Haiti needs national accord, says international group

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.”

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.

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.”

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.