Martelly: Haiti reconstruction ‘desperately slow’

Haiti  president-elect Michel Martelly, on a visit to the United States, criticized on Wednesday the ‘desperately slow’ reconstruction of his country following a devastating 2010 earthquake, Agence France Presse reports.

‘My new vision for my country is to begin all the useful and necessary reforms,’ Mr Martelly told a joint press conference in Washington alongside US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Final election results later on Wednesday are set to confirm Mr Martelly’s landslide but also usher in a parliament dominated by his predecessor’s ruling party. Mrs Clinton, for her part, formally congratulated Mr Martelly on his victory and gave her unreserved backing to the 50-year-old political novice, who led a colorful and bawdy past as a carnival entertainer.

‘I’m very encouraged by the campaign that Mr Martelly ran, his emphasis on the people and their needs, his willingness to be very clear on what he hoped to achieve on their behalf,’ Mrs Clinton said.

‘We are behind him, we have a great deal of enthusiasm…. The people of Haiti may have a long road ahead of them, but as they walk it the United States will be with you all the way.’ The election results will lay bare the difficult job the new president faces as he sets about building an administration to turn around the poorest country in the Americas.

There is concern Mr Martelly, whose fledgling Repons Peysan party is expected to win only a handful of seats in Haiti’s legislature, will struggle to stitch together a coalition capable of driving through badly needed reforms. Haiti is still trying to recover from a January 2010 earthquake that killed more than 225,000 people, displaced 1.5 million, and left the capital in ruins.

President René Préval’s ruling INITE (Unity) party was tipped to keep its parliamentary majority in the legislative elections, but it now appears likely to fall short while remaining the dominant force.

Martelly has vowed his first six months as president will focus on moving hundreds of thousands of quake survivors out of squalid tent cities, tackling a resilient cholera epidemic, and boosting agricultural production.

Fifteen months after the earthquake, the pace of reconstruction is glacial, a fact Martelly tapped into during a campaign that captured the imagination of Haiti’s overwhelming majority: the young urban poor.

Haiti recovery commission co-chair Bill Clinton, the former US president, has indicated that billions of dollars in promised international aid will flow more freely only once a stable new government is in place.

Martelly did not wait for the definitive election results before embarking on his first, all-important overseas trip to the United States. His first meetings were on Tuesday with the heads of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

World Bank chief Robert Zoellick and Martelly “discussed food prices, the policies that can spur job creation, education leading to employment, and the improvement of the business environment in Haiti,” Zoellick’s special envoy to the country, Alexandre Abrantes, told AFP.

Haitian health officials produced further evidence Wednesday of problems on the horizon for Martelly, saying “residual outbreaks” of cholera had emerged in the north, the central plateau, and the southeast.

Public health director Gabriel Timothe told AFP the new cases did not represent “a spike” and the overall trend was still downward. Almost 5,000 people have died since the epidemic erupted mid-October.

Potential time-bombs lie on the road ahead for Martelly in the shape of former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier and Haiti’s first democratically-elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

The two giants of Haiti’s past returned from exile recently, Duvalier from France in January, Aristide from South Africa in March, and although they have stayed out of politics so far, their lingering presence is an unsettling factor.

In an interview this week with Montreal’s French-language daily La Presse, Martelly said he was considering an amnesty for both, in the spirit of reconciliation.

Preliminary results of the March 20 presidential run-off credited Martelly with some 67 percent of the vote, compared to less than 32 percent for his rival, former first lady Mirlande Manigat.

Martelly is due to take office on May 14.

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