The Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) and its Secretary General, José Miguel Insulza, today reaffirmed their commitment to the reconstruction and development of Haiti in a special session convened on the first anniversary of the devastating earthquake that struck Port-au-Prince.
During the meeting, permanent representatives and observers held a minute of silence in memory of the 230,000 people killed by the violent, 7.0-magnitude quake that shook the Haitian capital for 35 seconds, and led to thousands of injured and displaced people, many of whom continue to live in tents in Port-au-Prince and other parts of the country.
Secretary General Insulza asserted that “today is a sad and solemn occasion,” upon recalling a “tragedy of historic proportions.” “The resoluteness of the people of Haiti was severely tested by the events of January 12, 2010,” he added. The head of the hemispheric Organization said he was convinced that Haiti will recover from the tragedy with the strength of its people and government, and with the solid support of the international community.
In his remarks, Secretary General Insulza highlighted the role the OAS immediately assumed to assist Haiti. As head of the Inter-American System and under the direction of the OAS Assistant Secretary General, Albert Ramdin, the Organization coordinated from the start the short-term response by different entities, such as the Pan American Health Organization, the Pan American Development Foundation, the Inter-American Defense Board and the Inter-American Development Bank.
Furthermore, as far as possible, the OAS General Secretariat reevaluated and redirected its already established cooperation programs in Haiti. “Mindful of the enormity of the country’s new needs and the Organization’s own limitations, we decided to refocus our technical cooperation program and respond to the priority needs of Haiti.”
With this new approach, the hemispheric representative added, the OAS participated in the process of preparing the International Donors Conference for the Reconstruction of Haiti and in the conference itself, held in New York on March 30 and 31, 2010.
Subsequently, the OAS focused its support for the Caribbean country on three tasks, according to the Secretary General: to redouble the efforts of the Universal Civil Registration project (which at the end of 2010 had already registered more than 4.7 million citizens, almost 94 percent of the adult population; had substituted almost 60,000 identity cards; and had delivered more than 293,000 new cards); to develop a complete cadastre project; and to increase support for political continuity in Haiti, which was translated into the Joint OAS – CARICOM Observation Mission that followed the presidential elections of November 28.
The head of the OAS added that “we continue to participate in the work of the Interim Haitian Reconstruction Commission (IHIC) as an active observer,” and that there are “other program areas in which we hope to contribute to the country’s development efforts, but these will be undertaken in the next phase as we move beyond the short and medium term.”
“The task ahead is enormous and we cannot fool ourselves into believing that it will be easy, for it will not be easy. The challenges and obstacles are daunting, the lack of coordination still persists, but we must persevere – we owe it to all in Haiti and to the memory of those who perished,” Insulza concluded, adding that “we must recognize that the international community can only succeed in Haiti with the support of the government and people of Haiti.”
Assistant Secretary General Ramdin said that on the anniversary of the earthquake “we not only remain sad and concerned, but also hopeful for a better future for Haiti and its people. Let us hope that this dark moment in Haiti’s recent history will provide strength and renewed unity to build a better Haiti.”
“We value and salute the resiliency of the Haitian population in these difficult times. Today we stand not only in solidarity, but with commitment and collective will to assist and accompany the Haitian people. We need to commit now that we will support Haiti and its people for many years to come. Not everything will be fine all the time, but we cannot and should not give up,” he added.
Ambassador Ramdin asserted that the work of reconstruction is a task “for the Americas as a whole,” adding that it is necessary to address the priorities established by the Government of Haiti: “structural and long term planning in areas of job creation, investment, healthcare and education,” while at the same time covering basic needs such as “water, sanitation, healthcare, fuel and proper housing for those living in temporary shelters, and meds to contain the further spread of cholera.”
The Chair of the Permanent Council and Permanent Representative of the United States to the Organization, Carmen Lomellin, said that a year ago “Haitians proved to the world once again how resiliency is at the core of their everyday life.” “I invite all of you to remember that somber day and to look ahead in solidarity with the people of Haiti. Let’s take this moment to reflect on how we need to help and to encourage the international community to take concrete steps to ensure that Haiti is neither forsaken nor forgotten.”
The Representative of Haiti to the Organization, Duly Brutus, said it is “with great emotion” that he addresses the Permanent Council, and thanked the “OAS’s initiative to pay homage to the memory of the victims of January 12.” “In the name of all Haitians I wish to share today with the countries of the Americas and the entire world our deep gratefulness and recognition for the full support they have given to the Haitian people. The Haitian people recognize and appreciate the solidarity that has brought relief to the suffering of the victims,” he added.
Ambassador Brutus explained that “we continue to feel the stigma of this dramatic event,” but reiterated his optimism, because “I am convinced that our people, through its arts, culture, the strength in its work, its abilities and capacities, will be able to recover from this earthquake that has caused so much damage and sadness.” The reconstruction of Haiti, he concluded, is “our historic duty.”
Representatives of the following States also took the floor during the special session of the Permanent Council: Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Brazil, Paraguay, Peru, Canada, Uruguay, Argentina, Colombia, El Salvador, Mexico, Chile, Panama, Bahamas (on behalf of CARICOM), the United States, Ecuador, Bolivia, and France’s Permanent Observer. All of them expressed respect and concern for the victims of the earthquake, offered their condolences to the people and government of Haiti and reaffirmed their wish to continue to contribute, individually and through the OAS, to the Caribbean country’s recovery.
For more information, please visit the OAS Website at www.oas.org.