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USIP’s Bob Perito discusses Haitian President-elect Michel Martelly’s recent visit to Washington, DC and what kind of policies the new Haitian government may pursue.

April 22, 2011

USIP’s Bob Perito discusses Haitian President-elect Michel Martelly’s recent visit to Washington, DC and what kind of policies the new Haitian government may pursue.

Was Haitian President-elect Martelly’s visit to Washington a success?

The warm welcome accorded Haiti’s President-elect Michel Martelly in Washington, DC reflects his landslide victory in runoff elections and his commitment to improve the conditions of earthquake victims and the country’s poor.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she was encouraged by Martelly’s emphasis on during the presidential campaign on meeting the needs of ordinary Haitians who have suffered a series of setbacks in the last year. Martelly has pledged to work on resettling those still living in tent encampments and rebuilding Haiti’s shattered capital city. Martelly’s positive reception also reflects the general disenchantment with Haiti’s current president, Rene Preval, who proved unable to rally his people or grapple with the difficult challenges of national reconstruction. Martelly’s celebrity and popular appeal to Haiti’s youth hopefully with translate into a more inclusive approach to governance in Haiti, which has suffered from social divisions and the exclusion of the majority of Haitians from the political process.

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What do we know about Haiti’s new president and his policies?

President-elect Martelly campaigned on a platform that called for change from both the political class and the policies that governed Haiti in the past. Martelly appealed to the country’s youth through celebrity, music and campaign rallies that were more like street parties than political forums. His supporters describe the president-elect as open minded and committed to a better future for Haitians.

During the campaign, Martelly called for improvements in educational opportunity, more available health care, better housing, and increased government services, but avoided providing specifics on how these goals would be accomplished. He also called for improved security through restoration of the Haitian army that was disbanded by then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Martelly’s call for restoring the army was seized upon by critics who noted that Haiti could ill afford the cost or the risk of recreating a military with a history of brutality and coups. Questions have also been raised about Martelly’s statement to a Canadian newspaper that he would consider an amnesty for former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier and President Aristide.

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What challenges does Haiti’s new government face?

Haiti’s new president will take office at a critical point in Haiti’s history. The damage from last year’s earthquake remains unrepaired, while chronic problems such as poverty, crime and disease are unresolved. Since Martelly campaigned as a political outsider, he will have to create alliances and build bridges to a broad range of political and economic interests. His selection of a prime minister and cabinet will be particularly important as will his ability to engage the new parliament where his party has only two representatives.

First, Martelly will have to deal with Haiti’s humanitarian crisis. The 700,000 residents of tent encampments must be resettled and the spread of cholera must be stopped. The new government will have to demonstrate its intention to fulfill campaign promises to provide educational opportunities and government services. It will also have restart Haiti’s stalled economy through infrastructure projects to provide employment, agricultural development to prevent food shortages and foreign investment to increase industrial production for export.

This is an ambitious agenda, but one that is required by Haiti’s exceptional circumstances.

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