Honeymoon Over for Haiti's New President?

Just a month into his new job, Haitian President Michel Martelly is finding the path to recovery littered with political roadblocks.

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President Martelly at last month's inauguration (Getty Images)

Even the skeptics had hopes when the former entertainer known as "Sweet Micky" was sworn in as Haiti's president. Michel Martelly presented himself as an outsider and won by a landslide over law professor and former first lady Mirlande Manigat. But reports from the island nation indicate that politics as usual may be back at a country still trying to recover from the devastating earthquake of January 2010.

Jacqueline Charles summarized the situation in the Miami Herald last week:

"Martelly has discovered that the job was tougher than he thought,' " said Daly Valet, publisher and editor-in-chief of Le Matin, a Port-au-Prince-based newspaper. "He's a president who wants to do some things, but he doesn't have the opportunity and institutional framework to do it, so he's trying to grab everything that can make him look good."

Martelly's administration faces severe short-term challenges, including a looming fuel and food crisis, hurricane season, the start of the school year and a surging cholera epidemic in the countryside. Public investments continue to languish, unemployment hovers above 70 percent, hundred of thousands remain homeless, and the International Monetary Fund has lowered its growth projections for this year to 8.6 percent from 10 percent. Thursday, a week after 28 people died in flooding, Haitians were warned to prepare, yet again, for heavy rains.

"People are going to get more and more frustrated as the rains fall and as hope that was generated by the promises of the election and the inauguration seem to be dissipating in 'politics as usual,'  " said Mark Schneider, a longtime Haiti observer with the International Crisis Group. "Haiti needs a government in place to work together on resettlement and on reconstruction and it needs it now.''

Instead, there are disquieting signs of political paralysis:

• Martelly has no government, and the prospects that parliament will approve his choice for prime minister, Daniel Rouzier, are uncertain.

• The president has mishandled his relations with the influential Haitian diaspora, the vast population of Haitians living abroad, which had seen his election as a chance for greater influence on their homeland.

• Martelly's policy toward the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, the principal U.S.-backed vehicle for reconstruction, is in doubt, following contradictory statements about its future from his team.

The biggest problem facing Martelly concerns his nomination of Rouzier, a 51-year-old U.S.-educated entrepreneur, as prime minister. Despite vigorous lobbying on Rouzier's behalf by former President René Préval, whose political coalition holds a comfortable majority in both chambers of parliament, Rouzier's supporters realize his prospects remain uncertain.

We always knew that whoever came into the presidency in Haiti would face a monumental task. Martelly, best known fot an outrageous stage presence in his former career, will have to come up with his best performance yet if this poor country is to advance.

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