Haiti is not lacking in challenges. Yet, despite our many challenges, Haiti’s renewal and the progress our country is making after political crises and devastating natural disasters is a hopeful story. The Martelly Administration is committed to building that story and improving the lives of the people of Haiti. We are committed to holding free and fair elections and to strengthening the rule of law. We already have instituted all Supreme Court Judges and the Superior Council of the Judiciary – a first for any Administration under our 1987 Constitution – and will hold parliamentary and local elections later this year. We committed to moving families still living in difficult conditions in camps across the capital into safer homes. Roughly one million people, ten percent of Haiti’s population, have moved out of camps since the peak right after the earthquake. We committed to creating thousands of new and better jobs for the people of Haiti so charity, assistance and remittances are no longer the primary economic drivers for so many in Haiti. And, we committed to ensuring more children attended school – paying the tuition of 850,000 primary school students – and engaging in one of the most ambitious enrollment efforts in Haiti’s modern history resulting in 142,000 new students attending school this past year. We also are committed to making Haiti a place that’s attractive to foreign and local investors and are on a path to that future, including the establishment of an industrial park in the North of Haiti that will bring more than 20,000 jobs to Haiti. With an unemployment rate of 52 percent, this park represents a unique opportunity to create much needed jobs that Haiti needs to break the cycle of extreme poverty.
Despite our progress, we recognize that the story of failure, corruption, poverty and struggle that for decades have dominated the narratives about Haiti continues to do so today. In other countries, including in the U.S., a half-a billion dollar regional investment program that for the first time gives Haiti’s North, one of our poorest regions, opportunities for its people and taps into the competitive advantages Haiti holds in manufacturing, agriculture and tourism, would be celebrated for its ambition, innovation and execution. The Haitian Government is leading the investments that bring a new port, an upgraded international airport, one of the largest modern industrial parks in the region, productivity improvements for farmers, environmental conservation, new health clinics, vocational training centers, schools and a new university, electricity for thousands of households and businesses and 5,000 hurricane and earthquake resistant homes to the North to jump-start economic development. And, our government is doing this in collaboration with key partners such as the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the U.S. Government, which have coordinated their efforts with each other, Haiti’s Government and its people in unprecedented ways.
Haiti is not other countries, however. Our flagship investment program in the North has been criticized and our Government has been cast in some narratives as in a spectator role to fit outdated notions that are deeply ingrained in the media and public conscience. Ambitious projects, whether they are in New York, London, Berlin or Sao Paulo, are rarely free of challenges, tensions and complex trade-offs. In Haiti, we hired the American Institute of Architects as planners to work through social and environmental issues, resolve obstacles, offer solutions and engage in constructive ways to improve project outcomes for the community. And our government will continue to play its essential leadership role in the development of the North.
Haiti needs ambition. We need to raise expectations. We need a new way of doing business with the private sector, just as we need new models of engaging with our international partners who provide foreign assistance. Without new paths, Haiti will be relegated to relying on small-scale, low-impact, low-visibility efforts of the past – which has meant billions of dollars invested by the international community that has yielded limited results.
I just returned from the North, where I met with community leaders, businesses, teachers, municipal officials and farmers. There was a level of excitement and optimism that for too long has been absent in Haiti. New construction is visible in places along the main highway spanning from Cap Haitian to Ouanaminthe at the border to the Dominican Republic. Trucks moving earth and yellow school busses transporting construction workers from their home towns to work are now a familiar sight. Haitians are working to rebuild their lives and their economy. We are eager to break with a cycle of disaster, struggle and dependency. The developments underway throughout the North will provide Haitians with the fundamentals to compete internationally and unleash the entrepreneurship, creativity and resilience that defines us as a nation.
We invite the international community to join us in building a new vision for our country – and to participate in shaping this new narrative as it unfolds in Haiti today.