“The incredible international solidarity and generosity shown after January’s devastating earthquake really touched us” said a former Prime Minister of Haiti at Progressio’s Annual lecture in London on Monday evening.
Michele Duvivier Pierre-Louis, who was in office for a year until October 2009, also highlighted the frustration still felt by the country’s 1.5 million people who remain homeless and jobless. “Many still feel the emotional loss of relatives buried in mass graves” she said “and many thousands are suffering post-traumatic syndromes”. Her own home was left in ruins by the quake. Yet she pointed to the hope offered by a “vibrant and resilient” culture which has had to struggle for survival throughout its history.
Pierre-Louis felt that Haiti, supported by the donor community, should consider a long-term rebuilding plan with an eye towards developing the country more evenly so that citizens can prosper. She wanted a greater emphasis on investment in agriculture. “Only two percent of donor funds in the past have been allocated to agriculture, although 60 percent of the population depend on agriculture” she said. Also, greater investment in education at all levels “to improve local capacities”. Pierre-Louis was the second woman to hold the position of prime minister, and since 1995 has been the director of the Knowledge and Freedom Foundation, FOKAL, which has prominently focused on education in its work to deepen democracy and development in Haiti.
Haiti is struggling to recover from the earthquake on 12 January that killed up to 300,000 people and destroyed much of the coastal capital, Port-au-Prince. And it is gearing up for a presidential election at the end of November, which could be a contentious battle for one of the toughest political jobs in the world. “I’m for the election” said Pierre Louis, although she acknowledged that it will be a challenge to hold a creditable poll when thousands of people have lost all their documents and no longer have voting cards, as well as hundreds of thousands of people displaced from their homes. She joked that a bakery in the capital had been a launchpad for political ambitions in the past. During the dictatorships in the 1980s of ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier and his son ‘Baby Doc’ she once worked in the bakery alongside the man who went on to become the current president of Haiti, Rene Preval. And a priest who later served two terms as President – Jean-Bertrand Aristide - used to call in to the bakery for free bread once a week for the thousands of poor children in his parish. She said a thriving civil society at that time was supported priests inspired by the insights of liberation theology, and “religion became a new vector of discourse on structural injustice”.
After the address to around 170 Progressio members, Executive Director Christine Allen, spoke about Progressio’s collaboration with CAFOD this year on programmes in Haiti promoting food security and sustainable agriculture. Formerly known as the Catholic Institute for International Relations, Progressio’s expertise is long-term development and Haiti is one of its 11 priority countries.