Haiti tops agenda at North American foreign ministers’ meeting

A homeless person sleeps on a street in Port-au-Prince December 10, 2010. Photograph by: Kena Betancur, Reuters

OTTAWA — Turmoil in Haiti will be high on the agenda Monday at a meeting among Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs Patricia Espinosa.

Cannon plays host to the annual North American foreign ministers meeting in Wakefield, Que., against a backdrop of barely quelled street violence in Haiti in the wake of disputed Nov. 28 election results.

Ending the volatility “in our back yard” and establishing stable, efficient and accountable government in the country are basic preconditions for proceeding with commitments to Haiti, a Canadian official said.

Canada, the U.S., and Mexico are among an array of nations working behind the scenes and in public to try to set Haiti back on a democratic path as ballots are recounted and a run-off vote is organized amid fears of a stolen election, a cholera outbreak and thousands living in tent cities.

The Canadian government and the public have committed many resources to Haiti in the wake of a shattering earthquake last January, so a lot is at stake.

In the domestic backdrop are such issues as whether Haiti will become Canada’s next Afghanistan — the place where troops may have to be assigned — and whether Canadians will want to proceed with the government’s commitments to aid and rebuilding the country.

Canadians were galvanized after the quake to donate record amounts of money to Haiti.

Either Cannon or Canada’s ambassador to Haiti, Henri-Paul Normandin, have spoken daily to outgoing Haitian President Rene Preval, calling for restoration of order and compliance with Haitian election rules.

Cannon made public this week, after Nov. 29 election results were announced Tuesday, that Canada would “be in a very difficult position” to recognize the outcome of the vote if the electoral process is not respected.

The previous evening, shortly after the vote results were announced, the U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince issued a statement saying the preliminary results were inconsistent with reports from official observers — both domestic and foreign — who monitored the vote count.

Haiti will fall into an overarching theme at the meeting of continental and regional security.

A planned Canada-U.S. security perimeter agreement will likely come up during bilateral discussions; since it’s not a matter for the three ministers together, it’s not high on the agenda for all three.

Cannon played down that agreement in the House of Commons’ daily question period Friday, dismissing reports about it as rumour and speculation.

He repeatedly noted, however, that Canada obviously wants to maximize trade with the United States while ensuring borders are secure from terrorist threat.



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