WAKEFIELD, Quebec – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the foreign minister of Canada on Monday urged Haiti's government to work harder on their country's daunting problems.
Their comments came following a disputed presidential election late last month, which was held following a devastating earthquake and cholera epidemic.
"We understand that the government itself was badly damaged, individuals were traumatized, but there has to be a greater effort and there has to be a more focused approach toward problem solving," Clinton said in a news conference.
Clinton, Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon and Mexican Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa gathered in this small Quebec town near Ottawa to prepare for a meeting of their three heads of state early next year. During the summit, President Barack Obama and the his counterparts are expected to try to work more closely on trade and security.
But Haiti appeared to dominate the discussion Monday. Thousands were unable to vote in the Nov. 28 election, which was widely criticized. Both the U.N. and the Organization of American States confirmed reports of electoral violence, voter intimidation and ballot-box stuffing — although both organizations said the vote was still valid.
Clinton said Haiti's leaders should heed the warning of U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who oversees aid appropriations for the Carribean nation. Last week Leahy called a suspension of aid for Haiti's government and visas for officials and their families until the crisis is resolved.
"Senator Leahy, who is a strong supporter of American foreign aid and humanitarian relief assistance, is expressing a growing frustration that you will find not only in our Congress but in our government and the American people that as we are approaching the one year anniversary of the Haitian earthquake there hasn't been the kind of coordinated, coherent response from the government of Haiti that's called for," Clinton said.
"This is a very strong signal that we expect more and we are looking for more."
Clinton said the Obama administration is still trying to resolve many of the questions raised by the election but added it doesn't want to punish the people of Haiti because of a flawed vote.
She said all the challenges in Haiti are quite serious and taken together are "almost overwhelming."
Cannon said Haitian leaders must fulfill their obligations to democracy and show respect for the electoral process. He said Haiti remains a "grave concern."
"The international community cannot do everything in Haiti. It's extremely important that the government of Haiti and the people of Haiti assume their responsibilities and ensure that democracy in Haiti continues," Cannon said.
Clinton, Cannon and Espinosa also talked about trade, regional security and fighting transnational crime. A joint statement discussed setting up a North America-Central America dialogue "to strengthen regional cooperation and efforts against transnational criminal organizations."
As Colombia and Mexico ramp up anti-narcotics efforts, there are rising fears that crime linked to drug trafficking will spill over into neighboring countries. Violence in small countries like Guatemala has skyrocketed as drug cartels, squeezed by police and military action at home, move their operations.
Associated Press writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.