UNITED NATIONS -- Haitian President Michel Martelly used his appearance before a gathering of world leaders Wednesday to uphold himself as a champion of democracy, saying Haiti under his leadership has worked to strengthen institutions and change the fate of its long-suffering people.
“The ideal space for peace in the world, for prosperity and for the fight against poverty remains the democratic framework,” Martelly said during a 12-minute speech in French.
“Haiti under my leadership understands this and works at it actively by strengthening local institutions, which are considered weak or not functioning,’’ he said. “Haiti…has understood that only a real democracy can produce stability.’’
Martelly’s remarks came amid calls by U.N. Special Envoy for Haiti and former U.S. President Bill Clinton for donors to live up to the $5.33 billion in pledges they promised after Haiti’s devastating January 2010 earthquake.
At home Martelly is facing rising tensions over his leadership, and double-digit price increases in wheat and rice have made life more difficult in the impoverished nation. Frustrations have boiled over into tire burning and protests in several Haitian cities.
Foreign diplomats and government advisers have said the protests are orchestrated. But critics say rising food prices, a protracted political battle over the creation of a permanent electoral council to oversee elections, the delay in the school year by a month despite a telecom tax on international calls by the government to fund free schooling; and allegations of government corruption are all fueling discord.
In response to the worsening socio-economic panorama, Martelly has pleaded for calm and patience telling his countrymen before he left for New York, he didn’t possess “a magic wand.”
Earlier Wednesday U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon met with Martelly. Ban, according to a statement from the meeting, commended Martelly “for his leadership in advancing reconstruction and stabilization efforts” but pointed out the need to finish creation of “a permanent electoral council so that the long overdue local and legislative elections are held in a credible and transparent manner.”
A senior State Department official discussing Haiti ahead of a donors meeting Thursday on future cooperation called the overdue elections “the biggest challenge right now confronting Haiti.”
“To have an election effectively, they have to be able to step through what it means to actually appoint an electoral council board,” said the unnamed U.S. official.
But aside from the electoral critique, there was no mention of the protests or the other worries facing Haiti.
The Thursday meeting, the official said, will be a chance for the Haitian government to share its vision with donors “now that Martelly is fully ensconced as president” and has a prime minister with whom he’s working closely.
“It’s an opportunity for them to say to the donors for the first time we are actually in the driver’s seat and we are looking to be able to coordinate [with] you in a fundamentally different way and be able to ensure that our leadership actually produces results,” the official said.
One of the ways in which Haiti is expected to do this is by announcing the creation of a Haiti-led commission focusing on the government’s priorities in the rebuilding effort. It will replace the defunct Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission.