WASHINGTON -- Haiti President Michel Martelly is likely to feel pressure on scheduling elections in Haiti as he meets Wednesday with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, ahead of a Thursday meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House.
At least a dozen members of the House Foreign Affairs committee have agreed to attend an 8:30 a.m. breakfast with Martelly organized by Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Martelly will also meet with Secretary of State John Kerry then have lunch with members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
The meetings will be a trial run for his Thursday visit to the White House, where Obama is likely to commend Martelly for accepting a Senate bill on elections, but urge him to continue to work on breaking the political gridlock that his dogged his presidency and helped delay long-overdue senatorial and municipal elections. The balloting for one-third of Haiti’s 30-member Senate has been delayed since May 2012, while municipal elections have been delayed since April 2011.
A national dialogue in Port-au-Prince, led by the Catholic Church, entered its second week Monday with more than 50 political parties and the government apparently agreeing to stage one election this year, but with continued political wrangling over which electoral council will stage the balloting.
Ros-Lehtinen said she plans to convey to Martelly, “the importance of holding elections this year and the need to root out corruption and improve transparency to foster a better business climate.”
At the White House, Obama is “looking forward” to welcoming Martelly, said Jonathan Lalley, an assistant press secretary for national security.
He called the meeting between the two presidents — their first — an “opportunity to discuss President Martelly’s vision for promoting economic growth and further strengthening Haiti’s democracy.”
The U.S., Lalley said, wants elections “that are free, fair and transparent, that allow Haitians to express their views as part of the political process, and that provide the political stability that is critical for Haiti’s continued progress.”
The White House has noted progress in the country since the devastating Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake, but Lalley said the U.S. relationship with Haiti is “broader and deeper than short-term reconstruction.”
“Together with Haiti we are working to create the conditions for sustainable long-term development, stability, growth and prosperity,” he said.
Thomas Adams, U.S. Special Coordinator for Haiti, said there has been visible progress in Haiti in areas such as housing and good economic growth.
“Health indicators are up, agricultural productivity has increased, security is getting better,” said Adams, noting that the police’s professional handling of anti-government demonstrations last year in the capital. “The HNP is getting more competent.”
But even while U.S. officials tout the progress, there are frustrations, from the business climate to ongoing corruption, to 70 percent of prisoners in pre-trial detention. For the past two weeks, the country has been rocked by protests by public schools teachers and students over poor pay.
Meanwhile, among those attending the CBC meeting will be Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami. Martelly sided against Wilson in her reelection campaign in 2012, creating friction between the president and the congresswoman whose district includes a significant number of Haitian-Americans. She said “the president and I have many common interests and many issues to discuss. I plan on having an extemporaneous conversation about the issues that matter right now for Haiti’s recovery, development, and success.”
Last month, Congressman John Conyers, D-Michigan, and 65 other members of Congress wrote to U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power, the Permanent Representative to the United Nations, about “the UN’s inadequate response to the cholera epidemic in Haiti”
Conyers will raise the matter again in his meeting with Martelly, as well as discuss the state of Haiti post-quake.