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.
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.
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.
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.