Hemisphere Focus: Rebooting Haiti—A Burden to Be Shared
April 25, 2011
Judging from his recent whirlwind Washington tour, Haiti’s president-elect Michel Martelly has hit the ground running. Although official election results had yet to be announced on April 20, Martelly was already in meetings with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the World Bank, and Inter-American Development Bank officials. He also stopped at CSIS for a private discussion and to record an interview.
Even with a head start, he will need lots of help. While his new government seems poised to unlock some $10 billion in donor pledges to aid in reconstruction from last year’s earthquake, it is uncertain how the hundreds of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that now pretty much run Haiti will deal with a leader who has a plan, or whether he will have a cooperative parliament and the right kind of support from countries like the United States. What is evident from polls and election results is that he captured the imagination of young voters eager for a break with the past.
The president-elect and pioneer of Haiti’s popular kompa music said that his priorities would be education, employment, and housing. During the campaign, he had sent representatives into neighborhoods to survey the number of school-age youth not in the classroom, and the results were grim. United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) statistics show 50 percent enrollment in primary schools and less than 20 percent in secondary institutions. Haiti spends about 2 percent of GDP on education whereas the norm in Latin America is 5 percent.
Martelly said that 60 percent of adult Haitians need jobs to stabilize the economy and slow out-migration. Solving that problem is key to boosting growth up to Martelly’s target of 10 percent per year. Economic adviser Daniel Rouzier stressed that Haiti also needs collateral fixes to fiscal and civil codes to ensure fair application of the law, as well as updated commercial regulations to cut business start-up times from 180 days to fewer than 10. Haiti currently ranks second to last, above Venezuela in World Bank ratings of business-friendly environments in Latin America.
On housing, Martelly sees sustainable redevelopment occurring mostly outside of Port-au-Prince in decentralized business and residential centers. He said that such an approach would spread infrastructure to underserved outlying districts and avoid making economic recovery dependent on cleaning up the capital, still glutted with rubble. And given that Martelly complains that a million Haitians still live in temporary shelters, it might put families in homes faster.
Throughout the campaign, Martelly hinted that he would reconstitute Haiti’s army, but now says “it is not the name that matters.” The description of what he would establish seems closer to that of a territorial guard or gendarmerie that would have the mobilization capacity of a military force to respond quickly to natural disasters, but the mission of law enforcement in providing for coastal and border patrol, public security in the countryside, and specialized tasks such as counternarcotics. Haiti now relies on United Nations peacekeepers to fulfill most of those responsibilities.
Above all, Martelly stressed that Haiti needed to overcome old, unhelpful images of a poverty-stricken failed state. Foreigners need to have confidence to visit and invest there. Not surprisingly, the benchmark of his development policies would be to put the country on a par with its neighbor, the Dominican Republic, in terms of education, economic output, and infrastructure.
Throughout, Martelly seemed upbeat, recounting Haiti’s wealth of talent and desire for a new beginning. In reality, he will need more than prospects to carry out his ambitious plans. Despite a landslide in his favor, a low voter turnout translates into a slim mandate. Haiti’s new parliament will mostly belong in the hands of old-guard politicians. And from outgoing president René Préval he will inherit a government with few working public institutions and without a robust revenue stream.
To help make the government function, hundreds of NGOs that have gotten used to operating with scant local direction or cooperation will need to tailor projects to align with Martelly’s goals. U.S. public diplomacy efforts will need strengthening in areas of academic and teacher exchanges to support his emphasis on education—a weak spot in the current U.S. aid scheme. U.S. and other donor-nation approaches to reconstruction will need to take into account his concept for decentralized development. Other governments that have experience with gendarmes, such as Costa Rica and Chile, will need to offer ideas on territorial security.
Michel Martelly may have once been a flamboyant entertainer, combining comedy and song. Today his mission is to build comity and commitment to turn a desperate situation into a pivotal moment. Promising as his plans may be, he cannot realize them by himself.
Stephen Johnson is a senior fellow and director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C.
Hemisphere Focus is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).
© 2011 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.