PORT-AU-PRINCE, (Reuters) – Haitian President Michel Martelly
sought to rally prominent political figures behind him on Wednesday, meeting with two former presidents in an effort to encourage reconciliation among past rivals.
Martelly, who swept to the presidency by winning an election runoff in March, held separate meetings with former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier at their private residences in Port-au-Prince.
He said he had proposed the creation of a council of former Haitian presidents he hoped would assist in building consensus in a country often torn by political faction-fighting, and still struggling to recover from a devastating 2010 earthquake.
“As president, I want to work with you and we have to work together,”
Many Haitians have called repeatedly for the country’s divided political class to find common ground to help lift Haiti out of its longtime status as the poorest country in the Americas.
Notorious for decades of dictatorship, corruption and instability, Haiti is facing a huge reconstruction task after last year’s earthquake and a cholera epidemic.
Martelly, a former pop star with no previous government experience, took office in May. He is facing the challenge of governing with a parliament dominated by rival political parties.
Aristide returned home to Haiti in March after seven years in exile. The former Roman Catholic priest was ousted from power in 2004 in an armed rebellion but still commands a loyal following among poor Haitians.
Since his return, Aristide has generally avoided public appearances and commenting on local politics.
“I am withdrawing gradually from active politics,” Aristide said. “But I remain open to help.”
Speaking to reporters before their meeting, Martelly acknowledged previous political differences with Aristide.
‘A NEW PROJECT’
Martelly also sat down for a private meeting with Duvalier in a private hillside villa overlooking Port-au-Prince.