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HAITI : THE POLITICS OF CHAOS

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The earthquake-damaged presidential palaceThe earthquake-damaged presidential palace

The political situation in Haiti has been thrown into even greater chaos in recent days with accusations in the neighbouring Dominican Republic of attempts by former Haitian military personnel to destabilize the government of President Michel Martelly.

Radhames Jimenez, the Dominican Minister of Justice, claimed on Thursday 13 April that retired Haitian colonel Pedro Julio Goico had been taped by the Dominican security services instructing an accomplice in Haiti to do all he could to discredit Martelly and his government with a view to toppling him.

According to the Dominican authorities, the former colonel was seeking to use the scandal that has arisen over multi-million dollar payments to Mr. Martelly’s election campaign in 2011, allegedly made by companies in return for contracts after the election, as a starting point for the campaign to discredit him.

Although there has been no confirmation of the alleged plot, in the past this kind of rumour, known as teledjol (or ‘telemouth’), has often been the spark that has started off protests that lead to political turmoil. This was what happened in 2003 and early 2004 with spreading protests that eventually led to the ousting of the elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

The re-introduction of an army?

Prior to this latest development, another threat to the president came from former military personnel inside Haiti. Several hundred of them took over former bases insisting that Martelly make good the promise he made during his election campaign to re-introduce an army. The previous forces were disbanded in the mid-1990s after they had toppled President Aristide’s elected government.

In the past few weeks, hundreds of supporters of former President Aristide have come out onto the streets to demonstrate against the Martelly administration.

In part, this opposition is due to the Martelly administration’s almost total paralysis. In the months since coming into office in May 2011, he has struggled to appoint a prime minister and cabinet. Two of his candidates for the post were rejected. Then in February 2012, the successfully appointed Prime Minister Gary Conille, who enjoyed a good reputation amongst international observers, was forced out of office after only four months, due to disagreement with the president and members of the cabinet.

Prime minister-hopeful Laurent LamotheThe president’s new nominee, the fourth candidate for the job, is Laurent Lamothe. He still faces the hurdle of receiving the backing of the lower house of the Haitian Congress, which is unlikely to take place for several weeks.

A further sign of the troubled situation is that his appointment has already been held up for some time over arguments whether he held dual nationality with the United States, which would have disqualified him from holding office. Similar accusations have also been made of President Martelly, further weakening his position.

Following his ratification by the Senate, Lamothe insisted ‘one man cannot work miracles’, and called on all Haitians of good will to join together to lift the country out of misery.

Without a prime minister and only a caretaker cabinet in place, President Martelly appears ever more isolated. He has little political experience, and lacks a strong party to back him at national or local level. He has not so far proved adept at winning any kind of political consensus for new initiatives to help Haiti back on its feet two years after the devastating earthquake.

As a result he is accused by local observers of surrounding himself with friends and family, while opposition in the streets is mounting.

The lack of a strong and stable government has also led to reluctance by international donors to make good on their aid promises. In 2011, Haiti received only a little more than half of the promised US$382 million earmarked for humanitarian projects, and so far this year less than 10 per cent of the US$231 million needed for its humanitarian efforts, according to Nigel Fisher, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Haiti.

Beyond the rumours and paralysis, the real power-brokers in Haiti are remaining silent. Former President René Preval’s Inité Party is dominant in the Senate and the lower house, and although he has expressed his support of the new president, this has seemed increasingly lukewarm.

The other power behind the scenes is another former president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. After being ousted in February 2004, he spentJean-Bertrand AristideJean-Bertrand Aristide several years in exile in South Africa. Since returning to Haiti last year, he has had little or nothing to say about the political situation or his own future.

In the past few weeks, hundreds of supporters of former President Aristide have come out onto the streets to demonstrate against the Martelly administration.

But as the problems mount for the present incumbent, Mr. Aristide probably feels the best thing he can do is to stay on the sidelines, waiting for the moment when the situation is so grave he can return as the country’s saviour, as he has already done on two occasions.

But as Laurent Lamothe says, what Haiti needs now is not a saviour, but a concerted effort from all those willing to join forces to build a better future for the country.