Martin says violence preventing democracy from taking hold in Haiti
Prime Minister Paul Martin's one-day visit to Haiti has not produced any new foreign aid commitments, but it did prompt Martin to warn his hosts that democracy will never flourish in an atmosphere where "people are afraid for their lives."
Haitian bodyguards surrounded Martin through most of his trip to Port-au-Prince, testament to the dangerous atmosphere in the country.
At an orphanage in the capital Martin was serenaded by the children. But the prime minister was left to wonder what will happen if things don't change in the impoverished Caribbean nation.
Speaking of one child, Martin said, "this little girl is so cute, and I just kept saying to myself; 'If she doesn't get an education what is going to happen to her?'"
The violence in Haiti escalated dramatically last February when former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted in a bloody rebellion. Then Haiti was hit hard by Tropical Storm Jeanne in September, killing more than 2,000.
Gangs and political factions jockeying for power continue to make the country a dangerous place. "There are weapons in the community in Haiti, and it makes it hard to work, because it's not safe. Especially when we go to seize weapons," said Canadian police officer Roberto del Pappa.
Martin is promoting a three-pronged approach to help Haiti resolve its troubles. First and foremost is security and disarmament, according to Martin, combined with democratic elections and institution building, like a comprehensive justice system.
"You're not going to have a democracy when people are afraid for their lives," said Martin.
Next to the United States, Canada is the second-largest contributor to Haiti, pledging more than $200 million for aid and reconstruction over the next two years.
Martin met with interim President Boniface Alexandre and interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue before having lunch with about 100 government officials, business leaders and a representative of Aristide's Lavalas Family party.
Sunday's luncheon for Martin marked the very first time the interim government and supporters of Aristide have been in the same room. Gerard Gilles, a former Haitian Senator and a supporter of Aristide, says "Paul Martin ... can support the spirit of compromise."
But Robert Tippenhauer, with Chamber of Commerce Haiti-Canada, said people "cannot expect Haiti to be a democratic country quickly. It will take a long time."
Martin's trip comes less than two weeks before the start of La Francophonie summit, where Haiti's plight will receive the attention of the French-speaking world.