Haiti's Yearlong Aftershock
One year after a monstrous earthquake rocked the small Caribbean nation, progress is glacial -- and in many ways, things have gotten worse.
What has Haiti done to deserve this? A year after the devastating earthquake, many Haitians and Haitian Americans can't help asking themselves what this poor little Caribbean nation has done to suffer such an unbroken string of calamities. The earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010, was the most brutal, of course -- killing some 230,000 people and leaving thousands more badly injured in a country where the infrastructure was already fragile, and medical care a luxury for most.
Then there was hurricane season last fall, with several powerful storms battering a country with more than 1 million people living in flimsy tents. And then came cholera, a disease unknown in Haiti within the last hundred years, taking 3,500 lives so far and mounting -- amid suspicions that the disease might have been brought in by South Asian United Nations troops.
Even good deeds seemed to get punished. The country held elections in November that had been postponed from February 2010. Many observers warned that it made no sense to hold elections when much of the country's infrastructure had been destroyed and hundreds of thousands were still homeless. But Haitian President René Préval's term was running out, and foreign donors wanted a legitimate government to deal with. Rap artist Wyclef Jean -- maybe the best-known Haitian living abroad -- joined a crowded field of presidential hopefuls but was disqualified from running.
There was some violence, widespread charges of fraud and voter intimidation, and finally, a first-round result that no one accepted. From 19 candidates, two remained: Jude Celestin, backed by Préval's party, and Mirlande Manigat, a law professor whose husband had served briefly as president a couple of decades ago -- before being ousted in a coup. Third by less than 1 percent was Michel Martelly, a musician better known as Sweet Micky, and infamous for his outrageous onstage behavior. Martelly objected vigorously -- and his supporters took to the streets. For several days, protesters swarmed the rubble-filled streets, set up barricades and burned tires.
Now a special delegation from the Organization of American States has reviewed the election results and will reportedly recommend that Martelly and Manigat be the candidates in the runoff. Celestin, backed by Préval and his party, would be cast aside. So far, Haiti's much discredited elections council, known as the CEP, has not reacted to the report. But a runoff between the candidates most Haitians believe won the first round could calm the anger and result in a chief executive with the credibility to lead Haiti out of this continuing streak of bad luck.
The winner will need it. After a year, just 5 percent of the rubble from the powerful 7.3 earthquake has been cleared and Haitians see little evidence of large expenditures. The UN Special Envoy for Haiti's office says that $1.28 billion was disbursed last year by governments and multilateral agencies- but it does not yet have a way of measuring how much was actually spent. Thousands of NGOs (nongovernmental organizations), from the massive Red Cross to tiny volunteer religious groups, are on the ground.