Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Haiti’s prime minister: Real progress being made

By Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald

Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, visibly moved by the images of the tragedy of Haiti’s catastrophic Jan. 12 earthquake, insisted Tuesday that progress is being made in his devastated homeland despite the trickle of international aid.

He told the Americas Conference that millions are being spent on new highways, students are back in school, a new multimillion dollar teaching hospital is under construction, and thousands of new apartments are coming on line.

“We’ve only had 240 days,” said Bellerive. “And what we have accomplished in those brief 240 days is, under the circumstances, remarkable when weighed against the challenges.”

Bellerive was the closing day speaker at the 14th annual conference, sponsored by The Miami Herald and The World Bank. Before he spoke, Bellerive and the audience were shown a trailer of a forthcoming Haiti documentary called Nou Bouke (We’re Tired) by The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald.

“Please keep in mind the unprecedented scope of Haiti’s devastation following the earthquake. . . our nation was ravaged,” he said, teary eyed. “Roads, hospitals, schools, municipal buildings — most were demolished.”

Still, with at least 1.5 million Haitians living in tents and only 13,000 temporary shelters built since the disaster, Haiti needs the international community to make good on its promises, Bellerive said.

Earlier this year, foreign donors promised almost $11 billion over the next decade for Haiti’s recovery and reconstruction. So far, only 18 percent of $5.3 billion pledged for the next two years has been disbursed, according the United Nations Special Envoy website, which is tracking the aid.

“This is a serious impediment to Haiti’s progress, and it is blocking any serious planning,” Bellerive said. “We implore the international community to make good on their promises, to be clear on how those pledges will be disbursed and for which specific projects, so we can advance toward our vision and our goals within a reasonable timetable.”

Some audience members, including Haitian Americans, shared Bellerive’s frustrations that eight months after the quake left an estimated 300,000 dead and an equal number of Haitians injured, nations were still slow to provide promised aid.

“They shouldn’t have this wait-and-see attitude,” said Martine Theodore, community economic development director for Haitian Women of Miami. “There are lives being lost.”

Theodore and others were equally concerned about conditions in Haiti. In recent days, small groups of displaced quake victims have held protests demanding housing. And human rights groups have called for more efforts to prevent rapes in camps. Bellerive said he shared the concerns, but the hard reality is, what’s happening in the camps today is not because of the quake.

“We would like to do more, we would like to see more being done,” he said. “Some of the things that the international community, the press, the human rights groups are stigmatizing today were the reality yesterday, but were not interesting to anybody before the situation.”

Still, he welcomed the advice of anyone who can help him and President René Préval “find a solution,” to bring Haiti back from the brink.

Gregory Mevs, a Haitian businessman, said Haiti, a nation of 10 million, will need more than the $11 billion promised to dig itself out of its misery.

“When you take the $11 billion and analyze all of the international aid, it’s less than $1,000 per Haitian. The country needs much more than that to rebuild,” he said.

Mevs’ family-run company just announced the construction of a new $33 million hotel on 5.3 acres near the airport.

Last month, the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, meeting in Port-au-Prince, approved 29 projects at $1.7 billion. Some of the projects are fully funded. Others are partially funded, leaving a $700 million gap.

Next week, former President Bill Clinton, who co-chairs the recovery commission with Bellerive, will again call on the international community to pay up when he hosts a special session on Haiti’s recovery at the 2010 meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York. The United Nations, which will meet earlier in the week, will also discuss Haiti.

But even as aid remains a challenge, progress is steadily being made to build back the country “not as it was, but substantially better than it was,” Bellerive said.

Among them:

• $276 million in new highway, adding 153 miles of new roads to open up the country’s interior.

• $580 million on 224 miles of new roads, and 23 bridges to improve connections between north, central, west and the Artibonite valley.

• $150 million investments in 5,000 new apartments, to relocate 20,000 Haitians, are under way in Fort National and Bowen Field in the capital.

• $55 million in cruise tourism projects on the north coast by Miami-based Royal Caribbean International.

• $1.6 billion in new agriculture projects including a plan to create 50,000 new jobs.

“Opportunities for mid- and long-term investments in Haiti are enormous. We need more investors with the vision to look beyond today, to see the substantial opportunities within this crisis; investors who believe in Haiti as we do,” Bellerive said.

And if any of those potential investors or donors are waiting to see what will happen following the Nov. 28 presidential and legislative elections to decide because of uncertainty, Bellerive said Hait’s rebuilding cannot wait.

“Everything is ready for elections to take place as planned in November without interruption and without delay,” he said. “We are working diligently to improve the way we are currently organized to respond to those who want to contribute or who have questions about the reconstruction process.”

Staff writer Trenton Daniel contributed to this report.

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