Above: Haiti President Michel Martelly (CJ Photo)
By Alexander Britell
PORT-AU-PRINCE — Haiti President Michel Martelly addressed the CARICOM Heads of Government summit Monday, calling for unified action on issues including climate change and free movement within the region.
Martelly, who assumed the CARICOM Chairmanship at the beginning of 2013, mentioned the recent natural disasters, including Hurricane Sandy, that had devastated Haiti’s agriculture sector.
“In this Caribbean that we all live in, we endure this reality, given the threats to our islands due to climate change — floods and droughts that are more frequent and powerful storms linked to global warming,” he said. “It has made it very difficult on our infrastructure, food safety, health care and anti-poverty policies.”
Martelly said the Caribbean should never stop making the case at international fora in favour of “mitigation and adaptation policies” to fight climate change and solve other environmental problems.
One of those has been deforestation, which he said had left Haiti with just 2 percent of its tree cover.
While Haiti has been making efforts to repopulate its forests, he said forest conservation and management “could no longer wait.”
That has led Haiti’s President to declare 2013 in Haiti the “Year of the Environment.”
Martelly also called attention to what many expected to be a major talking point at the conference — free movement of individuals in the Caribbean, an often testy subject between Haiti and its regional neighbours.
Martelly said the purpose of the Community was to “put the men and women of the Caribbean together around common values and common objectives,” and that CARICOM’s integration policy “will not be harmonious unless our citizens learn to know one another.”
Underlying that issue is the continued problem of regional airlift.
“Our countries live in a very paradoxical situation — so close, but still very far away,” he said. “Among many other factors, the lack of a dedicated transportation system is a big problem, in a region where, for many of our citizens, travel within the community is seen as an odyssey.”
But while issues like security and trade are dominating the discussion this week (which includes a visit by US Attorney General Eric Holder), this week’s conference is ultimately about Haiti and its relationship to CARICOM — a political structure in which Haiti is both the newest and most populous member.
“Haiti must be viewed and treated as an opportunity,” Martelly said. “Despite its difficulties, Haiti represents a wonderful opportunity for the region, an opportunity for every single country of CARICOM.”
“A Haitian economy that functions is much better for the interest of CARICOM,” he said, which would be able to widen its market and become more competitive.
He pointed to the success of a Haiti Broilers, a subsidiary of Jamaica Broilers, which has reportedly invested $10 million and created at least 80 direct jobs in Haiti.
“Haiti [being] in CARICOM is a positive, and we must take all of the necessary steps so Haiti can play a very large and strong role in the organization and the community,” he said.