Modest gains mark Haitian leader's 1st year

By Trenton Daniel

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, May 12 2012 9:17 p.m. MDT

Added Joseph: "He wasn't able to look for consensus because he's an artist. The lights must be on him."

Martelly also has struggled to disband a group of military veterans who have tried to hold him to his campaign pledge of restoring the army. They had been training before he took office, but his victory emboldened them and they have paraded throughout the capital and countryside, toting side arms and sporting military uniforms, despite government orders for them to stop. Their paramilitary-like presence has embarrassed not just the government but also the United Nations peacekeeping mission.

Martelly also suffered for the lack of a strong political party. Only three members of his party hold seats in the 99-member Chamber of Deputies and none in the 30-member Senate, though he's found allies in both chambers.

His political base remains tiny and he counts a tight-knit circle of longtime friends as his advisers, many of them fellow alumni of an elite Catholic high school and many of them foreign to politics. Even then, infighting has been a hallmark of the administration.

"They are too close and they don't open up," said Claude Beauboeuf, an economist and radio talk show host. "Even those on the inside are crushed sometimes."

Despite the clashes with parliament, anger seldom spilled into the street as it has in past administrations. There have been no major signs of disgust with Martelly aside from a few demonstrations.

Disappointment might seem justified for someone like Jean-Baptiste, the mother of two. She voted for Martelly to get her out of a park-turned-encampment. But her forced removal at the hands of city officials was not what she had in mind.

Martelly condemned evictions, but they happened anyway. Yet Jean-Baptiste still holds out hope for the candidate who promised change. She offered this unsolicited message to the president: "I hope he can bring down the price of tap-taps," the brightly colored pickups that transport people for about 40 cents.

The signature project of the Martelly administration has been the school program that aims to double the number of children in school. His plan to fund it through a tax on incoming international phone calls and wire transfers upset Haitians abroad who use such services. The $22 million collected is on hold with the Central Bank until Parliament approves its release. The government paid for this year's tuition by taking money from other parts of the budget, said Miloody Vincent, director of the education ministry's press bureau

Vincent acknowledges that the quality of the education may not have improved yet. "The most important thing is to put the kids in school," he said. "We're working later to improve the quality of the education."

There are no independent studies of the program so far, but education specialist Mohamed Fall of UNICEF said he believed at least 70 percent of the targeted children had received their aid.

While ever-inefficient Haitian government has still not completely funded the schools, the aid is a significant sum for many in Haiti, where about half the children didn't go to school before the quake

Take Dania Nerius, the 38-year-old mother of four children, ages 6 to 17. Her husband lost his right leg in the earthquake, and his job as a mechanic. They nearly had to pull their children from the school. But the tuition program helped her save $360 a year — a lot in a country where most get by on $2 a day — so she can pay rent and invest money in her business as a roadside peddler of minutes for a cellphone company.

"That helped me," Nerius said one afternoon, "because the money would've otherwise come out of my pocket."

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