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Editorial

Haiti needs action, not words

A year and a half after the quake, reconstruction efforts are stalled because of political fighting.

August 24, 2011

Haitian President Michel Martelly just marked his first 100 days in office, yet the bawdy kompa singer turned politician who vowed to remake his homeland is still struggling to fulfill his first obligation: forming a government.

An opposition-led Parliament twice has nixed Martelly's choice for prime minister. Without one, Martelly and Haiti are left without a functioning government. A caretaker administration oversees Haiti's day-to-day affairs but lacks authority to set goals or direct a reconstruction strategy. In the meantime, plans and funds sit idle.

Haiti cannot afford the political stalemate. A year and a half after the quake, more than half a million people are still living in tents or makeshift housing. The start of the school year was pushed back to October, to allow Martelly more time to fulfill his campaign promise of providing free schooling to some of Haiti's poor. A cholera outbreak is growing more acute, and the start of the hurricane season could bring new misery.

Meanwhile, just over a third of the $5.6 billion pledged by the United States and other donor nations has been dispersed. Much of that was spent on relief efforts or modest attempts to rebuild. The Interim Haitian Recovery Commission, created to oversee reconstruction efforts, is moving slowly. Former President Clinton and Haiti's caretaker prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, have been serving as co-chairmen, but until a new prime minister is named and takes over from Bellerive, the commission can approve only small projects.

In Haiti, which has a long history of both natural and man-made disasters, the consequences of political squabbles can be dire. But Martelly shouldn't shoulder all the blame. Although he promised to catapult the country out of its perpetual state of crisis, he can't do it alone. Parliament and the country's economic elite have failed to set aside their own interests and act with a sense of urgency. They have circulated competing governance plans instead of negotiating a deal to install a prime minister. As Clinton said during a visit last weekend, Haiti "needs a government in a hurry," not politics as usual.

The earthquake tore Haiti apart, but it also provided an opportunity for the country to break from its history of misery. It's up to the president and Parliament not to squander it.

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