MAY 2012

Michel Martelly first anniversary as president

Michel MartellyA mixed record for former singer

Michel Martelly was the king of Haitian music, a high-energy charmer who became president of a broken nation by promising sweeping changes in employment, education, energy, environment and the rule of law.

Haiti is open for business, Martelly declared as he took the oath of office on the grounds of a collapsed presidential palace, a tent city behind the iron fence serving as a visible reminder of the devastating January 2010 earthquake.

A year after his May 14 inauguration, many of the tents are gone and the plaza of independence heroes is slowly beginning to look the way it did before the quake. But efforts to rebrand Haiti from a charity to investment destination have been eclipsed by self-made internal crises, controversy and corruption scandals. Further threatening stability and security is a rogue force of decommissioned military officers and prospective soldiers who are pushing for revival of the country's disbanded army.

The people had a lot of hope in Martelly, said Sauveur Pierre Etienne, leader of the opposition Organization of People in Struggle (OPL) party. There's nothing that has changed. It's continuity.

Martelly's year-long tenure has been uneven at best, with both critics and supporters agreeing that he will not be fully judged until his five-year term is over. Still, his governing style, political naivete and circle of influential advisers have put him in conflict with parliamentarians who as recently as Friday were blocking a final vote on new Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe's government because of disagreements over its composition.

International observers say that if Martelly wants to move beyond slogans, and have his many announced initiatives go beyond public relations, the focus in the coming months must be on political stability. Increasingly losing enthusiasm and patience with Haiti's dysfunctional politics, Haiti's foreign friends had hoped a new Lamothe-led government would be a turning point to help jump-start stalled reconstruction, amend the constitution and address judicial reforms needed to create jobs.

Lamothe, a 39-year-old entrepreneur and close Martelly adviser, said Haiti needs to focus on political stability and his government plans to reach out to everyone. He was the fourth pick for the No. 2 job in a year, the second to be ratified in six months.

This is a massive undertaking with limited means, « he said. » We are doing the best that we can under very difficult circumstances. As his country's jet-setting ambassador, Martelly has championed Haiti's potential on the international stage, impressing former world leaders, movie stars and top fashion models, among others. But he has not been as successful at home.

Martelly and his team have plunged the country into needless politically linked controversy and gridlock, and reopened polarized strife, in large part because of an orientation toward governance that is tightly inclusive, not widely-embracing of different actors, and takes a 'my way or the highway' approach toward differing views, said Robert Maguire, director of the Latin American and Hemispheric Studies Program at George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs in Washington.

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Haiti Live, 14.05.12

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