Haitian President Michel Martelly’s swing through Caribbean trade bloc mainland countries Guyana and Suriname in the past week appears to signal that the bloc’s most populous and poorest country is beginning to assert itself in a region that once scoffed at its poverty and delayed its entry into the integration movement for years.
Martelly appeared to be a political hit in both countries during a five-day visit that opened his eyes to the presence of small but growing Haitian communities in both countries. He also took the opportunity to invite the nation’s business communities to invest in the island of nearly 10 million people because, as he put it, the island is wide open for investment.
Haiti was the last nation to join the 15-member bloc at a summit in Guyana back in 2002, but even before then, a frustrated Jamaican Prime Minister P. J. Patterson had pushed other leaders into agreeing to allow Haiti to join as a provisional member back in 1997.
Patterson had said that he saw no reason why the region would not reach out and embrace its perennially struggling neighbor that had so badly needed the help of its more fortunate regional family members. Now Haiti is no longer a fledgling member, but one that is clearly preparing to become a member of the single trading market and participate fully in all the functions of the community.
In Suriname, Martelly and President Desi Bouterse agreed to set up consulates in both capitals and strengthen bilateral relations in general as they both expressed satisfaction with the state of bilateral contacts and diplomatic relations.
“Before the end of April, we will open a consulate in Paramaribo,” said Martelly. “Suriname will also establish a diplomatic post in Port-au-Prince.”
As if to drive home the point about the absence of consular services in Suriname, Dejean Fleurentin, chairman of the Haiti-Suriname Cultural Association, told Martelly, “Sometimes it takes as long as four months before we receive our documents,” but all this is likely to end with the commitment from both heads of state for a presence in each other’s capital.
In both Guyana and Suriname, the Haitian delegation visited large farming communities and talked about the possibility and the general regional initiative to establish mega farms to reduce the region’s collective annual food import bill, which is hovering around $5 billion.
But it was while he was at the bloc’s Guyana headquarters that Martelly stepped out on the world stage, heaping criticism on the United Nations for what he said was a waste of millions maintaining a peacekeeping and security mission while ignoring development needs of the island.
“Security yes, but the real insecurity will prevail when you have people who are looking for jobs, people who are looking for food, people who are looking to be free, because poverty is your problem. Contrary to what is being said, Haiti is not insecure. We need to think more about sustainable development than security,” he noted, criticizing the $800 million he says is spent by the U.N. on security rather than development projects.