Haitians Still Have No Government

Four months after the election, millions wait for President Martelly to act.

Luxin Malande (Marvin Anderson)
Luxin Malande (Marvin Anderson)

Luxin Malande says he does the only thing he can do while in his tent city. Wait.

He sits outside his shanty in Port-au-Prince not far from the historic national palace, its collapsed dome-shaped roof still visible among the rubble. 

People lie nearby on the ground, muddy-faced and in tattered clothes. Others hide behind broken pillars of a collapsed cathedral as they gather runoff water from the streets for showering, cooking and cleaning. They bathe as cars, buses and people pass through the formerly grand Champs De Mars Square, where native Haitians can hardly recognize their home. 

Malande, who is unemployed, reminisces with his neighbors about the years before the earthquake, when the downtown area, now home to thousands of displaced Haitians, was the center for culture, festivals and Sunday drag races for thrill seekers. They hope that recently elected President Michel Martelly will help Haiti return to normalcy. “I’m waiting for the government,” Malande says.

But there is no government. Four months have passed since Martelly, a celebrity musician, won a landslide victory for the presidency and exchanged his outrageous stage acts and skirts for suits and diplomacy. While traveling around the world galvanizing support for international aid and investors, he operates without a prime minister, making him unable to form his administration.

People are protesting the delay with graffiti around the city calling for the removal of politicians and with posters at Parliament demanding a speedy resolution.

After debates, delays and failed negotiations, this week Martelly selected his third nominee for prime minister, Garry Conille, a former aide to President Bill Clinton. “Martelly falls behind every day that passes without a government,” says Burnice Robertson, a senior analyst and researcher with the International Crisis Group. “This political uncertainty harms the population.”

Haitian Sen. Steven Benoit, who pledged to give Martelly six months of full support, also says fellow politicians must focus on the country and not politics. He is encouraging more senators to be more supportive. “I’ll give him anything he needs,” Benoit says about the president.

Robertson, who is currently conducting research on governance in Haiti, says the most critical needs for the government’s response are health and the vast spread of cholera, justice reform and better public services. And one of the greatest challenges Martelly will face is housing for residents like Malande. “The government needs a strategy to close camps and move people into communities,” she says. “Focus on infrastructure.”

Martelly had focused on developing a solution for housing before he was elected president, says Patrick Rouzier, an adviser to the president. While Martelly campaigned, a team of staff drafted ideas for recovery.

It became evident that his administration would need to address a series of social issues to solve the housing crisis. “The main problem isn’t housing,” says Rouzier. “It’s poverty. If you create jobs and education, people would leave the slums and go to a better place.”