And that’s what they’re trying to work through. So I urge you all just keep up the pressure, keep telling people, “we can’t send people home, we got to leave them here, make the case positively [applause]. But do not do it in a hostile way, because this is a complicated thing for them. They have to make a principle decision, whatever decision they make they have to be able to justify not just to Haitian-Americans, and not just to Haiti, but to the whole wide world, because the whole wide world is here in our country. That’s one of the reasons that I have hope for America in the midst of all this economic mess. It’s one of the reasons we’ve always been able to re-invent ourselves because the doors have been open enough to bring people from everywhere so we keep fertilizing our fields. And so I think we’ll get this right. And I urge you to keep urging this course, but to do it in a way that is positive and affirmative because I don’t think anybody up here is unsympathetic to the claims. I think that anybody who’s looked at this knows the enormous burden it would be on Haiti if those 30,000 people were sent home right now. Everybody understands what happens in the storms. And there is an enormous feeling in Washington that this government is serious, competent, straight-forward, and capable of revolutionizing the future [applause]. So there’s a lot of feeling about that.

So that’s what I wanted to say. That’s my job and I’ve given you my mission and my progress report. But the most important thing I can say is: I haven’t had a better meeting than the one I had with the Haitian Diaspora community in New York the other day. I took voluminous notes, and I got more information there about what they think needs to be done in order to get more Haitian-Americans involved in Haiti, and investing money back there, including the dual-citizenship issue, than I have gotten from any other meeting I’ve had [applause].

So, I just want to say again, I’m grateful to be here, I’m grateful for everything you’ve already done. I’m an outsider, but I’ve been going to Haiti for more than 30 years, and I know a little something about economics, and I had a reasonably successful run at it. It is my opinion that this is by far the best chance that Haiti has had in the 35 years that I have been acquainted with it, to slip the bonds of the past [applause]. By far the best chance. And the more involved you are, the better the odds get. So, do not be deterred if you’ve been disappointed in the past, try to find some other way to do something. If you’re doing something now, try to do more of it. If there’s somebody who’s not here who could help us, ask them to help. And if you have any suggestions for me, for goodness sakes, give them. I am going to establish an advisory committee of members of the Diaspora that you may want to communicate through, but you can just email me, or write me directly to the, my office in Harlem, or to the United Nations, where I also have an office. But Haiti needs you now, and Haiti can take your help now, and do something with it. So let’s make this a success. Thank you very much and God bless you all [applause]. Thank you [applause].