Work crews are planting brave little palm trees on the road to the airport. The cellphone carrier is building a Marriott hotel. The South Koreans, lured by generous subsidies and tax breaks, are coming to open a garment factory and employ 20,000 people, the single-largest jobs program in Haiti in 30 years.
“Recovery is here. It is painfully slow, it is agonizing to watch, but it is recovery,” said Paul Farmer, a Harvard physician who has spent three decades in Haiti and whose group, Partners in Health, is opening a modern, 320-bed public teaching hospital an hour north of the Haitian capital.
Progress may be coming to the poorest country in the hemisphere, but it is not coming easily.
A year ago, to get anything done in Haiti, supplicants sat in frustrating meetings with foreign aid bureaucrats at the United Nations’ logistics base. Now they sit in frustrating meetings with the three-month-old Haitian government — led by the irrepressible President Michel Martelly, a political neophyte and former carnival singer once known as “Sweet Micky,” who is learning on the job.
The government is functional after a lost year that included a presidential election plagued by fraud, a chaotic runoff and a months-long brawl with opposition parties in parliament over the approval of a new prime minister.
“The best thing that has happened to Haiti is me being president,” said Martelly, who went on to explain that his government is making good on its promises, providing free schooling, building hundreds of miles of road, moving displaced people out of camps and providing loans to the poor to rebuild homes.
“We have been able to keep hope high and show people that things are changing,” Martelly said in an interview. “You can see where there were camps everywhere, now you can see kids playing in those parks. Life is coming back to normal.”
Almost a million people have moved out of the increasingly dangerous tent cities. Some were pushed. But most were pulled away by programs that offered rent subsidies or home-repair assistance.
But 500,000 people remain under tarps. About 20,000 still live in a squalid camp in downtown Port-au-Prince, their once-crisp tents, stamped USAID, now soiled gray and sagging in the heat in front of the collapsed National Palace.
Some of their kids are at least going to school. Haiti is providing free education for 900,000 children, many of whom have never been in a classroom before. The program is immensely popular, as are the free school buses.