Haitian President-elect Martelly pledges to speed up post-earthquake recovery

April 20, 2011

Haiti’s newly elected president met senior U.S. officials in Washington on Wednesday, pledging to speed up reconstruction of his earthquake-battered country and to reestablish an army in a country that has been plagued with coups.

Michel Martelly was warmly greeted by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who said she was “encouraged by the campaign that Mr. Martelly ran, his emphasis on the people and their needs.”

Martelly — known as “Sweet Micky” — is a political novice famous in Haiti as a singer of kompa, or Haitian merengue. When he is inaugurated May 14, he will take charge of an impoverished country suffering from a cholera outbreak and the aftereffects of a January 2010 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people.

In an interview with Washington Post reporters and editors, Martelly said a top priority was to relocate the hundreds of thousands of earthquake victims still living in tents.

“It’s been 14, almost 15 months since the earthquake, and little effort has been made” to help the displaced, he said.

He said he planned to impose a five-cent tax on phone calls into Haiti to raise money for reconstruction and would also have access to $260 million in debt payments forgiven by foreign lenders.

But he gave few specifics about how he would quicken a process that has bogged down over land disputes, a lack of skilled Haitian bureaucrats and problems with coordination.

Martelly also said he hoped to reestablish the army, which launched several coups before it was disbanded by then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The new armed forces wouldn’t be known for brutality, as their predecessors were, Martelly vowed.

He pledged to set up a “modern army” to guard the borders, help in natural disasters and fight drug-trafficking.

Martelly was friendly with the military leaders of the 1991 coup but said he intends to improve the rule of law in Haiti.

He estimated that the new army would need only 5,000 soldiers and could be established for $10 million — far cheaper than what is being spent on the United Nations peacekeeping troops in the country. “We don’t need an army with warships,” he said.

Clinton said the United States had “a great deal of enthusiasm” about Martelly, who will take office after months of political paralysis and succeed Rene Preval, a president regarded by many as an uninspired leader. The Obama administration has pledged about $1 billion to help Haiti rebuild from the earthquake.

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