Address by Minister of State Kent to the Council of the Americas

No. 2010/33 – New York City, New York – May 18, 2010

Check Against Delivery

I am a great admirer of your organization [Council of the Americas]. Your unwavering commitment to democracy, the rule of law, and open markets within our hemisphere is shared by the Government of Canada. Like you, we understand that these are the three pillars of prosperity.

Many of you have likely heard Canadian ministers and senior officials proclaim that Canada is a country of the Americas. Indeed, while geography certainly makes this an undeniable fact, it has become increasingly apparent that Canada’s economic prosperity, our commitment to democratic governance, and the security of our citizens are linked with those of our neighbours.

It was with this in mind that Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced in the summer of 2007 that the Americas would constitute a key foreign policy priority for our government.

At that time, he stated that Canada’s vision for the region, our strategy of renewed engagement in the Americas, would be based on three interconnected and mutually reinforcing objectives: strengthening and reinforcing support for democratic governance, building a safe and secure hemisphere, and enhancing the prosperity of citizens.

I believe the logic in this approach is self-evident. We all know that greater prosperity cannot take hold without security, or the freedoms and laws brought about through democratic governance. Similarly, democratic governance cannot flourish when poverty and social exclusion persist or when personal security is threatened by crime and violence.

I feel comfortable stating that our decision to re-engage in the Americas actively and constructively is being noticed. It is consolidating our role as a key regional player. I believe that we are now firmly on the radar screen of our partners, who are increasingly realizing that Canada is there to support their efforts.

The case of Haiti

Canada’s engagement in Haiti, and the crucial role it is playing in the country, is rooted in our shared history, in our common French heritage, and in a vibrant Canadian-Haitian community that found refuge in Montreal during the years of the repressive Duvalier dictatorship in Haiti.

Our engagement in Haiti is a prime example of the effectiveness of our strategy and proof of the sound principles on which it is based.

As you know, today is Haiti’s National Flag Day. More than 200 years ago, Haiti became the second independent country in the Western Hemisphere and the world’s first black republic. The many hardships that the Haitian people have endured over two centuries are a testament to their pride and resilience.

January 12, 2010, is a date that many will long remember. The destruction wrought by the earthquake that day in the already fragile country was instant and utter. In the days and weeks that followed, Haitians demonstrated unprecedented resilience in the face of unimaginable catastrophe.

Moved by the plight of this much-beloved member of the family of nations, the international community responded swiftly and generously. Even countries that, not so long ago, were still receiving international aid pledged what they could to help Haiti recover and rebuild.

Given our long-standing cultural ties to the Caribbean nation, Canada was among the first countries to assist with the all-important relief mission.

Less than 20 hours after the first tremor, a joint civilian and military team, composed of personnel from Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, the Canadian International Development Agency and the Department of National Defence, was deployed to the most affected areas to assess needs, engage other donors and the Government of Haiti, and identify actions that Canada could take. Less than a week later, our Disaster Assistance Response Team, better known as DART, was on the ground delivering emergency services.

These troops were soon joined by another 2,000 members of the Canadian Forces, who helped to build shelters and provide desperately needed medical services.

In order to better coordinate the international relief and reconstruction effort, Canada also rapidly organized and hosted the Ministerial Preparatory Conference in Montreal in late January, and then co-chaired the International Donors’ Conference Towards a New Future for Haiti, held in New York in March.

We committed $150 million in humanitarian assistance and pledged an additional $400 million for humanitarian and reconstruction efforts over the next two years, on top of the $555 million already committed for the period 2006-2011.

Individual Canadians opened their hearts and their wallets and generously contributed $220 million to the humanitarian effort in the first month alone. And our government matched each of these private donations dollar for dollar.

But Haiti needs more than money. It needs willing and constructive partners in the Hemisphere.

Hemispheric engagement in Haiti

To that end, Canada is establishing new trilateral cooperation projects with countries in the region to effect meaningful change in Haiti.

We have been working with Brazil on vaccinations and initiatives to reduce urban violence in Haiti. With Argentina, we have partnered to promote food security. We have a dialogue with Chile on the topic of police reform.

Canada also supports the Organization of American States [OAS] as the main forum in the region, along with the OAS Special Mission to Haiti, especially on issues of democratic governance, human rights and development.

The hemispheric partnership on Haiti is starting to have an influence on the world stage.

Since the [OAS] Group of Friends of Haiti was founded in the early 1990s as a strategic vehicle to influence the UN Security Council, six Latin American countries have joined the group: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Uruguay, and Mexico. It is now accepted practice that one of these countries chair the group.

The Group discusses all Haiti-related topics, from politics to development and humanitarian assistance. But security issues—in particular, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, or MINUSTAH—take centre stage.

MINUSTAH is the only peacekeeping operation in the Hemisphere. In addition to Canada and the United States, no fewer than 13 countries of the region are contributing troops or police officers to the Mission.

This mobilization is not only bringing security to Haiti’s streets, it is bringing change to the Hemisphere. Enhanced troop coordination—the famous “2x9 Mechanism” [initiative by several Latin American countries]—is a welcome improvement for regional security.

The UN Special Envoy to Haiti, former U.S. president Bill Clinton, may have said it best when he described the cooperation among countries who have not always worked so well together as a “new embrace”—the recognition “that Haiti is part of our neighbourhood and that, perhaps for the first time, by virtue of that recognition, all of us have a responsibility to help the Haitian people change their present and their future.”

The case for regional solidarity

Canada, the United States and their Latin American and Caribbean neighbours and partners have already shown great leadership in the response to the crisis in Haiti.

Through a cohesive and integrated approach, they have also acquired greater influence, individually and collectively, among the international community. This success will encourage other partners in the region to seek a role for themselves in Haiti—and I am thinking of Mexico in particular.

We must not resist this. This is not a select club. It is our common responsibility both to make room for all who want to contribute and also to help them find their niche. We will all gain from it in the end. Haiti needs to be seen as a catalyst for hemispheric solidarity.

Despite the tragic consequences of the January 12 earthquake, the international community’s generous response provides the Haitian people with an opportunity to build a better future and a country that reflects their pride, talent and resilience.

As a region, we need to rally together around a common cause and help one of our neighbours recover and rebuild to become a net contributor and a partner in the Hemisphere.

We need to make sure that, as a community, we live up to the ambitious ideals that we envisioned for our hemisphere when we adopted the Inter-American Democratic Charter, almost a decade ago.

We need to live up to the promise of hope and of a better future for all that is at the centre of every Summit of the Americas and OAS General Assembly. We must stand up for our shared values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. We need to build stronger, more sustainable and more inclusive economies. And we need to meet the new security challenges of our time.

It is no secret that Haiti is exposed, not only to the risks of natural disasters, but to other threats: the country is an important hub for the drug trade, arms smuggling, human trafficking and organized crime.

These threats know no boundaries. Not only do they put the political stability of Haiti and the lives of its people at risk, they are a threat to the entire region—our neighbourhood.

The level of regional cooperation we have attained so far is unprecedented. And it is the key to our success—in Haiti, and as a region.

But a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. As a region, we cannot afford to fail in Haiti. The benefits of our solidarity and common endeavour for Haiti by far outweigh the cost of bridging our differences. We must push our cooperation further still.

Canada will not falter in this effort. For we, as peoples of the Americas, all have a stake in what will become of Haiti. Its future is our future.

And while the challenge before us may be great, greater yet is our resolve to prevail. And prevail we will. Working together, we will realize a more secure, prosperous future for Haiti and for our hemisphere.

Thank you.