Haiti rebuilding conference takes place in Montreal
Haiti's prime minister pleaded for help rebuilding his earthquake-devastated country Monday as he met an international summit of foreign ministers in Montreal.
Canada was quick to lend a hand to Haiti as host of what is officially known as the Ministerial Preparatory Conference of the Group of Friends of Haiti.
Prime minister Stephen Harper says this is a long-term commitment.
"It is not an exaggeration to say that ten years of hard work awaits the world in Haiti," said Harper.
Monday morning Foreign Affairs minister Lawrence Cannon congratulated all countries taking part as he started the affair, including the U.S., Dominican Republic, and many EU nations, and said that Haiti must take the lead in the country's reconstruction.
"A key consideration that is clear to me, and which was widely shared by the foreign ministers present today, when we spoke a week ago, was the importance that we accord to Haiti's sovereignty and independent voice as we marshal our efforts," said Cannon.
"Your role is key, your voice is clear, we stand ready to help."
Haitian prime minister Jean-Max Bellerive says basic necessities include food, medical supplies, and 200,000 tents.
"We have to reconstruct the country, it will take time," said Bellerive.
He also hopes help from foreigners will continue long after journalists return home, saying he wants to "obtain a long-term commitment of our partners, not just to rescue, not just the first part that is covered by the media, in order to have the time to rebuild and have a real structuring plan."
Members of non-governmental organizations at the summit agreed.
Said Robert Fox of Oxfam Canada, "if we go back to building a country that existed two weeks ago, this is a failure. This is about building a brand new Haiti."
One issue that should be front and center is debt forgiveness.
Haiti's international debt currently stands at $1 billion, and groups such as Oxfam feel the debt should be wiped clean, saying Haiti cannot rebuild while owing so much money.
Haiti is inadvertently a beneficiary of a new policy by the IMF, which decided earlier this month that any loans made to countries in distress would be interest-free.
The International Monetary Fund has already agreed to loan Haiti $100 million for basic restructuring.
Split in support
Meanwhile the Haitian diaspora, numbering more than 100,000 in Montreal alone, paid close attention to the conference, with protesters demonstrating outside amid fears it would result in a made-in Ottawa/Washington solution.
"It's not an issue of what they're talking about, but who's talking about it," said Anthony Morgan. "I can be talking about running the affairs of a home but it's your home that's immediately problematic."
Others are afraid that Haiti's history of corruption would interfere with getting support to those who need it.
But many Haitian-Montrealers are proud their adopted city is hosting the first major conference on rebuilding their homeland.
"I think most Haitians are satisfied with what's going on right now," said Wladimir Jeanty, from the Maison d'Haiti community group. "With all those people that are watching Haiti now, I feel that we can have confidence that less will be spoiled than in the past."
Another conference on Haiti's needs will take place later this year, with a date and location to be determined.