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Short take: A 'rock star' for Haiti?

  • Article by: JOHN RASH
  • Star Tribune
  • April 6, 2011 - 10:18 PM

Crises consuming North Africa, the Mideast and Japan have understandably obscured the ongoing humanitarian and political problems in Haiti.

The story is still stark.

Even though it’s well past a year since the devastating earthquake, less than 8 percent of rubble has been cleared in the capital Port-au-Prince. Accordingly, most Haitians still have no permanent housing, no access to sanitation, and are constantly re-exposed to cholera-infested water.

Long after buildings collapsed, Haitian and international resolve to solve the problems has crumbled, too. Former president Rene Preval couldn’t prevail in his attempt to overcome internal obstacles.

“For whatever set of reasons – corruption, incompetence, fear – he did not clear the stopgaps and unclog the bureaucratic pipes,” said Laurie Garrett, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations. “And on top of it all a hefty percentage of the government was killed.”

Not surprisingly, this has led to a division between Haitians, donor nations, and non-governmental organizations.

“While there are many ways to blame every single player on the ground in Haiti, it is very clear that there are some specific problems that are about governance, and that someone has to step in and take control,” Garrett added.

Haitians hope that someone is Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly, who on Monday was announced as the winner in a runoff presidential election.

“Micky’s a rock star,” Garrett said, referring to his political popularity.

She wasn’t referring to his music – he’s usually described as a “Carnival singer” – and was one of Haiti’s most popular entertainers.

Like one-time actors Ronald Reaganand Joseph Estrada, who became presidents of the United States and the Philippines, respectively, Martelly’s star status helped him create a potent political movement.

The true test wasn’t whether Martelly could get elected. It’s what he’ll do to help Haitians. Although it’s likely he’ll turn to America for even more help. But the Obama administration recognizes its limits, said Garrett.

“We’re looking at the post-Katrina world where Americans are quite sober about the reality of our limitations. But Haiti is our backyard. It’s nobody else’s problem as much as it is ours, except for the Haitians themselves.”

John Rash is a Star Tribune editorial writer columnist. Follow him on Twitter @rashreport.

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