Martin Calls for Reconciliation among Haitians, but Some are Hesitant

On Sunday, Prime Minister Paul Martin insisted that a “national reconciliation” was necessary for the return of democracy in Haiti, but a representative of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide?s party was quick to contradict him.

“The international community made a considerable effort to help Haiti, but it will not be able to fulfill its commitments without national reconciliation among all of you Haitians. They go hand in hand,” declared Mr. Martin while he was having dinner with the leaders of sociopolitical groups across the spectrum gathered at the national palace in Port-au-Prince.

It was the first time since Aristide?s departure for exile in February that members of the major political groups had gathered in the same room. Paul Martin seemed quite proud of it, particularly because this was the very first visit of a Canadian head of government to Haiti.

“To succeed, it is essential that the political parties and the civil society put aside their grudges and look to the future in order to get Haiti out of the spiral of violence and out of poverty,” added the Prime Minister.

However, even before Mr. Martin?s call, Gerard Gilles, a former senator from Lavalas, the party of Aristide, said that the idea of a true reconciliation between longtime political adversaries was not realistic.

“I don?t say ?reconciliation,?” he said while arriving at the palace. “Because when a very close and very dear friend stabs you in the back, you can no longer be his friend. You don?t want to be his friend because he betrayed your trust. But you can find a historical compromise with that friend to be able to live?”

The members of the “Lavalas Family” accuse the provisional government of Gerard Latortue of having jailed “thousands” of their supporters during the past few months. On Friday, Mr. Latortue even mentioned that an international arrest warrant would be issued against Aristide, suspected of fraud and political crimes. The former president is currently in exile in South Africa.

Paul Martin said that he would not have any problem with an eventual arrest warrant, as long as its purpose would be simply to “establish the facts.” Then, addressing Mr. Gilles?s concern, Paul Martin replied that even in Canada, where there is political stability, politicians from different parties are not necessarily friends.

The point is well taken.

At the end, all the participants in the dinner welcomed the Haitian prime minister?s initiative to invite the major political leaders of the country on the occasion of Mr. Martin?s visit.

“For us, this is a very important visit,” noted Evans Paul, former mayor of Port-au-Prince, who is a main opposition figure in Haiti and a potential presidential candidate for the elections that should take place in the fall of 2005. Gerard Latortue, who has been the prime minister since Aristide?s departure for exile, reassured Mr. Martin that he would do everything to make sure elections took place as scheduled in 2005.

It remains to be seen whether the Lavalas party, still strongly influenced by Aristide, will participate in those elections. M. Gilles declared that before committing itself to the electoral process, his party wants to obtain the return of the former president in the country, and the release of the “thousands of political prisoners” who are members of the Lavalas movement.

Mr. Latortue replied that there were no such prisoners.

Nevertheless, Prime Minister Martin promised that Canada would “walk side by side” with Haiti for a long time. But this commitment will not take the form of a military participation in the United Nations International Mission for Stabilization in Haiti (MINUSTAH).

The current mission has about five thousand troops from different countries, including Brazil. Approximately two thousand more will be added by the end of the year, and some observers think that Canada should participate in order to keep an actual influence in Haiti.

Paul Martin?s entourage counters by saying that Canada already plays a “significant” role by contributing $180 million over two years for the reconstruction of the country, and by providing about one hundred police officers, mostly from Quebec, to the international force currently in the country.

Jean-François Vezina, a police officer from the city of Quebec, explained that he had noticed an improvement in security since he arrived in Haiti at the beginning of the month. But he pointed out that several neighborhoods still need to be “stabilized.”

The country has been shaken by a wave of violence since the end of September. Aristide supporters attacked the police, which reacted harshly.

During the same period, hurricane Jeanne hit Gonaives, killing more than 5,000 and leaving 250,000 homeless.

On Saturday, a group of Haitians from the diaspora sent a letter to Paul Martin to denounce “the violent change of government supported by foreign powers” including Canada, the United States, and France. The letter urged Mr. Martin not to meet with the “illegal officials” of the provisional government.