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Martelly offers fresh hope to quake-hit Haiti

by Staff Writers
Port-Au-Prince (AFP) April 18, 2011
Fresh from a resounding presidential election win last month, former popular singer Michel Martelly has vowed to quickly relaunch stalled efforts to rebuild the earthquake-ravaged nation.

The pace of reconstruction has been glacial since the January 2010 quake, but Martelly, known to many by his stage name "Sweet Micky," wants to make a fresh start when he takes over next month from outgoing President Rene Preval.

The 50-year-old has promised tangible results within the first 100 days of his administration, but there are understandable fears about the abilities of the former carnival entertainer who is a complete political novice.

To effectively rule the notoriously dysfunctional Caribbean nation, which is the poorest country in the Americas, he must first stitch together a government from a parliament in which his party only has a handful of seats.

The problems facing Martelly are vast: from endemic poverty and corruption to reforming health and education departments that are largely dependent on foreign NGOs and dealing with a cholera epidemic that has claimed almost 5,000 lives since October.

When the succession takes place on May 14, nearly 500 days will have passed since the earthquake disaster, which claimed more than 220,000 lives and left some 1.5 million homeless.

Progress has been hampered by political paralysis, with the makeup of Haiti's parliament and the identity of the prime minister still to be determined at the end of a protracted election process that began in November.

"All of us, at all levels, are hoping change will speed up when the new government is in place," said Patrick Fequieres, who leads a family-run water treatment and construction business.

More than 15 months on, hundreds of thousands of Haitians whose homes and livelihoods were obliterated by the 7.0-magnitude quake still live in squalid tent cities, losing hope for the future.

The international community has pledged billions of dollars to speed Haiti's recovery and former US president Bill Clinton, who co-chairs the reconstruction commission, has indicated funds will flow a lot more freely once the transfer of political power is peacefully achieved.

The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission "landed in a chaotic situation and had a hard time taking off," said former Haitian foreign minister Jean-Robert Simonise.

But he expressed hope things would change once Martelly takes office.

"He has the leadership to do so and the fact that he is highly criticized -- that there are doubts about his abilities -- will force him to show" what he can do, said Simonise.

He expressed hope that a rebuilding effort spearheaded by Martelly could bolster private investment and help reverse the prevailing public sentiment that foreign officials are detached from the local population.

The legacy of Preval -- once praised for bringing stability to Haiti after decades of bloody coups, dictatorship and misrule -- has been dented by the perception that his management of the post-quake reconstruction has been poor.

Preval was not "up to the job during the catastrophe that followed the earthquake," said businessman Reginald Boulos. "The country needs real change today."

Haiti's election commission, the Provisional Electoral Council, has postponed the announcement of final vote results until Wednesday, but is unlikely to overturn Martelly's commanding win in the March 20 run-off.

Preliminary results gave Martelly 67.57 percent of the vote against former first lady Mirlande Manigat, who finished with 31.74 percent.

The IHRC said it hoped to pick of the pace of rebuilding once Martelly was sworn in.

"With the advent of a president who was elected with 67 percent of the vote, the arrival of a new team to power, the election of new parliamentarians, we can only hope for a new momentum in reconstruction," a spokesperson said in a statement.

Boulos suggested there could be a price to pay if Martelly's hope-filled campaign does not translate into real progress.

"There is a positive spirit in the air. People believe, people wait," he said. "We better make sure these people are not disappointed."

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