Governing Haiti: Time for National Consensus

  • Posted on: 5 February 2013
  • By: Bryan Schaaf
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The International Crisis Group's (ICG) latest report "Governing Haiti: Time for National Consensus" examines the Haitian government's efforts to convince its own people, donors and potential investors that progress and stability are achievable.  The report emphasizes the need for good governance, consensus building among the elites, effectively implemented poverty reduction strategies and strengthened rule of law. Getting there will require a shift from highly confrontational politics to one of compromise and consensus. The executive summary is below and you can read the full report on the ICG website

 

Haiti is in a race against time to convince its own people, donors and potential investors that progress and stability are achievable. Continued delay in holding free and fair elections may well pose the greatest immediate challenge, but President Michel Martelly, already struggling to govern the broken and divided nation for one and a half years, lacks the stable political base (also denied to his predecessors) to obtain buy-in to his proposed Five-E development strategy: employment, état de droit (rule of law), education, environment and energy. To finally start the long-promised transformation, he should build on the tenuous Christmas Eve 2012 agreement for a credible electoral body to hold much delayed Senate, municipal and local polls quickly. He also should bring key actors into a national dialogue on selecting the Constitutional Council and resolving credibility questions about the appointment of the president of the Supreme Court and the Superior Judicial Council, as well as on pursuing other critical short- and longer-term public policies.

 

Ending the elections imbroglio is essential but insufficient. Follow-on reforms are required to avoid political paralysis during Martelly’s term. The long and difficult path to the recently concluded constitutional amendment process and still inconclusive debate over formation of the Permanent Electoral Council (CEP) are testament to the deficit of confidence and absence of political consensus. Haiti needs a national accord to manage reconstruction and development, particularly as it enters a difficult electoral period, whose calendar is still unknown. Many sectors espouse national dialogue rhetorically but do not pursue it seriously. The intensifying debate around organisation of Senate, municipal and local elections in 2013, however, may offer an opportunity to pursue a governance accord that could finally mobilise domestic forces and better secure donor support for the transformation that has been touted ever since the 2010 earthquake. After several failed efforts to reach domestic agreement on basic issues, even strong donor supporters are becoming frustrated by the lack of leadership, governance and accountability.

 

Decades of government inaction, growing frustration and decreasing citizen tolerance leave little margin for error. The Haitian brand of politics in effect virtually excludes the majority of citizens, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for any administration to govern effectively. The electoral calendar laid down in the constitution is never respected, so the terms of elected officials expire without replacement, giving rise to institutional instability. Elections are largely a contest between political and economic elites, as a myriad of parties give voice to few, fail to mobilize the electorate and fragment parliament. Voter participation has been falling since 2006, along with public confidence. Zero-sum politics is not the answer to the country’s fragile security and stability. Rather, consensus is required on priorities and the strategy for achieving them. It is increasingly evident that functional governance is unlikely until and unless the business community, religious, professional and political leaderships can reach an accord.

 

Otherwise Haiti faces increasing internal unrest. The Latin American region offers useful experience about how to build sustainable, effective agreements that can progressively be translated into concrete and sustainable policies. The National “Concertación por la Democracia” in Chile, the Agreement for Justice and Security in Guatemala, the “Acuerdo Nacional” in Peru and, most recently, the “Pact for Mexico” are examples of how to identify shared priorities and extract commitments from po litical parties and civil society. They demonstrate that the initial dialogue must be inclusive, if there is to be effective decision-making and efficient implementation.

 

The challenges facing Haiti are not difficult to divine. In essence they focus on a need for good governance, consensus-building among the elites, poverty reduction strategies effectively implemented and strengthened rule of law. Sadly, these challenges have never been confronted effectively. Haiti today presents little cause for optimism. For every instance of progress on any of these fronts, there are multiple instances of regression or, at best, stasis. What has changed, though, are the recent signs of a genuine demand for an end to that stalemate from donors who are also showing strong signs of fatigue. If Haiti is to pull through, the better angels in the natures of its leaders are going to have to prevail for once and prevail soon. This is a thin reed on which to float the country’s future; but it might be all it has. Without a national pact, President Martelly unfortunately faces the spectre of a failed presidency, and Haiti risks international abandonment.

 

Recommendations to achieve and implement a national pact that can transform Haiti’s political culture. 

 

To national political, social and economic elites:

 

1. Pursue public dialogue and consensus building and renounce confrontational tactics as the means for resolving conflicts, including by adopting the necessary compromises so that institutions can function effectively and by rejecting spoilers.

 

2. Use the elections as a starting point by agreeing on the terms for a free, fair, transparent and therefore credible electoral process in a pact accepted by all parties, the president, prime minister, legislature and supervising electoral body.

 

3. Identify a trusted national institution or mechanism, like the ecumenical Religions for Peace group, to provide, with international partnering, guidelines on the rules for a comprehensive dialogue process and for building up efficient mechanisms to implement its conclusions; and to monitor and encourage compliance with commitments.

 

4. Build an agenda for the national dialogue that focuses also on significant longerterm policies, including the government’s Five-E development strategy (employment, état de droit (rule of law), education, environment and energy), along with adequate auditing for transparency in execution.

 

To lower political tensions between the executive and legislative branches

 

To President Martelly:

 

5. Demonstrate respect for the constitution by refraining from acts such as direct appointments to public posts that it requires be elected; and reverse any appointments that conflict with that requirement. 

 

To political parties:

 

6. Adopt initiatives to firm up parliamentary groups into stable blocs built around policies rather than narrow individual interests.

 

To the international community:

 

7. Commit to support Haitian-led implementation of a national accord to address development and governance challenges on condition that it is based on and implemented via political dialogue, compromise and consensus.

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Miami Herald
By Jacqueline Charles
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The International Crisis Group, which monitors conflicts around the world, is calling it quits in Haiti — sort of. The non-governmental organization is the latest to shut its Port-au-Prince office — but not before issuing some parting words As Haitians prepare to celebrate the annual pre-Lenten Carnival season this month, an international anti-conflict group is warning that there is little cause for optimism and without a national accord, the country risks ongoing crises. Delayed elections, a vicious cycle of mistrust and 128 public protests between August and October 2012 against Haitian President Michel Martelly, all risk jeopardizing Martelly’s presidency, and the chance for Haiti to finally dig itself out of decades of political conflict and the ruins of the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake, said the International Crisis Group. “Haiti is in a race against time to convince its own people, donors and potential investors that progress and stability are achievable,” the Crisis Group said in the report that will be published Monday. “Without a national pact, President Martelly unfortunately faces the specter of a failed presidency, and Haiti risks international abandonment.”
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The warning comes as the Crisis Group becomes the latest non-governmental organization to fold its operation in Haiti. The organization first arrived in Haiti in 2004 after a bloody coup led to the ouster of its democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. It has issued 21 reports on the situation in the country, which is still struggling to recover from the deadly earthquake and stabilize its democracy. The report comes amid a growing chorus of frustration among foreign donors with Haiti’s continued political conflict, which is hampering reconstruction and affecting donor confidence. Last week, as he addressed the U.N. Security Council for the final time as head of the U.N. peacekeeping operations in Haiti, Chilean diplomat Mariano Fernandez lamented the inability of Haitian political actors to sign a “governability pact” to work together. For Haiti to advance, he said, the country’s political, economic and social elite need to agree.
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Mark Schneider, the Crisis Group’s senior vice president and special adviser on Latin America, said the decision to close the Haiti operations has less to do with the country and more to do with budget cuts by Canada, one of its main funders, and more deadly conflicts elsewhere around the globe. The Bogota office, he said, will still keep an eye on Haiti. “In terms of comparable situations with deadly violence, there’s less in Haiti than in places where we have to be,” said Schneider, adding that the group has expanded its operations in Central Africa and added Mali to its list of countries for the first time. In the nearly nine years since the group arrived in Port-au-Prince, Haiti has gone through an interim government, gang warfare, historical peaceful transition of power and repeated natural disasters. But the country remains polarized and the gains made in recent years, are “fragile.” “There continues to be instability in Haiti,” Schneider said. “All the positive progress is very, very fragile and what we are saying is it’s all at risk, unless there is a coming together in a national governability pact.”
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After years of paying lip-service to the need for national dialogue, Schneider said, it is time for all Haitians, “to go beyond the rhetoric and walk the walk; and that means recognizing you are in danger of losing the full commitment of the international community.” The report makes several recommendations for how the political, social and economic elite could finally find a way to work together, including looking at similar pacts that have been achieved in various Latin American nations. It also offers recommendations for the international community, which the report notes, is not without blame in the ongoing Haitian crisis. “Polarized politics have produced a complex political and socio-economic context for international cooperation,” the report said, quoting an unnamed human rights analyst who offered up this analysis: “When Haitian leadership falters; the international community meanders.” The report’s strongest warning, however, is for Martelly, whose presidency has been punctuated by conflicts since his 2011 election. “While he has shown exceptional ability to connect with Haitians, both rich and poor, in Haiti and abroad, he has not sufficiently used that capacity to address factors that could reduce political tensions and build national consensus,” the report said. To avoid political paralysis and break Haiti’s cycle of crises, Martelly, must among other things, follow up on required reforms and find away to win the trust of his opponents and the Haitian people, the report said. “President Martelly needs to break the domestic stalemate and demonstrate Haiti is embarked on consensus building,” it said.

2/20/2013
Reuters
By Anastasia Moloney
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Carnival in Haiti this month was one of the few things Haitians could be certain about and celebrate. Much less certain is whether the country’s ruling elite can reach a consensus about how to rebuild the earthquake-shattered country amid growing donor fatigue.“Unless the nation’s leaders pursue a national governability accord to organise long-delayed elections, halt unconstitutional appointments and address basic needs, Haiti could become a permanent failed state,” Mark Schneider, vice president of the International Crisis Group (ICG), a Brussels-based think tank, wrote in a recent column in the Miami Herald. Haitian President Michel Martelly has proposed a so-called “Five-E” plan - employment, état de droit (rule of law), education, environment and energy - to lift Haiti from decades of political turmoil and the devastation caused by the massive earthquake on Jan. 12, 2010.
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However, since coming to power 20 months ago, Martelly’s presidency has been marred by conflicts with an opposition-dominated parliament and disagreements over his choice of prime minister that threaten the already slow reconstruction efforts. One key area of conflict among Haitian lawmakers centres around the country’s electoral body - how to form it and its composition - an issue that has ratcheted up political uncertainty. It has meant local and municipal elections, which should have taken place last year, have been delayed indefinitely. The elections would aim to fill 10 seats in Haiti’s 30-member Senate and hundreds of seats in local government, such as mayors and councillors. “Haiti is very fragile. It still desperately needs stability and security," Javier Ciurlizza, head of ICG’s Latin America and Caribbean programme told AlertNet by phone in Bogota. “Martelly needs to convince his own people and donors that progress and stability are achievable. Without a national consensus, Martelly unfortunately faces the specter of a failed presidency, and Haiti risks international abandonment.”
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It was never going to be easy for Martelly, a former pop star known as Sweet Micky, with no previous government experience to build a national consensus and to wield over a polarised parliament made up of numerous factions - long a feature of Haitian politics. “While he has shown exceptional ability to connect with Haitians, both rich and poor, in Haiti and abroad, he has not sufficiently used that capacity to address factors that could reduce political tensions and build national consensus,” says the latest ICG report on Haiti. The urgent need to build political consensus was echoed recently by Mariano Fernandez, former head of the 10,600-strong United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).“The most difficult challenge remains that Haitians reach a political agreement to have a much more stable democracy,” Fernandez told reporters earlier this month in Port-au-Prince at the end of his term in Haiti. Martelly, like many of his predecessors, appears at the mercy of a dysfunctional political system that he inherited. “The main obstacle to political stability is the kind of politics you have in Haiti where it’s a winner-takes-all politics, which means agreements seem to be very difficult to achieve,” ICG’s Ciurlizza said.
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The legacy of the 1957-86 Duvalier dictatorship, scores of different political parties that don’t represent the interests of Haiti’s majority poor, along with a deep-rooted culture of clientelism and cronyism have all created a weak political system in Haiti that’s personality driven and all too centred on one individual, ICG says. “The absence of strong parties has led to a power vacuum and weak democratic institutions. The vacuum has been filled by personalised politics too shallow and incoherent to address the country’s weaknesses,” said ICG’s report. Without a political base and consensus, it seems near impossible for Martelly to deliver on his “Five- E” plan and alleviate abject poverty. Around 350,000 Haitians made homeless by the quake still live in makeshift camp settlements sprawled across the capital.
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It means Haitians, many of whom voted for Martelly on the hope of bringing change, have yet to see tangible improvements to their lives. For many Haitians, the most pressing issue remains one of daily survival and putting food on the table. Around 70 percent of Haitians live in poverty and their plight has been made worse following last year’s drought, two tropical storms and rising food prices. And their frustrations are being increasingly played out in the streets. Between August and October of last year, Martelly faced 128 public protests across Haiti, according to the ICG.
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Foreign aid donors are also showing signs of frustration over Haiti’s political deadlock. Canada, one of the biggest donors to Haiti, last month said it is reviewing tens of millions of dollars in aid to the country over concerns about the lack of transparency in how the money is being spent, weak government institutions and the little progress made in rebuilding. Fears over political instability, corruption and growing skepticism about the slow recovery could partly explain why only half of the $6.04 billion in aid to Haiti pledged by donors from 2010 to 2012 has been disbursed so far and why only about 10 percent of that figure has been channeled directly to the Haitian government, according to U.N. figures. While that’s the case in Haiti and political infighting continues, apart from its annual carnival, there’s not much to celebrate.“Haiti today presents little cause for optimism,” Ciurlizza said.

UN Wire
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Breaking the political impasse that has plagued Haiti for some 16 months is crucial to achieve progress and consolidate democracy in the country, the head of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the country told the Security Council today. Legislative and elections were due to take place in January 2012 at the latest, but in spite of an agreement signed in December between the executive and legislative branches to form an electoral commission, there have been no new developments. “In the absence of these elections, over the past year we have seen the replacement of some 130 elected municipal governments with Presidential appointees,” said the Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), Nigel Fisher. At the legislative level, the mandate of one-third of Haiti’s senators expired in May 2012 and more terms will end in early 2014, impairing the Senate’s functions, Mr. Fisher warned. “Holding credible elections in 2013 is fundamental to reinforce Haiti’s democratic institutions, strengthen the rule of law and respond to the urgent needs of Haiti’s citizens such as employment and social protection.”
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The Caribbean nation has been re-building since the earthquake that struck in early January 2010, killing some 220,000 people and making 1.5 million others homeless, in addition to causing widespread destruction – particularly in the capital, Port-au-Prince – and a major humanitarian crisis. Mr. Fisher added that, over the past year, Haiti has continued to face many challenges, including a slow economic growth rate that fell below forecasted levels, high unemployment rates, a recent spike in cholera cases, two tropical storms, and regional droughts that have exacerbated the high levels of food insecurity facing many households. “Progress on elections has become the barometer for measuring progress towards a more inclusive political culture and for addressing institutional and development challenges, but Haiti faces many challenges beyond the electoral process alone,” Mr. Fisher said, adding that in spite of these obstacles, advances are still being made and the security situation remains stable overall. Regarding the cholera epidemic, Mr. Fisher said the UN is committed to continue its support and to redouble efforts to mobilize the significant additional resources needed to fight this disease, improve water and sanitation, and strengthen the national health care network. “I remain convinced that Haiti can and will make great progress in overcoming the political divisions, engaging in important and necessary reforms in the institutional and State law and responding to the urgent needs of its citizens,” he added.

3/20/2013
Miami Herald
BY JACQUELINE CHARLES
JCHARLES@MIAMIHERALD.COM
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As a Haiti investigative judge demanded that two parliamentarians be held accountable in the recent assassination of a police officer, the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday called on the country’s political leaders to redouble efforts to break a 16-month political impasse preventing the staging of long-overdue elections. “If elections are not held in 2013, it will become ever more difficult for the international community to accept excuses and delays,” Ambassador Guillermo E. Rishchynski of Canada said. “These overdue elections must be held in 2013 and as soon as possible.” Earlier this week, Haiti’s National Palace noted that parliament had finally sent the names of three of its members to sit on a nine-member electoral council that will be tasked with holding elections for mayors and 10 of 30 senate seats. But ongoing political friction, disagreements and concerns about who will ultimately sit on the powerful council risk delaying the balloting further. Nigel Fisher, the acting special representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN peacekeeping operation in Haiti, also said that Haitian authorities still must pass an electoral law, and one governing political parties. “Politics as zero sum gain is not something that moves a country forward. Developing a consensus around core elements of an inclusive, political process and democratic institutions is very important,” Fisher said.
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Last month, Fisher publicly scolded Haitian officials, saying the country was not “open for business” despite the assertions of its leaders. Rishchynski said while Canada welcomes the spirit of the slogan, President Michel Martelly and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe “must devote themselves to delivering the reforms that have been promised.” Security members’ tone was less optimistic than it was six months ago, as they noted “backsliding” in the rule of law, security and the humanitarian conditions. Donors have been equally frustrated. Haiti was forced to cancel a scheduled meeting with donors in Port-au-Prince on Wednesday to revive reconstruction efforts after several donors warned they would be no-shows until an election calendar was in place. In addition to the “shaky” political progress, council members also called for stepped up efforts to professionalize and grow the Haitian National Police. The country was in danger of not meeting its ambitious but necessary goal of 15,000 members by 2016, Argentina noted. “It is fundamental that the annual process of police training and recruiting be fulfilled,” Chilean Ambassador Octavio Errázuriz Guilisasti said, echoing concerns about armed gang conflicts.
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Haitian authorities report that insecurity levels are at their lowest. In recent months, the western department of the national police, which is responsible for Port-au-Prince, has stepped up efforts to crack down on armed gangs, and has made a number of arrests. Meanwhile,1,050 new police recruits are expected to begin training next month. Fisher said all of the issues raised by the Security Council — security, rule of law, respect for human rights, improved governance of institutions and elections — are all about improving the lives of Haitians, 80 percent of whom live in poverty and continue to face increasing food prices and impact of last year’s drought and storms. “Haitians are in a critical situation,” Fisher said. “All of the reforms that were discussed are to serve one goal, to ensure that Haitians have a better life and that they see their security improve on the ground and above all, they see their rights protected and they have a chance to work. It’s very important for their future.”

Sixteen months after Haiti was supposed to hold a critical round of elections, the voting procedure remains on hold. The country’s warring political factions can’t agree on a date or the membership of the panel that would supervise the process. Even the U.N. Security Council is reaching the end of its tether with Haiti’s political leaders. It’s not as if the beleaguered Caribbean nation doesn’t have enough problems. Frequent tropical storms, a cholera epidemic, and an aid distribution process with multiple problems are a few of the reasons Haiti’s post-earthquake recovery has failed to gain traction. There’s plenty of blame to spread around for the glacial pace of progress. But the political rivalries dividing President Michel Martelly and his Haitian adversaries threaten to paralyze the recovery. This affects every aspect of the post-earthquake process, from housing to job creation to crime control. The longer it endures, the more that those who want to help Haiti become frustrated.
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The political impasse is the principal reason that progress in Haiti has been much slower to develop than the international community expected, according to Nigel Fisher, head of the U.N. agency that provides security and shepherds Haiti through the post-earthquake crisis. He noted back in mid-February that the gridlock over elections is the most vexing issue. It “dominates the discourse and crystallizes the disappointment of friends of Haiti today,” Mr. Fisher said. Most investors, Mr. Fisher added, would deem Haiti “not yet” ready to move forward on the business front, openly questioning the Martelly government’s boast that Haiti is “open for business.” Mr. Fisher also cast doubt on Haiti’s justice system. Until investors are assured of an independent judiciary where ordinary business disputes can be resolved equitably, they’ll keep their money in their pockets rather than risk it in Haiti’s unsure business climate.
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Mr. Fisher’s scolding should have been a wake-up call for Mr. Martelly’s government. Instead, the comments went unheeded. Nothing changed. Enter the Security Council, which fired a warning shot last month that stopped just short of an ultimatum. Comments from Mr. Fisher on the status of the U.N. mission in Haiti and critical remarks by members of the council amounted to a diplomatic version of reading Haiti the riot act. One after another, diplomats warned Haiti to quit stalling. One ambassador said that if elections are not held in 2013, “it will become ever more difficult for the international community to accept excuses and delays.” Translation: Those who control the purse strings on aid to Haiti are not willing to wait forever while irresponsible leaders engage in political infighting and neglect the business of government. Earlier, legislators finally sent the names of three parliamentarians to sit on a nine-member electoral council that would break the political deadlock. But then, more political bickering broke out, ensuring longer delays. Meanwhile, the lack of elections led to the replacement of 130 elected municipal governments by presidential appointees, while the mandate of one-third of Haiti’s senators expired. Haiti’s politicians would be foolish to ignore the Security Council’s warning. Aid providers should keep the pressure on Mr. Martelly and other political leaders until they show they are capable of making the compromises that are necessary to move the country forward.

BY LESLEY CLARK
MCCLATCHY WASHINGTON BUREAU
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WASHINGTON -- Wrapping up a visit to Washington,
Haiti President Michel Martelly said Friday he’s thankful for American support to his nation but wants the U.S. government to trust his country enough to provide direct aid to his administration. “Haiti wants to move toward job creation and distance itself from charity,” Martelly said in an interview with McClatchy after two days of talks with President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and members of Congress. “Today we’re working at restoring confidence.” The U.S. is the impoverished country’s biggest benefactor, but its $400 million in aid flows to non-government agencies, not to the Haitian government. That’s been a sticking point for the Martelly administration which, relies heavily on direct aid from Venezuela to carry out government tasks, from paving streets to building health clinics. Martelly said the U.S. stance stems from the perception that the money will be wasted. Haiti ranks 163rd out of 177 countries on the nonprofit Transparency International’s Corruption Index.
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“They didn’t do it because they wanted to hurt Haiti, they did it because there was corruption and lack of trust,” Martelly said of the U.S. “Now what we’re doing is building that trust, being more transparent, cooperating in that domain of fighting corruption.” Martelly said it would be impossible to wipe out corruption in any government, but “having corruption rule, it’s very important that we stop that, and we’re working on doing so. “ Martelly told lawmakers this week that his government is taking corruption seriously, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., told McClatchy. Martelly told House members that the country “will have new laws” and that “a lot of people are being jailed and that they’re taking these cases to court, people are being sentenced and they are paying the price,” she said. Pierre Esperance, executive director of Haiti’s National Network for the Defense of Human Rights, disagreed with Martelly’s assertions about jailing people for corruption. “The people who are in his entourage, in corruption, he hasn’t touched those people,” Esperance said.
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Congress has been reluctant to give money directly to the Haitian government. Current U.S. law says no funds can go to Haiti’s central government until the secretary of state certifies that the country, among other things, “is combating corruption and improving governance,” including passing an anti-corruption law to prosecute corrupt officials and putting in place financial transparency and accountability requirements for government institutions. While Martelly was in Washington, his prime minister, Laurent Lamothe, called on Haiti’s Parliament to vote for an anti- corruption law. Despite a recent spate of anti-government protests, Martelly said Haitians are seeing progress. Obama cited gains since the devastating 2010 earthquake, saying that while there was much work to be done, Haiti’s economy was growing and business was returning. “Even the Haitian people, they feel better about this government than they ever did about other governments because they can see what’s happening,” Martelly said. “It’s the first time a government is tackling real issues. Finally the people of Haiti feel better about their government.”
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He noted his government still has not rebuilt Haiti’s ornate presidential palace, which collapsed in the earthquake. “Any president would be happy to be living in a palace, but that’s not a priority for us,” he said. He waved off recent teacher strikes that have sent public school teachers and students into the streets demanding back pay and higher salaries. He said he’s revamping the country’s education system, which he called “a mess,” and said that many of the protesting teachers are political party hacks and not instructors. “We know that on the quality of teachers we have a big problem and we’re working on it,” he said. Martelly, who was lauded this week for agreeing to a compromise to hold long-delayed legislative and local elections, said he has matured politically since he was elected to the five-year term in 2011. The former singer, who wooed fans with his raunchy performances as “Sweet Micky,” can still be found singing around the capital, but his focus is on rebuilding Haiti, he said. “There’s no college teaching people how to be a president, so you become a president while you’re on the job,” he said in the interview in a presidential suite at a Washington hotel. “Certainly you become a better president over time.” Jacqueline Charles of The Miami Herald contributed to this report.

Miami Herald
BY JACQUELINE CHARLES AND LESLEY CLARK
JCHARLES@MIAMIHERALD.COM
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WASHINGTON -- Haiti President Michel Martelly, who has been pilloried at home, received rave reviews in his first major visit to Washington this week after signaling a willingness to compromise on long-delayed elections. Some hope he was not “blowing smoke.” Haitians back on the island say the real test of whether their often-combative president has indeed changed politically will come over the next few days. On Tuesday, opposition leaders are to begin phase two of negotiations with Martelly to hammer out the changes necessary to make the balloting possible. “The support of the U.S. is so fundamental for the president,” said Sauveur Pierre Etienne, leader of the opposition Organization of People in Struggle (OPL), one of 53 political parties that ended 10 days of negotiations Wednesday with the government over elections and governance. Both sides agreed on holding one election this year. “Did he go and say one thing, and when he returns, he will do something else?” Etienne said. “Washington will quickly expose him . . . because we’re in a process of dialogue where today we’ve found a compromise.”
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In December, Martelly took an important step in allowing elections by agreeing to publish a new electoral law, backing down from a plan to dismiss some senators early. The law’s publication averted a deeper political crisis, and quieted the street protests calling for his resignation. President Barack Obama said he was pleased with Martelly’s efforts on elections, which would “help resolve some of the political roadblocks that stalled some progress.” The scheduling of the long-overdue elections was a top agenda item during Martelly’s visit. U.S. lawmakers and others had criticized his appointment of 140 mayors without voting. Municipal elections have been delayed for almost three years and senatorial balloting by almost two. The long-awaited Oval Office meeting was the first between Obama and Martelly, who has faced increased domestic and international pressure to schedule the delayed elections.
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Obama noted progress since the country’s Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake. He cited improvements in Haiti’s economy, security and schools, but said it has been “a very slow and difficult process.” While the United States provides Haiti with about $400 million in aid annually, some have questioned the Obama administration’s commitment. South Florida immigration activists, 100 members of Congress and newspaper editorial boards have called on Obama to approve a Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program. The Department of Homeland Security has approved family-based visa petitions for 110,000 Haitians, who have yet to be reunited with family members in the United States. Also, the Global Haitian Diaspora Foundation called on the Obama administration to, among other things, deploy the remaining funds for earthquake recovery; support Haiti’s efforts to obtain loans from the World Bank and other institutions; and help organize an international donors’ conference to effectively deploy the funds world leaders pledged after the disaster. Obama did not address the criticisms, but said the United States remains committed to helping the country. “I think we are all recognizing that we have a lot more work to do,” Obama said. “We want to make sure that all the children of Haiti are able to lead lives of opportunity, prosperity and security.”
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Martelly thanked the U.S. “for always standing by the Haitian people,” and said he looked forward to discussing security, his country’s fight against narcotics trafficking and his “engagement in building a strong democratic state.” Still, Haiti faces challenges, criticism that Martelly did not back away from during a meeting Wednesday with U.S. lawmakers. Like the White House, members of Congress voiced concerns about human rights abuses, judiciary reform and corruption. Martelly “took careful notes on everything we discussed and addressed every question,” said U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, noting that Martelly told lawmakers his government is beefing up security and tackling corruption. Ros-Lehtinen is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and organized a breakfast with Martelly, who also met with Secretary of State John Kerry and members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
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Ros-Lehtinen said there is a “great deal” of support for Haiti in Congress, but there are concerns that the aid be spent wisely. “Maybe he is blowing smoke, but he is taking our questions and our concerns seriously,” she said. “He’s addressing them. For every point that we had, he said, ‘We’re aware of it, we have this program, this plan.’ ” But she said lawmakers want “proof with action,” and that she plans to lead a South Florida delegation to Haiti next month. Martelly has been criticized in Haiti for a reluctance to compromise, forcing the United States and others in the international community to spend much of past year trying to avert a deeper crisis in the country. Whether the election actually takes place will depend on Martelly’s willingness to compromise further. As he met with Obama, about 40 people protested outside the White House against the visit with coffins and signs. Pierre Esperance, a leading human-rights advocate in Haiti, said the slew of anti-government protests, demands for Martelly’s resignation and discontent among the international community had isolated Martelly and might have influenced his new posture. He’s no longer “beating his chest” and refusing to back down, Esperance said.
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“The president has become wiser. He is less arrogant now,” Esperance said. “But is there change? We have yet to see big change. We’ve seen little timid steps.” Yet, Martelly’s appearance in Washington suggests that “the U.S. is fully on board,” said Robert Fatton, a Haiti expert at the University of Virginia. Kerry told Martelly he had “great respect for the road” he’s put Haiti on. “Secretary Kerry’s comments and the official visit with President Obama signal a new honeymoon with President Martelly,” Fatton said. “The question is whether it will be long-lasting.” In the past two weeks, different parts of Haiti have been plagued by protests, some of them violent. Several opposition groups announced a protest for Friday — the day 28 years ago that Haiti began its difficult transition to democracy with the departure of dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier into exile. At the same time, Martelly wraps up his four-day Washington visit with a stop at the Organization of American States. Later this month, Martelly will visit France and then travel to Rome, where the first Haitian Cardinal, Chibly Langlois, chief mediator during the political negotiations, will receive his gold ring and red beret from Pope Francis. Etienne said Martelly has perhaps become more “conscious of what’s at stake” — his legacy and the country’s stability — three years after he was elected to a five-year term. “If the president is bluffing, thhen the Congress or the Obama administration won’t even need two weeks to call his bluff,” Etienne said.

2/21/2014
By Jacqueline Charles
jcharles@MiamiHerald.com
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A high-level delegation of former presidents from around the globe ended a three-day mission to Haiti on Friday, calling on the country’s bickering political factions to sign an accord to salvage the long overdue elections that Haitian President Michel Martelly promised would take place this year. Cassam Uteem, head of the Club de Madrid leadership forum and former president of Mauritus, said the ongoing disagreement between Martelly and the opposition is leaving social problems unattended, and puts a poverty-stricken Haiti at risk of a social explosion. Uteem’s sounding of the alarm comes as Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe this week welcomed a $6.3 million emergency development plan to build roads, reenforce health and education and provide micro-credit, food kits and 1,000 goats for the 45,000 people living on Île de la Tortue, hoping to address residents’ desperate plight.
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The island shouldering Haiti’s northwest coast is again becoming a popular jumping off point for unscrupulous smugglers promising to take Haitians to the United States, Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos. In recent months, dozens of migrants have died at sea trying to make the dangerous voyage. “The social situation of this country is becoming very dangerous with so many young people out of work, so many people roaming the streets and having no jobs, inequality continuing to prevail, the problem of poverty which is deepening,” Uteem told the Miami Herald. Uteem said Haitians must find a way to salvage a recent dialogue that involved 53 political parties and Martelly’s representatives, and mediated by the Catholic Church. On the negotiating table were: elections, governance and amending the 1987 Constitution to address, among other issues, the multiple elections Haiti faces.
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In the midst of the talks, however, several leading opposition parties walked away and last Saturday, Senate President Simon Desras failed to show up at a ceremony to sign the political accord. Opposition senators have taken issue with Martelly’s decision to only publish seven out of 10 names of members of the country’s powerful auditing board. “Haiti’s challenges have to be designed in Haiti and implemented by Haitian political leaders. But we are here to assist them, we are here to support them in meeting those challenges,” Uteem said, announcing an 18-month program to do just that and help Haiti strengthen its institutions. He is, however, hoping for divine intervention this weekend when Desras and Martelly meet in Rome where Pope Francis will give Haiti its first cardinal. Monsignor Chibly Langlois, the head of the Bishops conference and chief mediator of the talks, will receive a red beret and gold ring Saturday. “We are hopeful they will come to an agreement and the accord will be signed,” Uteem said.
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He acknowledged that the accord will not solve the ongoing crisis, but it can “create the proper environment for the major problems, the essential problems of the country to be addressed.” On Wednesday, Lamothe called on members of his government to devote additional resources to Île de la Tortue, telling them, “there are 10,000 children who need to go to school.” After a Miami Herald story, Lamothe visited the island and was disturbed to learn there was one police officer; two nurses; no gynecologist and only 13,000 out of 23,000 children are in school. “This is a place where government was almost non-existent,” said Klaus Eberwein, coordinator of the Special Plan for La Tortue. Lamothe, saying the people could not wait, asked for a rapid response as he announced additional food distributions and police officers for the island. He also directed his tourism minister to follow up with Carnival Cruise Lines, which sent a team to the island to explore it as a possible port.

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