By Jacqueline Charles, McClatchy Newspapers
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — More than five months after a devastating earthquake, there are worrisome signs that the massive rebuilding efforts have stalled, a strongly worded report by the chairman of the powerful U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee says.
Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., is calling on Haitian President Rene Preval to show greater leadership in Haiti’s post-quake reconstruction and for international donors, including the United States, to improve coordination and speak with one voice.
”Key decisions remain in flux and critical humanitarian issues related to shelter and resettlement are not resolved,” the report said.
The report, to be released Tuesday, also notes that fragmentation and lack of coordination among donors “are undercutting recovery and rebuilding.”
Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, who co-chairs the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission, defended the government’s handling of the crisis, saying that Preval’s leadership has allowed for Haitians to remain united despite the challenges.
”We’ve kept a united nation during this period; that is leadership,” he said.
And Bellerive said the government has a plan to rebuild the country.
”We know where we are going but no one is going to make us go any faster, or in a direction that doesn’t benefit the Haitian people,” he said.
The, 7.0-magnitude quake on Jan. 12 killed a government-estimated 300,000 Haitians, and 1.5 million people remain underneath tents and tarps in a country where a few days of rain could lead to deaths.
It is the second time this month that an influential member of Congress has issued a report critical of Preval’s lack of prioritization and decision-making.
Richard Lugar, R-Ind., ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, earlier this month urged Preval to move faster to schedule presidential and parliamentary elections, or risk losing the confidence of the U.S. Congress.
Kerry and Lugar hold significant sway over U.S. efforts in Haiti, and can hold up funds to the embattled country if they’re not satisfied with the pace of reconstruction. The United States is Haiti’s biggest ally, and while support for Haiti remains on Capitol Hill, a $2.8 billion aid package the Obama administration is seeking remains stalled in Congress.
Foreign Relations Committee staffers compiled the report after site visits and extensive interviews with those involved in Haiti’s recovery.
It cites the lack of scaffolding on a crumbled presidential palace as emblematic that the rebuilding has stalled.
While the rebuilding must be Haitian-government led, the United States has to take an active role in the process, Kerry wrote.
The report cites 10 critical issues for Haiti’s rebuilding that require urgent attention by the Haitian government and Obama administration. They include conflicting messages from donors to Preval, setting an election schedule and the lack of government guidance about its plans.
”The government has not done an effective job of communicating to Haitians that it is in charge and ready to lead the rebuilding effort,” the report said. “President Preval should take a more visible and active role, despite the difficulties confronting his government.”
Preval, who has relied on close supporters to lead the recovery and reconstruction, should make the rebuilding more inclusive and empower top lieutenants to make key decisions about land tenure, for instance, to relocate Haitians living in squalor camps, the report says.
The U.S. Senate’s reservations are echoed by others in the international community including the U.N. Security Council. Member states have expressed concerns about building materials being delayed and donors — who pledged more than $5 billion over the next two years — not fulfilling their pledges. At the same time, the international community appears poised for a showdown with Preval over presidential and parliamentary elections. Preval and the international community want to avoid an interim government after his term ends early next year. But two diplomats say their governments are growing increasingly frustrated and impatient with “his disengagement.”
Preval has yet to formally set the elections date, and has refused repeated requests to revamp the beleaguered Provisional Electoral Council, or CEP, which is responsible for carrying out elections. The credibility of the body is key to avoiding a boycott or another Haitian political crisis, top diplomats warned as late as last Thursday in a closed-door meeting with Preval.
”The extraordinary challenges Haiti must face in the coming years demand responsive leadership, unwavering commitment and a clear vision,” Lugar said in a statement.
”If elections are not held before President Preval”s mandate expires, Haiti may be confronted by a vacuum of power at every level of its government. Haiti does not need to add a political crisis to the death and destruction caused by the Jan. 12 earthquake.”
Preval has countered that changing the CEP — which would require groups to appoint members — could invite spoilers from opponents who have been demanding his resignation and the move toward an interim government.
”What’s important is that the Haitian people have an opportunity to go to the polls and make their choice,” Preval told The Miami Herald.
But there is growing concern that a Haitian political crisis could derail U.S. efforts to help.
”Republicans and Democrats may disagree on many issues related to U.S. Haiti policy, but the importance of having fair, transparent and free elections is not one of them,” said a top Republican aide.
(Special correspondent Stewart Stogel at the United Nations contributed to this report.)
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