Haiti: can Michel Martelly bring prosperity?

The new President is sworn in proclaiming that change and improvements are on their way.


Haiti is now open for business.  The man of the masses, an ex construction worker and Kompas dance musician, is now President Martelly.  He wants to effect rapid change to his country, modernising the "police and judiciary" to increase security, and make the place "a better environment for investors" by restoring "confidence in state authority", reports the BBC.  He may be hampered by ex-president Preval's party which controls parliament - despite Rene Preval embracing Martelly warmly at the new president's inauguration.  They purport to be friends.

These political constitutions don't necessarily make for smooth transitions of power, do they?  Any system of government which sports an Executive which is so often at loggerheads with the Legislature tends to lead to inaction and impasse.  Note the situation after mid-term elections in the United States.  If you're going to have a written constitution, then better devise one which produces decisive government - like in France or Germany.

That said, Haiti must welcome this new broom sweeping away the poverty and abuses of power of the past.  The World Factbook says "Haiti is a free market economy that enjoys the advantages of low labor costs and tariff-free access to the US for many of its exports. Poverty, corruption, and poor access to education" are key constraints.

Yet Haiti - often cited as one of the world's poorest countries - is in fact richer per head than Burma (Myanmar), Rwanda, Ethiopia or Zimbabwe.  There are around twenty countries less well off than Haiti.  So it is impoverished but not destitute.  It has far to climb.  Is Martelly the man to make it prosperous for the first time in its chequered history?  And what exactly qualifies this man, with that background, to steer his nation to growth, freedom, efficiency and advancement?

"Sweet Micky" Martelly is an ex-crack addict and triple mortgage defaulter who blotted his copy-book by befriending such Haitians as Michel Fran├žois, an ex-Port au Prince based chief of National Police who allegedly participated in the 1991 coup which overthrew Jean-Bertrand Aristide.  Fran├žois has since been convicted in absentia of human rights abuses.

Haiti deserves good governance.  Let's face it, since winning independence from colonial France in 1804 and being granted its freedom in 1825, it has had its fair share of coup d'etats, dictatorships, quakes, US invasions and we must not forget the dreaded tontons macoutes militia!

Martelly might be genuinely well intentioned, but the near ten million Haitians will expect fast improvements to correct the mistakes of the past and to deal with the tent-cities which have sprung up since last year's earthquake killed 316,000, injured 300,000 and made one million of them homeless.

Everyone will wish this reformed addict, talented musician and aspiring politician all the luck in the world.  Ambition is a great resource, but resolve and support will be needed in spades to improve the lot of the Western Hemisphere's poorest.

Can Martelly achieve his aims, and will the Haitians let him?

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