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A New Leader Takes the Stage

April 9, 2011

Haiti has a new President.  Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly, a 50 year-old compas (a Haitian music genre) singer, took two-thirds of the votes in the run-off election.  Exuberant in their politics, Haiti’s people cheered the announcement and celebrated in the streets.   Young Haitians especially, too young to remember the Duvalier years, see in their new leader a dream of a better future.  Older Haitians have their doubts.

Martelly, a political novice, faces monumental challenges.  Haiti’s capital is largely still in ruins from the 2010 earthquake.  Fifteen of Haiti’s seventeen government ministries were destroyed.  The international aid effort has gotten off to a slow and very shaky start.  Over 800,000 people are still living in camps.  With the rainy season fast approaching last year’s cholera epidemic, which killed more than 4,000, will certainly return.

The country’s economy is in a shambles.  Infrastructure is lacking in many areas.  Exploitation of the country’s scarce natural resources is highly inefficient.  Tourism is almost nonexistent; Haiti isn’t even acknowledged in major tour guides.  There is widespread environmental damage, particularly in the form of deforestation and resultant erosion.  The country has become highly dependent upon foreign aid.  Much of the income of many Haitians is in the form of remittances from family in the Haitian diaspora.

The Corruption Perceptions Index, a measure of perceived political corruption, and the International Red Cross rank Haiti as one of the most corrupt nations in the world.  The nation’s judicial system remains severely troubled—lacking the modern facilities, properly trained officials, and resources it requires to be able to meet the demands placed upon it.  The workings of the system are regressive, arcane and rife with bribery.  Some believe it needs to be scrapped and a new system built from the ground up.  Although Canada has been playing a key role in this process, it is highly doubtful that a shrink-wrapped made-in-Canada solution can even begin to address the nation’s needs.

The new president will likely face a political standoff similar to the one that hobbles US president Barack Obama’s administration, as the Haitian Senate and Chamber of Deputies is controlled by the party of outgoing president René Preval.  The pre-election return of ousted former leaders Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier and Jean-Baptiste Aristide may also be a cause of concern, as they still have support in some sectors.  Older Haitians remember Duvalier, the once feared strongman, as a leader whose rule brought them relative safety and jobs.  Despite his corruption, Aristide, a former slum priest, is seen as a champion of the poor.

Haiti’s 1805 constitution called for free and compulsory primary education.  No Haitian government has ever fulfilled this mandate.  Martelly has promised he will.   At present, 90% of Haiti’s primary schools are non-public and managed by the communities, religious organizations or NGOs.  Fulfilling the new president’s promise will be difficult and expensive.

Despite, or perhaps as a result of their constant and unrelenting struggle to survive their turbulent history and the seemingly unending series of disasters that has plagued them, Haitians have evolved into a resilient people, resourceful and adaptable.  Although Haiti is frequently portrayed by the international media as hopeless, Haitians are a fiercely proud people, filled with hope.  In a CBC interview with their president-elect this week I heard that hope.  Martelly seems to be a man with a heart for his people and a dream for their future.  He came across as statesmanlike as he outlined his plan to move his country toward self-sufficiency based more on the efforts of the Haitian people than on international aid.   Although not yet officially in power, he has secured agreements with landowners to provide space needed to relocate the earthquake survivors in the tent camps.  Perhaps now the many NGOs whose stated intention was to build homes for them can finally get to the task.

In my humble opinion the people of Haiti need to be allowed to chart their own course.  They must be afforded the opportunity to begin to build a country of their own choosing, a country that will provide a better life for all its people.  The role of the international community should be to listen to what Haitians want for themselves, to come along side and assist them to achieve their goals, and to protect them from those who see disaster and instability as opportunities for profit.  Their success can be our success, for with their success the world will be a better place for us all.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Geri permalink
    April 10, 2011 3:19 pm

    You will be arriving in an exciting time Barry.

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