The island is the same, but the beaches and hotels of Punta Cana, a popular tourist resort in the Dominican Republic, seem a world away from the overcrowded, mud-filled and increasingly desperate tent camps of Port-au-Prince.
But it is in Punta Cana that regional and world leaders will be discussing Haiti’s future today, at the World Summit called by Dominican president Leonel Fernandez, to help Haiti recover “not only from the earthquake of last January 12, but also from the historical isolation and poverty it has faced for over 200 years,” the summit’s invitation announced.
Participants – representing 54 countries and 35 international organizations – include Haiti’s President René Preval and Prime Minister Jean Max Bellerive, UN Special Envoy and Co-President of the Internal Reconstruction Commission Bill Clinton, Acting Head of MINUSTAH Edmond Mulet and Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame.
The conference’s location is yet another sign of the changed relationship between the previously unfriendly countries that share the island of Hispaniola, although it is also a reminder that, once again, decisions are being taken away from the Haitian people they are set to affect.
A logistical follow-up to the international donors’ conference held last March 31 in New York – which concluded with some $ 10 billion pledged to Haiti’s reconstruction between short and long-term grants – the Punta Cana Summit was conceived to deal with the logistics of reconstruction.
The action plan participating leaders are supposed to set forth today will “spearhead the beginning of the reconstruction work” and “ensure an uninterrupted march on the road to progress and social development,” the conference agenda’s optimistically announces. The agenda calls for “concrete initiatives” for the construction of infrastructure, highways, water systems, housing and schools.
But with over a million Haitians still living in unsafe shelter that is looking more permanent by the day – five months from the earthquake and at the beginning of a hurricane season which is expected to be one of the wettest in years – with many skeptical that the pledged aid will ever reach those in need, and with no reconstruction in sight and rubble filling the streets and turning mud with the rain, the promise of an action plan seems delayed at best.
Specific objectives for the day include discussions to strengthen stability and democracy in Haiti, both threatened by growing discontent with the government’s response to the crisis, as well as mechanisms to integrate the private sector in the reconstruction efforts, promoting Haitian enterprise and fighting an expanding sense of dependency.
Today’s conference is the last of a series of initiatives taken by the Dominican government since January. In March, President Fernandez agreed to build a public university in Haiti, with modern facilities and a capacity of 10,000 students, “as a Dominican contribution to strengthening the overall development of the neighboring nation,” he said before the donors’ conference.
The summit is yet another effort to revive a reconstruction process that seemed to stall before even starting. President Fernandez said the follow-up to the commitments taken today in Punta Cana is the task of the Haitian government.