| Isaac Risco |
Havana/Port-au-Prince (dpa) – Haiti can’t get back on its feet. Five years have passed since the magnitude 7 earthquake killed more than 200,000 people, crashed much of the capital’s infrastructure and left more than two million people homeless.
Reconstruction is slow and tens of thousands of quake survivors remain displaced.
Yet come Monday, precisely on the fifth anniversary of the January 12, 2010 quake, the country will cease to have a national legislature in place because their mandates have expired, leaving the country in the hands of one-time musician, Michel Martelly, to rule by decree.
Haiti has been stuck in political gridlock for almost three years, with the opposition in the Senate refusing to allow a vote on a new election law, which is required to form an election commission.
And the 53-year-old president (nickname, “Sweet Micky”) – whose term expires in 2016 – has also created confusion in the country, mandating elections for October 26, 2014 that never happened.
Through all this, Haitians have struggled to survive. The rubble may be gone from the streets, and several large infrastructure projects are ongoing in the effort to reclaim the centre of Port-au-Prince.
But Amnesty International says that about 85,000 people are still living in makeshift displacement camps with appalling conditions, one-third of them without access to a latrine.
Haiti was the poorest country in the Americas even before the devastating quake. More than 80 per cent of its 10 million people live under the poverty line, and half are malnourished. The unemployment rate stands at 40 per cent and a bout of cholera that broke out in the aftermath of the quake persists with lethal effect.
The country depends on foreign aid. More than 13 billion dollars were pledged after the quake, but its impact on the lives of Haitians remains questionable, according to humanitarian organisations.
Amnesty International blamed the desperate situation of many quake survivors on failed government policies, forced evictions and general short-term thinking.
The Haitian government granted many camp dwellers rent subsidies so that they could leave emergency accommodation. But they ended after a year, leaving them once again homeless.
“It remains a serious concern that the government continues to measure the success of the post-earthquake relief operations above all in terms of the reduction in the number of camps,” Amnesty International said.
Instead, durable solutions on housing and other issues are needed, the NGO stressed.
Many people displaced by the quake have left Port-au-Prince for ill-prepared settlements like Canaan, 20 kilometres north of Port-au-Prince, Haitian filmmaker Arnold Antonin notes.
About 200,000 people have fled to Canaan from the capital, building homes and shelters in an area that was largely uninhabited before the quake, without government support and public infrastructure.
“They ignored the suggestion that we in civil society made, to set up an autonomous authority in charge of reconstruction,” Antonin complained.
For almost 30 years, the filmmaker and about 80 other Haitian intellectuals and members of civil society have been holding a weekly forum to debate the country’s problems.
Now, they continue to look into the future with concern, since Haiti’s political crisis is far from over. At issue is a dispute over constitutional reforms carried out in 2010.
The reforms set new criteria for organising a permanent election commission.
The opposition accepted the reform with strong reservations, and Parliament’s efforts to name members to the commission collapsed amid strong resistance among legislators.
Parliament also failed to pass a crucial election law, with six senators who belong to a radical opposition group boycotting every compromise with the government. The hardliners demanded Martelly’s resignation.
Martelly tried in June to circumvent the political obstructions. He decreed that parliament elections were to be held October 26.
Beforehand, he moved to secure the promise of support of a broad range of political and social actors in Haiti.
But then, nothing happened. The election law, adopted by the lower house, collapsed on resistance in the Senate.
There wasn’t even a proper official declaration about the collapse, and there was little reporting on the developments in the Haitian media.
Even speaking before the General Assembly in September in New York, Martelly could only say that he had “spared no effort” in seeking a consensus among parties and institutions to organise “legislative and municipal elections.”
Two weeks later, a meeting with the opposition was cancelled.