What does 2013 hold for Haiti as it celebrates its 209th birthday as a free nation and will shortly remember the day that destroyed so much of its landscape and heritage three years ago?
Predominantly negative headlines about Haiti have dominated European and American media, to the extent that one might wonder what its people have to be hopeful for in the coming year. The struggle to rise and rebuild was difficult even before the January 12 earthquake – which killed an estimated 220,000 people and displaced another 1.6 million – struck. Nonetheless, looking beyond an on-going lawsuit trying to mitigate the damage of the cholera epidemic, a questionable industrial development project and continuing political fragility which puts the island at the mercy of dominant donors, there are some signs that things for Haiti could take a turn in the right direction in the next year.
Haiti signed a number of agreements towards the end of the year to boost healthcare, industry, education and trade with partners including Cuba (with which it has an established relationship), Ecuador, Vietnam and Antigua. President Michel Martelly also visited Japan, a first for his country, as part of efforts to change the image of Haiti within the international community. Whilst these developments may not bear fruit within the next year, the fact that Haiti is forging broader relations beyond the somewhat problematic ties it has had with the United States, Canada and France should be seen as something positive.
Last year several reports indicated that Haiti may soon be granted African Union (AU) membership beyond that of being an “observer”. This could potentially create new partnerships for trade, development or diplomacy. The move to join the 54-member organisation may also strengthen Haiti’s hand in trying to remove the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), with forces such as the AU as alternative guarantors of security, placating the international community and being more acceptable to Haitians.
In a similar vein, President Martelly recently commenced Haiti’s first chairmanship of CARICOM, a regional body of which it has been a long-standing member. The Caribbean Journal reported that under Martelly’s leadership and agenda, the free movement of Haitian nationals within the region would feature. This could be a key step in addressing the discrimination faced by many Haitian migrants within neighbouring countries.
A new lease of life has also been given to PEN Haiti, an organisation founded four years ago by Georges Anglade to promote literature and expression. The PEN Haiti’s Résidence Georges Anglade was opened in August 2012 and accommodates Haitian writers as well as fellow PEN members. It offers various fellowships and workshops to budding and established writers. Not only is this a way for Haiti to promote its own literary talents on a global stage but it is also an important means through which the country’s literacy rates can slowly be improved from within.
There is no denying that Haiti has mountains to climb in terms of its recovery from natural and man-made disasters, as well as from years of political interference and economic turmoil from both within and outside of its borders. However, that is not to say it is an impossible task and Haitians all over the world have been and continue to be resilient. With these and no doubt many more opportunities on the horizon, could 2013 be Haiti’s lucky year?
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