President Elect speaks at National Press Club

Haitian President Elect, Michel Martelly, gave a Press Conference in Washington, DC this morning. Martelly emphasized three major priorities of his incoming administration: free education, moving people out of tents, and agricultural development.

ActionAid had a chance to ask the President Elect a question on behalf of our grassroots partners on the ground in Haiti. Here is the dialogue from that conversation.

ActionAid: “Hello, President Elect. I am Elise Young with ActionAid…We work very closely with grassroots groups, women’s groups on the ground in Haiti. Right now, those groups have not been as big a part of the reconstruction process. It’s been hard for them to access the IHRC and UN cluster meetings. As President, how could you help ensure a stronger voice for civil society, grassroots and their participation in the reconstruction, especially in getting into longer-term housing?”

Martelly: “I must say that we will prioritize programs, special programs, especially for the woman. As in housing, we have identified the woman as the pillar in the family. In Haiti, at 4 in the morning, you will see people in the street, but they are women carrying their load on their head, walking miles and miles to the market. They are the ones who spend days at the market. They are the ones who when they get back to home around 5 o’clock, take care of the kids and their husbands. So, we need to give government programs to (accompagner) empower them in the society…particularly the woman.”

Watch a clip from the press conference at

ActionAid Haiti and our Haitian partners have these thoughts to share on the incoming administration.

Jean Claude Fignole, ActionAid Haiti Country Director, said:

“Haiti’s next government has a choice to drag their heels like those before them or take the bull by the horns and do whatever is necessary to get Haiti’s reconstruction back on track.   Their first priority must be the million plus people still living under canvas or in shacks with little hope of moving on a year after the quake.

“Aid agencies have the money and the means to help re-build Haiti’s homes.  But until the government frees up the land needed, we are forced to spend donations on replacing tents and other piecemeal measures designed to help people get by in overcrowded camps. The new government can end this impasse.

 “We are urging the government to immediately invest in a nationwide system of land reform by redistributing multiple plots of land to poor communities and provide much needed social housing to those in desperate need of a home”.

 Jean Robert Pierre, Community Organizations of the Port-au-Prince Metropolitan Zone (COZPAM) General Coordinator, said:

“We cannot think about rebuilding Haiti without solving the land and housing problem. The next government of Haiti must take the necessary measures to provide decent housing for victims of the earthquake of January 12, 2010, including those still living in tents and other makeshift shelters in camps. It must also provide plots to peasants, living mainly from agriculture, to enhance local agricultural production and ensure food sovereignty of the country. ”

Saintilme Marie Charles Juste Luce, Mariani camp resident, said:

 “It’s really urgent that we leave the tents. They are seriously degraded and continue to expose us to all sorts of dangers, especially us women and our daughters. The situation becomes even worse with the rainy season. The rains of recent days, for example, forced us to spend whole nights standing. You can imagine the plight of pregnant women, nursing mothers, the elderly and the disabled.”


President Elect meets with Secretary Clinton

Earlier in the week, the President Elect met with Secretary Clinton to discuss the two countries’ future relationship. Clinton emphasized her strong support for Martelly and the people of Haiti.

“I am very encouraged by the campaign that Mr. Martelly ran and the emphasis on the people and their needs…We are behind him. We have a great deal of enthusiasm. This is not only a goal of our foreign policy, but it is a personal goal of mine, my husband and many of us here in Washington…The people of the United States will be with you all the way.” – Secretary Clinton.

In response, Martelly highlighted Haiti’s biggest needs and request for help from the US government.

“Despite the generous donations of the American citizens, which have reached $1.2 billion received by 53 NGO’s, and in spite of the donation by the government of the US of $1.5 billion, we still have 1.7 million who still live under tents despite 15 months of waiting… These were the complaints that were the complaints expressed by a desperate population throughout my election campaign. This is why recovering and restarting the economy is a fundamental necessity for my government. This is why I plan on working relentlessly on the framework of international aid, to give new light to the business sector, and to develop the capabilities of government institutions and of civil society.”

View the full press conference here:

Although it is encouraging to know that the US is ready to renew its commitment to Haiti and that President Elect Martelly prioritizes the needs of women, civil society and vulnerable people in IDP camps, concern still exists over the mechanism for actualizing development. Both Martelly and Clinton put a heavy emphasis on business development, export growth and the need to take on new loans in order to accomplish these goals. Debt burden, however, greatly limits the Haitian government’s ability to provide key safety nets such as social housing, free education and support for local agricultural production. Furthermore, a heavy emphasis on export markets has the potential to devalue and marginalize the crucial work and income generation of peasant farmers, especially women.

Of course, foreign direct investment and business generation have a role to play in Haitian development. Haitian peasants’ movements, women’s groups and grassroots networks must be front and center in the development process in sustainable change is to become a reality. Therefore, we must continue to repeat this same question in the months to come: How is this administration going to ensure a stronger voice for grassroots and civil society movements in the reconstruction process?

“Kat Je” Four eyes will help

Later Thursday afternoon, our group had the good fortune to be invited by Rep. Frederica Wilson to attend a personal one-hour meeting. Rep. Wilson is a freshman congresswoman who serves on the House Foreign Affairs committee and represents a Miami district with the second largest population of Haitians and Haitian-Americans.

Jean Robert Pierre explained to the Congresswoman the extreme importance of Haitian grassroots groups like COZPAM or KONAFAP as well as Diaspora groups being involved in the reconstruction process and in such mechanisms as the National Housing Plan. “We need to help ensure that the most vulnerable people in Haiti, the people living under tents, are the ones actually receiving this new housing. Therefore, the grassroots needs to be in the middle of it.” Lousiane added, “It costs the US government $3,000 to $4,000 to build a temporary tent, one that can’t stand up to flooding and that can be slashed by a razor blade and have armed men enter to rape young girls. Doesn’t it make more sense to use this money to actually build safe, long-term houses?”

The Congresswoman was amazed and disturbed by what she heard. When the team explained to her that the House Foreign Affairs Committee could help, by speaking up to the IHRC, USAID and State Department and demanding that grassroots be more deeply consulted and involved in the National Housing Plan, National Protection Plan of Women, and National Agricultural Investment Plan, she paid attention.

Rep. Wilson asked her Chief of Staff to make an appointment at USAID so that she could directly address these issues and to notify the head of the IHRC that she wanted a meeting. Next, she asked us what type of grassroots movements should be at the decision making table. One of the many examples that the team gave was the peasant social movement, incorporating multiple grassroots coalitions, the “Kat Je,” meaning “Four Eyes.” The Congresswoman looked confused and asked, “What does that mean, the Four Eyes…I just don’t get that.” Marie Andree stepped to explain the concept of Four Eyes.. “This an important one in Haiti. It means that if you and I are looking one another directly in the eyes and really respecting one another, then we cannot lie to one another…we have to tell the truth.” The Congresswoman started laughing and clapping her hands, delighted at the thought. “Now that, I like,” she said. “That is wise, and we are going to have to definitely do something together about that.”

Lousiane and Marie Charles testifying on a Gender-Based Violence

Thursday brought a new day of engagement in Congress, with both Lousiane and Marie Charles testifying on a Gender-Based Violence briefing in the House of Representatives.

Marie helped outline the multiple factors that have increased violence and rape against women and girls in the camps. Louisiane helped underline the importance of agriculture in creating solutions for women. She made a strong connection between the long-term neglect of the agricultural sector, damage to local markets due to unfair US trade policies, exodus of peasant farmers from the country into Port-au-Prince and  increase of unemployment, poverty and resulting gender-based violence.

Consulting grassroots and Diaspora groups important

Our Haiti delegation finished up their DC Advocacy week with a tour de force. The second half of Wednesday’s Advocacy Day brought them face to face with strong allies like Rep. Eliot Engel, Chair of the Western Hemisphere subcommittee in the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The Congressman serves in a NY district that includes the Bronx, with a strong Haitian and Haitian-American population. As a result, he was very receptive to our own Marie Charles Juste-Luce’s recommendations, when she explained the need to improve the consultation process with both grassroots and Diaspora groups and the need to increase US commitment to the protection of women in IDP camps.

 In the Congressman’s own words, “It is good to work closely with the Haitian community and groups helping Haiti,” says Congressman Eliot Engel, Chair of the Western Hemisphere subcommittee in the House Foreign Affairs Committee.  “The bottom line is that we are dealing with human beings here, living in these conditions. We cannot forget this.” 

Also during the second half of Advocacy Day, members of our team and multiple other Haiti grassroots and Diaspora groups had a chance to meet for over 90 minutes with the top staffers for Senators Cardin, Corker, Boxer and Gillibrand, each one having a good track record in speaking up for Haiti. All of these Senators serve on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Staffers explained a common theme of the day: that the US Congress has been waiting for the Haiti election results before they move forward with the next steps of aid disbursement. Louisiane Nazaire responded by encouraging the Senators to not wait to act in solidarity with Haiti people at the grassroots. “We did not just come here to only ask for money. We came here to ask for a change of mindset, a change of process. Haitian peasant movements and women’s movements need to be included in both US and Haiti planning…especially in the National Agriculture Plan…whether more money is released right away or not.”

At the same moment, in another part of the city, Sonia Pierre, Jean Robert Pierre, Marie Andree St. Aubin and ActionAid USA’s Executive Director, Peter O’Driscoll, were speaking up for Haitian grassroots voices while meeting with Russell Porter at USAID. A challenging meeting with sometimes very different viewpoints, the group realized the extreme need to keep pushing USAID to reform not only their contract procurement process, but their entire system of Haitian grassroots and community consultation. Sonia Pierre explained, “Yes, it was a difficult meeting at times, but it was very important that we went. I’m glad that I’m here and could be a part of this.”