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Will Haitians, International Community Rally Around President-Elect?

April 6, 2011 at 6:21 PM EDT
Haitian President-elect Michel Martelly faces immense challenges when he assumes control of the impoverished country still struggling to recover from the January 2010 earthquake. Ray Suarez talks with TransAfrica Forum's Nicole Lee and the U.S. Institute of Peace's Robert McGuire about the battles ahead for Martelly.
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RAY SUAREZ: For more on Martelly and the country he inherits, we go to Nicole Lee, president of the TransAfrica Forum — she has lived and worked in Haiti as a human rights advocate — and Robert Maguire, an associate professor at Trinity Washington University and chair of the Haiti Working Group at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Well, the results aren’t certified until April 16. Mrs. Manigat is claiming fraud. But you don’t feel we feed any qualifiers; Michel Martelly is the next president, Nicole?

NICOLE LEE, TransAfrica Forum: Well, most likely. Unfortunately, though, while we can say that he most likely has 67 percent of the vote, that’s only 22 percent of the actual registered voted — voters voted in the election.

And so we certainly do have to be concerned about his mandate. Even though most likely they will certify that he is the winner, we’re not really sure who actually voted for him.

RAY SUAREZ: Why did he win, Professor?

ROBERT MAGUIRE, Trinity Washington University: Well, I think he won for a couple of reasons.

One, I think he did well in the primary election because the Haitian voters seemed to reject the candidate presented by President Preval, a great deal of frustration with the Preval government and its inability to respond to the quake.

Now, in the runoff election, I think his victory is a combination of rejecting the Haitian political elites, the Haitian political class, which has tried to get power in Haiti through the ballot box for 25 years, and has had a next-to-impossible time succeeding in that.

But I also think Martelly kind of represents a break, something new, youth, new, vibrancy, because Haitians are basically fed up. They haven’t really seen governments that have been able to deliver to them. And he’s made some very strong promises. He’s a very good communicator. And he won them over to his side.

RAY SUAREZ: Ms. Lee, how do you explain it?

NICOLE LEE: Well, I think that we have to be clear that, while Martelly has appeal to the youth — he was — he’s a popular figure in Haiti — the truth of the matter is he does present some old ways of thinking, if you will.

He has talked about bringing back the military. He is the first president in a democratically elected — in a democratically elected forum in Haiti to actually talk about bringing back the military, to actually not have any sort of ties to Lavalas or to any other popular movements in Haiti.

So while, certainly, he’s fresh and young, people are excited about him, some of these young people are too young, frankly, to remember the military regimes in 1991, which, frankly, he was in support of.

RAY SUAREZ: And we should explain that, right now, a United Nations force combined from many nations is providing the military service in Haiti.

Well, Professor, did he give any indication that he knows how to run a country during his campaign, the issues he highlighted, or the things he said he intended to do?

ROBERT MAGUIRE: Well, he — no, I don’t think — I mean, he has asked Haitians to take a tremendous leap of faith. This is a man who is an entertainer and is now going to be the leader of a nation.

He did surround himself, I think, with a public-relations firm and advisers who helped him a lot. I have been told that he was attentive at meetings. He went to a U.N. briefing, one of the few candidates who did it, took ample notes. And then, the very next day, he was on the radio talking about the kind of things he had learned.

So, without a doubt, his learning curve is going to have to be skyrocketing, but he’s also mentioned that he understands that, and he will surround himself with experts who can do the job.

A major question is going to be, of course, who will those experts be? And there are some concerns that some of his team does hearken back to the past, to the Duvalier past, and his position to re-establish the Haitian army is going to be one that will galvanize and polarize Haiti tremendously.

And I’m not sure there’s going to be great ability of the international community, enthusiasm of the international community to respond to that either.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, Americans have watched this country struggle through the last 20 years. What does he have to do right out of the gate?

NICOLE LEE: Well, first, I think that there are some things that he’s talked about, like the military, that I think should not be priorities.

One of the things that he’s promised the Haitian people, and for the majority of Haitians is very important, is education and reconstruction. So, the question is will this learning curve that Professor Maguire is talking about, will it be enough to ensure that the international community has the faith in him and in his administration to start — begin to provide the much-needed aid to the government?

So far, while we have seen a lot of aid on the ground, aid has not been provided to the government of Haiti because we were waiting for these elections. Well, now these elections have happened. Now we’re here. What will the international community do next? I think that that’s a major question.

And if Martelly is going to be the leader of everyone in Haiti, he needs to ensure that the majority of Haitians, who are impoverished, who are still living in tent communities, that their needs are met first.

RAY SUAREZ: So, is Haiti’s future, is the fate of the country in the short term in the hands of people who aren’t Haitians?

ROBERT MAGUIRE: Well, Haiti doesn’t have a great deal of space to negotiate its sovereignty right now.

It is extremely dependent on international actors. I mean, ironically, tomorrow and Friday, there will be a meeting of the international — the Interim Haitian Reconstruction Commission, which, you know, is really a very powerful, mixed Haitian-international body, but it is making decisions.

How — Martelly’s got the challenge of trying to negotiate a little more sovereign space, frankly, because he — part of his campaign shtick was that: We will get Haitians to stand up.

But he’s going to have to gain confidence in — within the international community first. Now, one of the things that might be very important is the fact that we are on about the first anniversary of the donors conference that was held at the U.N. last year, where $9 billion or $10 billion were pledged over five years. Very little of that has been disbursed so far, as Nicole alluded to.

But he’s going to have to gain confidence. And one way is perhaps the position that he will take on the plans that were approved and endorsed by the international community a year ago, upon which they pledged. So, what will Martelly’s government be on issues such as manufacturing, tourism, support of the agricultural economy, decentralization of the economies through supporting growth poles outside of Port-au-Prince?

These will be very strong indicators to see how he will be able to work with the international actors.

RAY SUAREZ: For all the crisis, for all the real challenges facing the presumed president-elect, are we overlooking what a big accomplishment it is for an elected president to hand power to another elected president in this country?

NICOLE LEE: I think that that is important, but we also have to look at, at what cost?

We had a situation where the first round of elections was fraught with corruption. We have a situation where people didn’t go to the polls, frankly, because they didn’t believe that the process was fair.

And so, Martelly and the Parliament are going to have a very difficult row to hoe, if you will, in ensuring that the Haitian people — it’s one thing to get the confidence of the international community. They also need to still get the confidence of the Haitian people.

And it’s going to be up to them that they balance the interests of the international community with the real aspirations of the majority of Haitians.

RAY SUAREZ: Nicole Lee and Robert Maguire, thank you both.

NICOLE LEE: Thank you.

ROBERT MAGUIRE: Sure. Thank you.