Connect to share and comment

Candidates vie to lead the rebuilding of Haiti

There are few early favorites in Haiti's presidential race.

Rebuilding from rubble will be a long process. An August report issued by U.S. think tank RAND Corporation said the country needs to focus on key areas — including governance, the justice system, health care and education — during the next three to five years. But, it said “without executive decisiveness and legislative action, state-building cannot proceed.”

Along with a litany of problems, the next president will be charged with the overseeing the $10 billion in international donations pledged to the country — though it’s not clear how much of that money will actually be delivered.

Key to deciding how that money will be spent is the question of how to effectively decentralize the population. Haitians long flocked to Port-au-Prince seeking jobs as the country’s agricultural base disappeared. Experts say the best example of the evaporation of the agricultural economy is rice: Thirty years ago, the country grew enough of the grain to feed itself and to export. Today, it imports 80 percent of the rice it consumes.

In a reversal of that trend, hundreds of thousands left the city after the earthquake. But many have since returned.

“They are going back because there are no jobs here and they hear that in the city there’s food on every corner and that the NGOs are handing out jobs,” said Marc Boisvert, who runs an orphanage, five schools and a vocational center near Les Cayes in southwestern Haiti.

A study based on data from cellular telephone provider Digicel confirmed Boisvert’s observation: By mid-March, just two months after the quake, 41 percent of the displaced had returned to Port-au-Prince.

Bustling and growing, Port-au-Prince, a port city built on a fault, is home to nearly one-fourth of the population.

“Port-au-Prince is an overcrowded city and, like with any city, that will lead to security problems and crime,” Robertson said. “If the government is able to strengthen the services provided in the other provinces, that will help to strengthen decentralization.”

Creating jobs in the countryside can go a long way to providing an incentive for residents to spread out. The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, which is led by former U.S. President Bill Clinton and is charged with deciding where the aid dollars go, recently proposed spending $1.6 billion on key projects, $200 million of which was slated for an agricultural development fund.

But analysts said that many of the questions facing the next president — such as spurring agriculture, decentralizing the population and controlling crime — are problems that have long confronted Haiti. The election might only provide a change of scenery.

“Frankly, the main problem ... is getting problems solved and I don’t see this election providing a political breakthrough that would provide Haitians an opportunity to [run the country] better than it had in the past,” said Susan K. Purcell, director of the Center for Hemispheric Policy at the University of Miami. “I can’t see a situation where one person will be able to change the way the country can deal with a crisis of this magnitude.”

Editor's note: The article was updated to refer to Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly as a musician, not a rapper.