Still Adrift: Will Haiti Find its Anchor?
September 2, 2011
After 100 days in office, the government of President Michel Martelly should be better organized to accomplish key tasks. Yet with no sign of a rapprochement with Haiti’s legislative branch, the president and his small staff remain unable to govern a nation that has been dealt the unkindest of fates—a catastrophic earthquake, hurricanes, and a cholera epidemic that continues to bring more tragedy to the lives of ordinary Haitians.
It has been more than a year and a half since the 2010 earthquake. Cascading pledges of resources, tireless assistance from foreign health workers, and an all-star class of global political brokers have been unable to put Haiti back together again. A presidential election that finally resulted in a democratic outcome in March raised the hopes of both Haitians and international leaders. Many viewed the election of President Martelly as the chance for a new beginning. But that was then.
First, Martelly suggested that the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission (IHRC) be disbanded. To be sure, this hybrid governing model created after the 2010 earthquake had its faults. But it provided a means by which donor funds could be channeled in a transparent and accountable way. Heavily criticized, Martelly quickly retracted his recommendation and agreed to a one-year extension of the IHRC. No sooner had that crisis been averted than the next political drama began: an ongoing battle with the opposition-dominated parliament over the new prime minister.
Martelly’s choice of businessman Daniel Rouzier was probably a good one, but he failed to campaign for Rouzier in parliament. His next choice, former justice minister Bernard Gousse, was dead on arrival. As justice minister in 2004, Gousse had arrested Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s prime minister, Yvon Neptune, along with members of Aristide’s Lavalas party. Parliament is filled with the political heirs of deposed president Aristide. Martelly and his advisers are now talking to Gary Conille, a physician and adviser to former U.S. president Bill Clinton, the IHRC cochair. As of now, there is no agreement.
In fairness, Haiti’s legislature has a history of blocking prime ministers. During the last government, President René Préval was forced to send over three nominations before his final choice, Michèle Pierre-Louis, was finally approved. However, noting that Martelly’s party is a minority shareholder in parliament is a gross understatement. It holds 3 seats out of 99, and the power rests with the opposition Inité Party. Still, Martelly refuses to negotiate. Without a prime minister, he cannot form a government, appoint other ministers, or move the nation forward in any appreciable way.
If President Martelly learns one lesson from this experience, it should be that elections matter and that a new parliament was also elected to represent the people. Recognizing that those who hold the key to his cabinet appointments must be consulted will go a long way toward helping Haiti and enabling his plans to take shape.
The stakes are high. With over $10 billion pledged to “build back better,” and another $5.9 billion due to Haiti in the next three years, the Martelly government must come to terms with other players in Haitian politics. Otherwise, the world’s focus on Haiti, already growing dim, will shift elsewhere. People need housing, and rubble still clogs the main arteries of Port-au-Prince. UN peacekeepers want an exit date, hoping that the security environment will improve in the next three years. Investors want to see progress on the political front to jump-start investments in light industry.
September will determine whether Martelly has what it takes to lead a nation trying to rebuild itself.
Johanna Mendelson Forman is a senior associate in the Americas Program and with the Simon Chair in Political Economy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
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© 2011 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.