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Haiti’s president-elect talks of the country’s pressing needs

The president-elect of Haiti, Michel Martelly, has been in Washington and spoken about the pressing needs of his ravaged country.

At a press conference, Mr Martelly said progress in Haiti has been “desperately slow” and he vowed to speed up the process of reconstruction, in particular the building of homes for displaced families living in tents. A letter signed by 53 members of the US Congress attested to the “progressively deteriorating” situation of those living in the camps, many of whom lack access to safe water, proper sanitation and a shelter which can withstand the tropical storm season.

Hilary Clinton, US Secretary of State, stood at Mr Martelly’s side through the press conference and was enthusiastic about his “emphasis on the people and their needs”. Mrs Clinton promised that the US government was “committed” to helping him achieve results for the Haitian people. However some outsiders have criticised the number of reconstruction contracts being given by organisations such as the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the World Bank to US companies. Only around 2.5 per cent of reconstruction contracts so far awarded have gone to Haitian companies.

Mr Martelly also promised he would dedicate his first six months to tackling the cholera epidemic which has already claimed nearly 5,000 lives. And the president-elect spoke of his hopes to introduce free education for all children and to reform Haiti’s agricultural sector.

Haiti’s president-elect also wants to re-establish a national army. Haiti’s former army had a record of brutality and giving support to military coups. But Mr Martelly spoke of his wish to create a small professional army which can keep the borders secure and replace the United Nations (UN) troops. Certainly much progress has been made in reforming the police force in Haiti, which had a poor reputation, with officers frequently involved with criminal activities. Following a reform of the service and new training program (supported by the UN’s Stabilization Mission in Haiti), the National Police are now much more effective, with women included in their ranks and officers well-paid and properly equipped. Vitally, the police are trusted by the majority of the population, with over 80 per cent of Haitians reporting a positive change in their security situation in 2009. In the aftermath of the earthquake, the police were also seen to be functioning creditably on the streets.

If aid from international donors is used effectively and to the benefit of local people and Haiti’s new government receives the support it has been promised, Mr Martelly will be hopeful that he can turn his country around in a similarly successful manner to the police service and achieve the kind of progress he has promised for his presidency.

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