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Outside editorial: Break the gridlock in Haiti

Posted: September 28, 2011 - 12:01am

The following editorial appeared in the Miami Herald:

Haitian President Michel Martelly’s first appearance before the U.N. General Assembly on Friday hardly came at a more crucial time. The international community is eager to help Haiti recover from last year’s crippling earthquake, but it wants a can-do partner in the presidential palace, and so far Martelly hasn’t sealed the deal.

At the moment, Haiti’s relationship with the U.N. mission in the country is a bit rocky. Many Haitians resent the presence of the U.N. peacekeeping force, known by the acronym MINUSTAH. It has been blamed for inadvertently introducing cholera into the country. Some members of the force are also under investigation for sexually abusing a young Haitian. The resentment is understandable, but Martelly should take the high road by acknowledging that the force of roughly 12,000 police officers and soldiers has been absolutely indispensable in maintaining law and order during Haiti’s prolonged agony.

Martelly campaigned against MINUSTAH when he was running for president. That did not endear him to countries that supplied the force’s members. The Brazilians, an important part of the force, have talked of leaving, but Haiti’s not ready. More than 600,000 people remain in makeshift camps. Criminals pose a constant menace, especially in Port-au-Prince and its environs. Drug trafficking is rampant. Haiti needs MINUSTAH.

An eventual drawdown can be phased in, but Martelly must resist the temptation to call for withdrawal in a short time frame. He should also forgo the notion of creating a Haitian national army at this time. Professionalizing Haiti’s weak police force so that it can eventually replace MINUSTAH is a more urgent task. Martelly must make that a priority if he’s serious about getting rid of international peacekeepers.

The other big challenge for Martelly is to show the international community that he’s prepared to fix Haiti’s internal politics. The designation of Garry Conille to become prime minister is a big step forward.

He’s a well-regarded, 45-year-old Haitian physician with a graduate degree in health administration from the University of North Carolina and also has experience in development on the African continent. He’s already received approval from the lower house of Parliament, but not from the Senate.

That seemed to be a done deal only a few days ago, but now some senators are complaining because the president has, in their view, exceeded his constitutional authority by making illegal appointments to key government positions that require a confirmed prime minister’s approval.

Result: another roadblock. Without a prime minister, Martelly can’t claim to lead a functioning government, and without that, the international community is not going to provide its full cooperation in rebuilding the nation.

Regardless of who’s right, it’s up to Martelly to break the gridlock so that Conille can step into his designated job. Once again, the president must be willing to take the high road.

It would be the demonstration of leadership that could break Haiti’s political paralysis and show the international community its leaders are committed to rescuing the country from its misery.

The earthquake occurred more than 20 months ago. It’s long past time for Haiti to begin the recovery process in earnest. And it’s time Haiti had leaders who can look beyond their own political well-being and offer the country a better future.

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