Above: Haiti President Michel Martelly in North Miami Beach (CJ Photo)
By Alexander Britell
MIAMI — Haiti President Michel Martelly traveled to South Florida Monday for a meeting with the country’s Diaspora community, offering a defence of the first 18 months of his administration and vowing to continue working to change the country’s image abroad.
Highlighting his government’s agenda, which has focused primarily on providing free primary education, rebuilding infrastructure and expanding social programmes, Martelly said the country was beginning to move forward, albeit at a slow pace he said he expected.
He also highlighted work that the government had been pursuing to make Haiti more business-friendly and promote tourism development.
But the major priority, he said, was to change the way Haiti was perceived in the world, something that has been a regular agenda item for the Martelly-Lamothe administration thus far.
“I think it’s time for Haiti to be represented in the international world again,” he said. “We had a Haiti [previously] who was shy, a Haiti who was afraid of being on the international scene. Today, Haiti is everywhere — I’m making this happen.”
Responding to questions that the President was glossing over Haiti’s ongoing troubles, including recent criticism by the UN’s Michel Forst, Martelly said that Haiti’s changes would not be visible in only 18 months.
“When you put more than a million kids in school, you take a plane today and go to Haiti, you cannot see the results,” he said during a press briefing ahead of his “State of the Country” speech Monday night. “You will see the results in 30 years, you will see a different type of Haitian — a Haitian that believes in their country, Haitians that are reformed, that are well-educated, that are entrepreneurs, that are creators.”
He said that, yes, Haiti had problems, but the purpose of his visit was to provide an update on the “good things” that were happening in the country.
“I’m not here to say that everything is good,” he said. “Did you really expect for Haiti to change in 18 months? I never did. But the mentality is changing, as far as the government is concerned now, changing the people’s mentality, changing the way Haiti is perceived to the world.”
Martelly, who was joined by a large ministerial contingent including PM Laurent Lamothe and Tourism Minister Stephanie Villedrouin, also responded to critics who had alleged his recent travels, from the Ibero-American Summit in Cadiz to a visit to Japan, had been too many.
“Why do you think I’m present everywhere at every international forum?” he said. “Not because I want to travel — I did that when I was a musician. These [fora] are spaces for debate, where people exchange, these are not spaces for people to have a drink.”
On the United Nations, Martelly addressed questions over the world body’s continued presence in the country and its alleged role in spreading cholera to Haiti through peacekeepers from Nepal.
“In Haiti, there are people who protest against the UN being there, but as the leader of the country, I see the UN as something positive today,” he said. “Why? Because they’re not there by mistake, they are there in Haiti because Haitians ask for it, because Haitians sign for it, and we were living in a situation which required the presence of a force who control the country and maintain peace and order.”
But now, almost nine years later, is it still necessary to have the troops?
“I would say yes,” he said. “Why? Because we don’t have a force that can play the role that the UN is playing right now in Haiti. So in order to talk about the withdrawal of the United Nations, we have to plan a withdrawal that takes into account our own ability to protect our country, maintain peace and order, and I’m working on putting together a force who can do that.”
There have been increasing pressures, including a lawsuit, concerning the UN’s role in Haiti’s cholera; Martelly said he wanted the UN “certainly” to take more responsibility.
“Myself, I never got involved in the dynamic of accusing the UN of being the ones [who brought cholera].” he said. “That’ s not my logic — my logic is cholera was brought to Haiti, we suspect it was them, they are here.”
Haiti will also be assuming the Chairmanship of CARICOM in January, and Martelly suggested that Haiti would make its six-month term an active one after years of apparent disconnect from the regional body.
“We’ve been members of CARICOM for years now, but we haven’t been able to enjoy the advantages of CARICOM,” he said. “We don’t blame them for everything — some of the responsibilities are ours. We’re going to work on making sure we can benefit, and also going to refocus [CARICOM] on the Haiti matter.”
He said that Haiti’s disconnect from CARICOM in previous years had been exacerbated by not having a representative in CARICOM — that role, he said, had been filled by former Jamaica Prime Minister PJ Patterson.
“We didn’t have an actual representative — we were represented by the former Prime Minister of another country within CARICOM,” he said. “It’s me who stopped it. That was one step forward — Haiti is represented by Haiti.”
Haiti’s current Ambassador to CARICOM is John Patrick Alexis.