Remarks With Haitian President Rene Preval
So this is your third visit. I find, if I understand correctly, you were here once upon a time as a younger woman and have been here again not too long ago. And this would be your third visit, and I welcome you again for the third time.
The Haitian people are aware of the interest you have always paid to their nation and are very thankful to you for that fact. So I would like to thank you in their name for your continued commitment to our nation. So it is with the sentiment of great gratitude that I offer you the microphone this morning to address this nation of 9 million people who are very eager to hear from you today.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I thank you so much, President Preval, for your kind introduction and your hospitality today. It is a pleasure to be back in Haiti. As the president said, this country holds a special place in my heart. I first came here as a newlywed with my husband, Bill, and we spent a wonderful time here exploring the country and meeting many Haitians who shared their homes and their experiences with us.
In fact, we bought some Haitian art, five paintings that have traveled with us in every house we have lived in, including the White House. And I was honored to come back as First Lady after the restoration of democracy in Haiti, and then I was deeply privileged to be the senator from New York, which has a large and thriving Haitian American community.
And I’m delighted to be here as Secretary of State on behalf of President Obama and myself at this critical moment in the history of our nations, our hemisphere, and the world. I also want to acknowledge a number of the dignitaries seated behind the president and thank them for being here with me.
Haiti and the United States share a history of friendship that dates back to the beginning of our nation. In fact, Haiti’s revolt against slavery was an inspiration to people in our own country until we finally also ended slavery. Today, we are connected by many ties, from economic to social and cultural, to the many people we share in common – proud Haitians who live in the United States, many who travel back and forth to this beautiful country and who contribute so much to each of us.
I represented the United States at the donors conference for Haiti, where I made a presentation along with Prime Minister Pierre-Louis. We then met together to talk more specifically about how the Obama Administration will work to support the president, the prime minister, and the Government of Haiti, but more importantly, how we will support the people of Haiti.
We are aware of the extensive damage caused by the four hurricanes last year which interrupted the significant progress that Haiti had been making. And so at the donors conference we looked carefully at the economic recovery strategy put forth by the Government of Haiti and pledged our support.
I announced that the United States will provide $287 million in aid this year, consistent with the priorities outlined by the Haitian Government. We will be funding the creation of jobs to build infrastructure, particularly roads, which we know also must be maintained. And we want to work with the Government of Haiti to come up with a plan to be able to do that.
We will make a significant contribution toward the retirement of Haiti’s debt, which will free up money that Haiti can use on pressing needs for the people of Haiti. We also will provide assistance to the Haitian police, who have been performing so well against the additional challenge posed by the drug traffickers. We wish to support food security and sustainable agriculture. We know Haiti used to be self-sufficient in agriculture, and we want to help Haiti achieve that status again.
I know that there will be an important election in Haiti on Sunday, and I saw many of the campaign posters as I drove in from the airport. I want the people of Haiti to know that the United States’ commitment is to you. We need a good partner, as we have with your president and your prime minister, and we want a plan that will continue moving forward no matter who is elected.
When we start to build roads, we must finish the roads. When we start to help farmers once again make their land rich and cultivatable, we want to be sure they harvest their crops. And when we equip the police force to fight the drug traffickers, we want to work with you so that Haiti can be free of outside influence and intimidation. Because our commitment is to the people of Haiti. The president and I had an excellent conversation, reiterating what is his great hope, that he will see progress begun and finished to give the future back to the people of Haiti.
I know that there’s an old Haitian proverb, Mr. President: Beyond the mountains, there are mountains. Now, some might say, well, that means you never get over the mountains. But what it says to me is you make the journey, and then you see new challenges; you get better and stronger every day. And that is our hope for the people of this wonderful nation.
Thank you very much.
PRESIDENT PREVAL: (Via interpreter) Thank you, Secretary of State. I would like to ask you to please be seated.
Mrs. Secretary of State and distinguished guests who have accompanied her today, allow me to borrow a phrase of someone who has been coming to Haiti for a very long time, 30 years now, who said that when I look at Haiti I see a glimmer of hope for this nation. Allow me to tell you why this makes clear to us the foundation of what it is that we’re trying to do, this quote from Mr. Bill Clinton. In other words, how did we get here and how – what sacrifices must we make to not lose the things that we’ve accomplished so far?
These results are as a direct result of the continuous dialogue in political arenas and with civil society. After the 2006 elections, I extended my hand to the political parties that were there at that time, and I would like to take this opportunity to do so again with Mr. Victor Benoit, Mr. Paul –
INTERPRETER: I didn’t – I missed some of the names.
PRESIDENT PREVAL: (Via interpreter) They are all here present with us today.
And I would like to take this opportunity here today to publicly thank them and their institutions for the progress and the advancements that they’ve made with their hard work. This political stability has allowed us to attack the problem of insecurity that we face, firstly with armed gangs and then by kidnappings. This success was thanks to the national police force, strongly supported by the United Nations missions here in Haiti.
I would like to publicly congratulate the chief of police, who is here with us today. I am confident to say that today the country can move forward without this threat of armed gangs. So the security having been assured, we can have the stability that is necessary to now move forward with our senatorial elections, which will further ensure the stability that we seek. Mr. Frantz Verret, the president of the electoral council – provisional electoral council, and the members of his team, I would like to thank you and congratulate you as well.
However, Mrs. Secretary of State, despite these advancements that we have made, the stability is still fragile and needs reinforcement. One of the threats to this stability is drug trafficking, which is an enemy of the rule of law, an enemy against the functioning of democratic institutions. As you mentioned in Mexico, Madame Secretary, the demand for drugs in countries such as the United States and Europe is a large concern and factor with these drug dealers. You mentioned this in your statement earlier, and I’m very happy to see that we’re on the same page on this subject. Haiti has reiterated in political arenas its concern that the drug trafficking can negatively impact the rule of law and stability in our country. We await determined and efficient assistance to be able to combat this problem – another issue that is fragilizing the living conditions and the security of the population.
We recognize the importance of the international community in our country. We thank them for the technical and financial assistance they have brought us, especially over the last year. So this assistance, both technical and financial, along with the work that our government is doing, has enabled us to combat inflation by 40 percent, bringing it down to 8.4 percent.
Also, our gross domestic product, which was 3.4 percent, went to, in 2007, to 2.4 percent. And this progress was interrupted in 2008, as you mentioned, by the sharp increase in diesel fuel prices and food on a world scale, and again, of course, by four hurricanes that came through Haiti. The World Bank estimates that more than $1 billion worth of damage was caused by these hurricanes.
Haiti must continue to rely on this foreign aid which constitutes 60 percent of our current budget. This percentage must be gradually decreased as Haiti becomes more able to supplement its own income.
This can only be done with concerted efforts to increase our revenue. This must take place through modernizing our institutions to strengthen the judicial apparatus. We must also encourage private investment and make people willing and trustworthy in order that they may invest here to allow us to increase our revenue. We must improve competitivity by reducing the fees imposed at the Customs Office, by making our collecting of electrical bills more efficient.
And all of this can only be done with the participation of civil society. This is why, aside from the political dialogue, we’ve also initiated dialogue with civil society by setting up working groups. These organizations – these working groups are set up with members of civil society, with professionals, with private investors, and so forth, syndicates, professionals.
As you said in your expression “behind mountains there are mountains,” we must ensure that those of them that are with us while going over the first set of mountains will be there to go with us over the next, and the next, and so on.
We set up about seven working groups, the first of which is on education, and the rector of the university that heads up this working group is here with us today. The group on
increasing competitivity in Haiti, this group is led by Mrs. Gladys Coupet. We have Mr. (inaudible), who is heading up the IT and communications working group. Mr. Micha Gallard is heading up the one on justice. Professor Claude Moise is heading up the working group that is going to review the constitution of 1987 so that it functions more properly and allows us to do the work that we need to do.
Haiti just celebrated the bicentennial of its independence. There is also a group that has been set up to commemorate this bicentennial and so that we don’t forget all of the wonderful things that happened in our history. And Patrick Elie is heading up a reflection group on the insecurity issues that we face here in Haiti.
Why do we have these commissions and what is their purpose? My friend, Jumat, who is a journalist, was asking these very same questions not long ago: Is this just another way of deferring decisions that need to be made? My answer is simple: These working groups are a method for deepening dialogue. There are a means to reflect on themes, to reflect beyond the day-to-day and emergencies. So these working groups will allow us to share. These working groups which are comprised of private sector, public sector, industries, syndicates, professionals, they will allow us to share ideas and figure out how, over the next 10, 15, 20 years, we can move forward to accomplish our goals.
Dialogue is inevitable and essential for us to be able to move forward. It is required that we learn to live together. The United Nations Security Council, the various and sundry groups that we have around the world, the European Union – these are all forums for dialogue that will allow us to move forward. These are consultation venues that will allow us to avoid repeat mistakes.
I will be joining you in Trinidad and Tobago for the Summit of the Americas that will bring together 34 heads of state of the continent. What are we going to do? It’s dialogue, again. The United States recognizes this need for dialogue to arrive at sustainable development and advancement.
We take this opportunity to thank the American Government, the new leadership of, in particular, President Obama and his understanding of how things must be in order for us to move forward.
We hope that in the next Summit of the Americas, Cuba will be with us as well, because this dialogue, this complete and total dialogue, must involve everyone in order for it to be successful. The dialogue of peace is essential for the world.
We would like to thank the United States Government and the American Administration for their role as leaders in this dialogue that is so necessary for the establishment of peace. Welcome, and thank you once again.
We will take four questions, two from foreign journalists and two from Haitian journalists.
PRESIDENT PREVAL: (In French.)
QUESTION: Hello, I am (inaudible). I’m working for Reuters. You know, Mrs. Clinton, a lot of Haitians are living in illegal situation in the United States. And those Haitians are helping so many Haitians back home here in Haiti. Many people in Haiti, including in parts of the country that were most hit by the succession of hurricanes, they rely only on those people to live, to have something to live on to survive. So what the Obama Administration and what yourself intend to do to make sure that the Haitians, the undocumented Haitians over there, could find the TPS, the temporary protected status?
And second, I’d like to ask President (inaudible) Preval. (In French.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. I’m well aware of how many Haitians have relatives in the United States who are working there now and providing substantial financial help, particularly because of the hurricanes. We are looking carefully at the policy which we inherited, and we are going to be considering how best to help the people who are here continue to have those resources. But at the same time, we don’t want to encourage other Haitians to make the dangerous journey across the water.
So if we do make any changes in TPS status, it will go back to the beginning of the Obama Administration. So people who were there before President Obama became president would be eligible, people who came after would not be. But we haven’t made a final decision. But we are looking at it very carefully for exactly the reasons, sir, that you described.
PRESIDENT PREVAL: (Via interpreter) I was very encouraged to learn that people at this conference were very much aware of the will of the Haitian people to move forward, not just at the executive level, but also at the level of civil society, public society, peasant groups, syndicates, and so forth. The conference was set up by the various donors, and together we came up with a plan for the financing. I await the details of how this assistance will be presented, but I am sure that it will be instrumental in our moving forward.
The Government of Haiti, the executive branch, and the parliament, in particular, must continue to show their commitment towards working together to accomplish these goals that we’ve set for ourselves.
So I would like to say again what I had said earlier in my previous statement, that it’s not acceptable for Haiti to continue to need to depend on this 60 percent of financial assistance. We must endeavor to increase our own revenue. And I think that is even more important than how the donors conference went.
QUESTION: Mark Landler from The New York Times. A question for both Madame Secretary and the president: In a speech in Washington two days ago, I think you said, Madame Secretary, this is a – this small nation of 9 million is on a brink. With the hurricane having wiped out 15 percent of GDP, killed 800 people, and with a donors conference that raised a considerable amount of money but well short of the billion dollars some experts say is needed in totality, are you worried that we’re at a moment where we could have a real backsliding and lose the gains that the country has made? How grave do you think the situation is?
And, Mr. President, if I could just ask one follow up to what you said about Cuba attending the next Summit of the Americas. I wonder whether you would react to the Obama Administration’s announcements earlier this week about the relaxation of travel restrictions and remittances. Some people have said that they were really baby steps and not enough. Would you like to see more? Were you very encouraged by what you did see?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I was very encouraged by the result of the donors conference. I think it was a resounding show of international support for Haiti. I believe that we have work to do, both to demonstrate that, as partners, we can produce the results that the people of Haiti are expecting, and then increase the amount of support that will come once we have demonstrated the results.
My view about where we are today is that Haiti deserves our help. Haiti was on the right track, making progress that everyone remarked on. We have no control over the weather. Four hurricanes in one year was devastating. It would have been to any country. But it knocked Haiti off track, and we have to help Haiti get back on track.
Now, this is not so much about the United States or about any donor. It is about the Haitian people, which is why there must be a commitment no matter who wins elections, no matter whether political society or civil society, everyone is committed to making sure that the money we are investing produces results for the people of Haiti. That’s what this is about for President Obama and for me and for our country. But we were encouraged by the results of the conference, and now, we want to get to work.
PRESIDENT PREVAL: (Via interpreter) Cuba is a friend of Haiti, even though we have different political systems. Cuba has helped us, especially in the arena of medicine. We have about 600 students studying medicine in Cuba and an equivalent number of doctors here in Haiti practicing.
We spoke a lot about dialogue at this conference, and President Obama also spoke of dialogue and openness. I think that dialogue is the path that leads to good cooperation. We would not like to presume to dictate the policies to the United States. We have a wish, and that wish is also the wish at the heart of the United Nations, and that is that the embargo against Cuba be lifted so that they may be permitted to participate in this dialogue that is so important.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) So the Secretary of State is here with the interest of stability and ensuring security. Okay. So three days from the election, of course, there are people that are manifesting and making noises and parliamentarians as well who are expressing their thoughts. And there are also parliamentarians that feel that the financial aid was not done in a clear and transparent manner. They are threatening not to validate these senators should they be elected. So the population at large is expressing – has expressed worry about this situation.
So what guarantee can you give to the Haitian population that these elections on Sunday will be honest and open and that there will not be any violence?
PRESIDENT PREVAL: (Via interpreter) Elections are the means to establish democracy and ensure the continuity of this democracy beyond the elections. Each person has his role in this game. The political parties present themselves to the people to have their votes, and they are not obliged to do so. People are called upon to vote, and they are not obliged to do that either. Of course, we hope that many people will vote.
The electoral council is the independent entity that organizes these elections. And security is provided by the national police force. We hope that all measures will be taken so that these elections can be carried out without incident. So – and we hope that the senators, once elected, will fulfill their mandates and complete this integral part of our government that is the parliament.
Article 125 is the obligation of the state to financially support these political parties in the election. These candidates are also free to obtain financial assistance from individuals, from private parties. Yesterday, we brought up this issue of Article 125 with the political parties. This question was raised late in the game, even though it is the responsibility of the executive branch to answer this type of question. It’s already Thursday, a couple of days before the elections. So we’re going to see what we can do as a government in the absence of the minister of justice, who is not here, and of the prime minister as well, to work towards ensuring that these events take place without incident.
Your question has an undercurrent to it because you spoke of a poor distribution of investment. We’re doing everything in our power to ensure that the government is neutral in the context of these elections.
As you know, the delegates and the vice delegates play an important role in the carrying out of these elections. We have taken the additional precaution of leaving all the delegates and vice delegates in place. If it so happens that any of these people, delegates and vice delegates, who were also, by the way, present during the interim government, if it becomes obvious that any of them are misusing any of these funds in favor of their party, it is the responsibility of anyone who is aware of such actions to make this known to the provisional electoral council.
QUESTION: Hello? Yes. For Madame Secretary, more questions on Cuba. Is it now in the Cubans’ court, is the ball now in their court after President Obama relaxed travel and transfer restrictions? I’ll do better, there it is. (Laughter.) And what steps would you like to see them take, including what people have called for in the past, such as releasing political prisoners? And over what timeline would you like to see that happen?
And finally, President Preval, you answered most of my questions on Cuba, but you did mention – you called for a lifting of the embargo. But would you expect Cuba to take some steps, specific steps before the U.S. does that?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think it is very significant that within the first 100 days of his presidency, President Obama has relaxed the regulations concerning family remittances and travel, as well as expanding telecommunications investment opportunity between the United States and Cuba. I agree with the overall emphasis on moving toward dialogue and openness throughout our hemisphere.
We stand ready to discuss with Cuba additional steps that could be taken. I think that’s very clear from President Obama and my statements and actions during the last several months. But we do expect Cuba to reciprocate. President Preval just gave a very thorough explanation of the election process here in Haiti. People are out running for office because they choose to, not because they have to. People vote because they choose to, not because they are required to. That is a democracy, and it is vibrant and very important. We would like to see Cuba open up its society, release political prisoners, open up to outside opinions and media, have the kind of society that we all know would improve the opportunities for the Cuban people and for their nation.
So I think it is fair to say, as the President said himself yesterday, I believe, that we would like to see some reciprocal recognition by the Cuban Government for us to continue to engage in this dialogue and take further steps.
PRESIDENT PREVAL: (Via interpreter) I enthusiastically salute the endeavors of President Obama towards Cuba. And I am not here to dictate to the United States by what criteria they wish to carry out their dialogue with Cuba. Everybody knows that this embargo that has lasted more than half of a century has not done anything to advance things. The Cuban diaspora has shown its will, its desire for this dialogue to be open and free with Cuba. Members of the American Government have gone to Cuba to begin this process of opening up dialogue with Cuba. Many international resolutions have been taken asking for the lifting of this embargo. My conviction is that more openness would enable more dialogue, regardless of the political regimes involved.
You have similar rapports to the one that you have with Cuba; for example, China and –
PRESIDENT PREVAL: Vietnam.
INTERPRETER: Vietnam, thank you.
PRESIDENT PREVAL: (Via interpreter) I think that, once again, I would like to reiterate that I am not here to dictate any form of policies to the United States Government, but I would like to say again that I believe that dialogue will be easier and more free if we are open to it and if we allow it to occur – not just with Cuba, but for the – several other countries in the world, as is already the case.
Thank you very much to the journalists for the questions they have asked. Thank you, Mrs. Clinton, as well.