Conflict & Justice

Ups and downs in Martelly's first year at Haiti's helm


Haitian President Michel Joseph Martelly listens during a session 'Building a better Haiti'' at the WEF meeting 2012 in Davos on January 27, 2012.



The singer-turned-president formerly known as Sweet Mickey is a charmer. He greets crowds with hugs, kisses and gifts "from the President," but Michel Martelly may not be everything post-quake Haiti needs to rebuild. As pressure mounts to reinstate a military accused of numerous human rights abuses and many rebuilding efforts have either stalled or run out of funding, Martelly has his hands full. 

Yesterday in Port-au-Prince, Martelly and his wife Sophia laid a wreath at the re-lit eternal flame at the monument to the Unknown Slave, a historic marker of the slave revolt that gained the country its independence, that Martelly says "symbolizes the rebirth of Haitians and Haiti," according to the Miami Herald. 

But despite his recent successes, such as clearing Champ de Mars, the plaza-turned-displacement camp in the city center, and getting 1 million children into schools, the people are still starving and a showdown with what used to be the army seems imminent. 

Before taking office in 2011 Martelly allegedly met with the leaders of the disbanded army and promised to reform it when he was elected. Now, former members of the military have taken over abandoned bases, wear uniforms and carry arms in the cities and villages. They refuse to remove themselves until they speak with the president. 

More from GlobalPost: Haiti’s new Parliament building sits unfinished and unused

“We are ready to fight. We are in a battle for a normal cause. We are battling for a noble cause, a constitutional cause, a cause that is legal,” said Jean Fednel Lafalaise to the Herald. He spent 10 years on active duty in Haiti’s armed forces and seems to be the defacto spokesperson for the rag-tag group. He seems to believe the president will keep his word, and told AP, "This is why we asked all our families to vote for Martelly."

The army was disbanded in 1995 after years of interference with politics and repeated coups, as well as a shoddy reputation for what George Washington University Professor Robert Maguire calls "arbitrary abuse." This week they've demanded reinstatement with threats and a group of the rogue soldiers were arrested by UN peacekeepers.

In addition to the problems with the former army, Martelly is either indifferent to Haiti's dysfunctional corruption or encouraging it, depending on who you ask. His second prime minister was sworn in yesterday, after the first one resigned after only a few months. According to reports, Martelly is unsympathetic to the press, refusing to take questions he doesn't like, and orchestrated the arrest of a parliamentarian who loudly disagreed with him. 

"Martelly’s pursuit of a my-way-or-the-highway approach toward governing has already weakened the patterns of broadly inclusive governance and political tolerance that preceded him," wrote Maguire in an op-ed in the Miami Herald. "His repeated provocation of the legislative branch has sent a signal that the country’s hard won but halting gains in establishing democratic patterns and practices over the past 25 years are now at risk."

More from GlobalPost: [Re]Building Port-au-Prince

Other questions facing the new president as he heads into four more years as the country's leader include the hungry, jobless citizens. Martelly has a remarkably high (some put it at 80 percent) approval rating, but it won't last long if he doesn't do something soon. 

After a grant from the Canadian government, Martelly was able to give $500 hand outs in an effort to close down the tent cities. But according to diplomats, there's no plan in place to continue helping with jobs or housing. 

"Haitians' living conditions have not improved since Martelly took office. Tents have been replaced by concrete structures with the help of a $500 per person payout, but some former tent dwellers have returned to quake-damaged homes slated for demolition," reports the Herald. "In other cases, they are living in shacks on a barren hill outside the capital where the cholera and quake dead are buried."

For more news from the ground in Haiti, check out GlobalPost's Special Report "Fault Line: Aid, Politics and Blame in Post-quake Haiti"