Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

The Curious Priorities of Haiti’s President-elect; Michel Martelly is Putting the Army head of Poverty and Health Epidemics (Bob Keeler,Newsday)

By. Bob Keeler, Newsday

Photo credit: Getty/THONY BELIZAIRE | Haiti’s President-elect Michel Martelly

It would be nice to think of the inauguration of a newly elected president as a feel-good moment for Haiti, so badly in need of good news. But as always with Haiti, there are complications.

Michel Martelly, the singer-turned-president-elect, is less than two weeks away from his swearing in. Meanwhile, the results in the legislative elections have continued to be in dispute, and a medical calamity and hurricane season lie just ahead. So it’s not going to be easy for a nation so accustomed to misery and oppression to work up a lot of enthusiasm for a political event.

To begin with, the November election that led to a March runoff drew a pitifully small turnout. There were good reasons for that. Lavalas, the most popular party in Haiti, was excluded from the ballot. And last year’s Jan. 12 earthquake and Nov. 5 hurricane left so many Haitians living in tents that the logistics of registering and voting were immensely complex.

Before the election, many argued that it should be postponed until a later time, when it could be more fairly administered. After the election, many pointed to fraud and called for a completely new election, not the runoff the results required. Those who took that position included the two candidates who eventually opposed each other in the runoff that the international community pushed for: Martelly and Mirlande Manigat, a former first lady.

“As a result, two right-wing presidential candidates who had received combined support from only 11 percent of all registered Haitian voters went to the runoff elections,” wrote Nicole Phillips, a staff attorney at the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti.

Martelly won, and now he’s at the doorstep of power. “Martelly has a stronger constituency among the international community than he does among Haitian voters,” said Brian Concannon, director of the institute.

It’s impossible to know whether Martelly will rise to the occasion. But for a musician, he’s been more than a bit tone-deaf in the days leading up to his inauguration.

With his countrymen suffering so much, Martelly is talking about spending millions of dollars to reinstate the armed forces – never known as a defender of human rights. Former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide disbanded them, and they should stay that way.

Surely, the president formerly known as Sweet Micky can figure out better ways to spend Haiti’s money. For example, a new study published in the British medical journal Lancet predicts nearly 800,000 cases and 11,000 deaths from cholera. The proven ways to combat this disease are clean water, vaccinations and widespread use of antibiotics. That costs money. As long as those needs persist, spending millions on an army would be indefensible. Yes, Haiti has a crime problem. The answer to that is not an army, but an efficient police force.

Then there are the hundreds of thousands of “internally displaced persons,” living in camps with precious few toilets, inadequate security and other pressing problems. It’s so bad that 53 members of Congress wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, asking her to act decisively for a solution and to include more Haitians in the rebuilding process.

Meanwhile, as the world watches Egypt, Libya and Pakistan, Haiti’s suffering seems no longer top-of-mind around the globe. Whether the world is watching or not, the rainy season and the hurricane season ahead could very well make life in this impoverished nation even tougher.

If the new president wants to dispel the clouds that still linger around his election and prove himself a true man of the people, he must tend to their real needs.

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