Another chance for Haiti

Another chance for Haiti

April 13th, 2011 in Opinion Times

Haiti, a desperately poor nation even before a January 2010 earthquake left at least 300,000 dead, 300,000 injured and 1 million homeless, finally has a president-elect. Whether that is beneficial for the country remains to be seen. At best, president-elect Michel Martelly faces a daunting task in restoring even a tiny bit of normalcy to the country. At worst, he could replicate the careers of earlier Haitian leaders, whose legendary venality and corruption contributed directly to Haiti's standing as the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.

Even Martelly's election victory by a 2-1 margin in a runoff last month with former first lady Mirlande Manigat is suspect, though the latter announced last week that she would not challenge the results. Officials admit close to 30 percent of votes cast in the runoff were rejected for fraud and other reasons. There were allegations, too, that Martelly and his supporters acted improperly following the first round of balloting. Sanctions were sought, but none were issued. Consequently, Martelly will take office in May.

Martelly will face major crises from his first day in office. Despite his apparent popularity, he seems spectacularly unprepared to lead a country that remains in ruins, that has been unable to contain a still-growing cholera epidemic, that lacks both the infrastructure and economic base to rebuild the shattered country, and that is an environmental nightmare. There's nothing in the resume of Martelly - a singer whose act, according to sources, once included wearing diapers on stage and mooning his audiences - to suggest that he possesses the skills needed to craft and to implement policies beneficial to his country.

Haiti's future, however, depends on Martelly's ability to convince the world otherwise. If Haiti is to take even tentative steps toward resolving its myriad problems, it will require a massive infusion of international aid. Money for clean-up, reconstruction and much more was pledged to Haiti in the aftermath of the massive quake, but relatively little of the hundreds of millions pledged has been delivered. That's understandable.

Donors understandably want to know that funds will be used for the purposes for which they are intended. For the most part, Haiti was and still is unable to provide that assurance. In some instances, there simply was no government infrastructure in place to manage the money. In others, there were legitimate fears that aid funds would disappear into the pockets of those in charge. In the end, there seemed to be consensus that the pipeline of aid funds would remain mostly closed until elections were held and a new government took office. That time arrives next month.

The president-elect has pledged to use aid funds to rebuild the nation's economy and its infrastructure. Political promises are easy to make. Keeping them is hard. The future of Haiti and of Haitians depends on Martelly's ability to match his actions to his rhetoric.