Troubled Haiti: Overdue elections add to the list of its problems

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The troubled half-island of Haiti has a new problem to complicate its national life, this time over scheduling elections in the face of wrangling politicians.

Haiti, population 11 million, seems almost always to be in some kind of trouble. It also has been able, with some success, to attract international aid to help it climb out of the holes it seems to find itself in. The most recent catastrophe was the 2010 earthquake, which killed an estimated 316,000, and left its capital, Port-au-Prince, with many of its buildings ruined, and an estimated 1.5 million Haitians without housing.

The international response to the disaster included many promises of relief. Some $9 billion was pledged. Some has been delivered; some has not. Recovery and reconstruction based on the relief has -- as is normal for Haiti -- presented a mixed picture. Some work has been accomplished. There has been a glitch caused by a cholera epidemic. Some of the Haitians claim that United Nations forces were responsible for introducing the disease to Haiti. That issue is still under dispute.

The current problem, holding up recovery and eventual economic development is of a different sort. The current president, Michel J. Martelly, elected in 2011, is far overdue in setting parliamentary elections. Haiti’s constitution forbids him a second consecutive term and the country’s parliament is not ready to play ball with him on amending the constitution. That’s one snarl.

Another snarl is that two former presidents, both of whom showed themselves to be scoundrels in office, Jean-Claude Duvalier, “Baby Doc,” and Jean- Bernard Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest, were allowed to return to Haiti in recent years. 

 Both would also just love to be back in office, the true catbird seat in terms of opportunity to steal, and are agitating to prevent the electoral process to function until they are properly positioned to re-install themselves in the provisional presidential palace. (The actual one remains in ruins.)

In the meantime, international aid donors are holding back on promised funds for reconstruction and development, arguing, probably correctly, that the political situation in the country is too unsettled for them to be able to provide aid with any assurance that it will be used honestly and well. It’s hard to see what exactly any outside party can do about the current situation in Haiti, but to the degree that the United States, the largest single aid donor, can influence events there, the first thing that should be done is push Mr. Martelly and the Haitian legislature hard to set elections according to a firm schedule.

The people of Haiti deserve help and their politicians shouldn’t be allowed to block it.


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