The victory of Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly in Sunday’s runoff election for the Haitian presidency brought his supporters into the streets to celebrate what many called a complete change from the last 25 years of rule. At this point, however, that’s more wishful thinking than reality.
Many obstacles stand in the way of President-elect Martelly’s supporters realizing the positive change that they so justifiably long for and the country so desperately needs.
First, Martelly’s opponent, former first lady Mirlande Manigat, plans to challenge the election results amid charges of fraudulent voting. And while Martelly won by a 2-1 margin, the majority of Haiti’s 4.3 million voters sat out the election, meaning he has an awful lot to prove to his new constituents.
At the same time, Martelly must also prove to the international community that he can be counted on to head a government that will invest the billions of dollars donated after the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake in actual recovery projects rather than let it be wasted or misappropriated. That’s a tall order for a country with deep-seated government traditions of ineptitude and corruption.
And Martelly, an untested political leader who ran as an outsider, has only to look over his shoulder to see the looming shadows of two former controversial leaders, ex-dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier and former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, both of whom returned from exile after the Nov. 28 election.
One thing is clear, though. Haitians who cared enough to vote want a genuine break with their past leaders, including outgoing President Rene Preval, who seemed overwhelmed by the earthquake’s devastation and never could marshal the will and determination to be a leader Haitians could rally around after the tragedy. If Martelly has the charisma and intellect that can inspire the majority of Haitians in the coming months, he will have achieved something crucial: faith in one man’s leadership where today there is cynicism and, for many, despair.
Among the first tasks for the new president and his advisers is providing better shelter for the thousands still living in tents in Port-au-Prince. It is only two months until hurricane season begins. While Haiti suffered heavy rains and flooding during the 2010 hurricane season, it was spared from a major storm. Such luck could very easily run out this year.
There are some good developments for Martelly to build on. One is the ground-breaking for an industrial park in the north where Korea’s leading manufacturer and exporter of textiles and clothing is building Haiti’s first fabric mill. The 617-acre industrial park holds the potential for thousands of manufacturing jobs. It already has had a multiplier effect on nearby hotels and restaurants. Another industrial park is in the works just outside Port-au-Prince.
The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission reported in January that, while there have been setbacks, progress has been made in the last 12 months. For instance, nine housing projects worth $192 million are on the way, providing jobs and new homes. A $17 million debris removal and crushing project in Carrefour Feuilles is recycling debris for new uses. Port-au-Prince’s University Medical Center is being rebuilt.
If Martelly can harness the redevelopment dollars to the deep desire and willingness of his constituents to rebuild a better Haiti, he will indeed live up to those high hopes of his supporters.
(The Miami Herald, April 6)