At Last Haiti Gets a Government

Tony Best analyzes the political progress in Haiti in the last weeks for New York Carib News.

After almost five months of delays, Haiti has gotten a full operational government headed by Dr. Garry Conille, gynecologist and former United Nations official in Africa. And as if that news wasn’t good enough for President Michel Martelly, the newly elected President of the Creole-speaking Caribbean nation, the UN Security Council has voted unanimously to extend the mandate of the military mission in the Caribbean country, albeit at lower levels.

With Haitians at home and abroad taking a wait-and-see attitude towards the new Conille Administration, the Chamber of Deputies in Port-au-Prince endorsed a 17-member cabinet and the policy platform outlined by the new Prime Minister. The 81 favorable votes and the seven abstentions gave the government the kind of solid support it needs to get programs through the legislature. But the vote didn’t eliminate all of the questions about Conille, especially about his loyalty to Haitians, given his relationship with former U.S. President Bill Clinton, the UN representative who co-chairs the panel that supervises the multi-billion dollar reconstruction of the nation. The panel was established after last year’s devastating earthquake, which left at least 220,000 people dead and more than half million homeless victims still living in tent cities, almost two years after the 2010 disaster.

“There are some people in the Haitian community who wonder about his commitment to Haitians, in view of his links with former President Clinton,” said Ricoh Dupuis, manager of Radio Soleil in Brooklyn. They worry because Clinton is co-chair of the reconstruction panel and the Prime Minister is the other chairman.” The vote in the Chamber of Deputies came after a 14-hour debate which many had feared could lead to further delays in the installation of the government over the allocation of ministerial posts. Some elected officials were said to be jockeying for appointment to the cabinet. But the stamp of approval came despite the failed aspirations of some of the elected representatives.

The Senate also approved Conille’s political program and the cabinet. P.J. Patterson, Caricom’s representative in Haiti and a former Prime Minister of Jamaica, had previously expressed regret that the efforts to appoint a head of government were slowing down the reconstruction program. But there was more positive news for President Martelly. The Security Council voted in New York on Friday to extend the UN military and police presence in Haiti, MINUSTAH, for another year but agreed that the troop levels should be reduced by about 2,800, going from 13,300 to 10,581. The decision to keep the troops in Haiti was in a response to pleas by both Martelly and Valere Amos, UN Under-Secretary-General for humanitarian affairs and coordinator of disaster relief, who wanted a continued UN Military presence in Haiti.

As President Martell explained to the UN, the recovery efforts had at times “stumbled” but they were still needed for the foreseeable future. Amos took a broader view, insisting that “the earthquakes in Haiti and Pakistan have raised questions about how quickly we are getting to the people who need assistance and how to make that assistance more effective. The donor countries want to know about the effectiveness of the humanitarian responses. That’s why we have a reform agenda across the humanitarian system.” With about 60 percent of the several billions of dollars pledged by the international community to rebuild the earthquake ravaged nation paid up, the UN Security Council obviously agreed with Martelly and Amos that it would have been a mistake for the UN to pull out now.

That decision met with approval from the Haitian Diaspora in New York, Florida and elsewhere. Immigrants had demonstrated near the UN in September and earlier this month after some highly publicized incidents of sexual assault, alleged wanton destruction of public property, the introduction of cholera into the country and the hanging of a young man, allegedly by UN troops. “We welcome the decision to reduce the troops levels because there wasn’t a need for them,” said Harry Fouche’, a former Haitian Consul-General in New York.

“The scandals involving the UN troops and the introduction of cholera into the country by UN forces from Nepal were tragic and couldn’t be condoned.” UN troops from Uruguay were caught on tape raping a young Haitian man; soldiers from the Pacific were withdrawn after being accused of sexual assaults of women and Nigerian soldiers were said to have abused their authority in Haiti. Assessing conditions, Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary-General told reporters recently in New York that the “situation in Haiti remains fragile and we must be aware of reversals that could cause a new crisis.” But he was quick to insist that “Haiti’s future stability and prosperity will continue to depend on the political will of its leaders and citizen.” Several Caribbean leaders or their foreign ministers have urged the UN to step up its reconstruction efforts in Haiti. One of them was T. Brent Symonette, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, who called on the “international community to be generous in contributing to the Haitian Recovery Fund and very specifically we call on donor states to honor their pledges, some of which remain dishearteningly outstanding.”

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