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March 02, 2012

Haiti: Open for Business, or Business as Usual?
Posted by The Editors

HaitiThis guest post by Johanna Mendelson Forman, a senior associate with the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. It was re-posted from CSIS's blog.

It started as a rumor.  President Michel Martelly was going to sack his Prime Minister, Garry Conille, after four months on the job.  Then a special UN Security Council visit to Haiti led by U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice conveyed a strong message of support for Conille and tried to tamp down bickering among parliamentarians and the president.  Still, Conille tendered his resignation on February 24, raising the possibility of a new political crisis. 

Supposedly, 2012 is the year of hope for Haitians and international donors alike. With new foreign investments in Haiti making headlines, the country is poised to turn a corner.  For cynics, Conille’s departure tends to indicate that politics in Haiti, at least, are back to “business as usual.”  
A physician and international civil servant, Conille knew a lot about development.  He had successfully served as former President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff when Clinton was named U.S. Special Envoy after the earthquake.  Conille obviously wanted the best for his country.  Yet, his vision of how and on what schedule to move Haiti forward was clearly at loggerheads with some in parliament who resented his outside experience and Conille’s impatient boss, President Martelly.
For his part, Martelly says he wants the private sector to be the engine of reconstruction and has managed to attract some big name investors.   For that to go beyond the planning stage, he must enact rules that will make it easier to register a new business, reduce the time merchandise sits in customs, and provide investors with clear land titles, among a range of reforms.  The next prime minister will have to work more effectively with the president and parliament to do get this done.  
Despite its helpfulness following disasters, the international community is pretty much powerless when it comes to attenuating such internal crises, as past history shows.  No outsiders can dictate how Haiti’s politicians should work with each other—that is up to them.  Key at this juncture is President Martelly himself, who must find a new prime minister that shares his pro-investment vision. At the same time, he must persuade parliament to approve that person as well as cooperate with his (Martelly’s) agenda.  
It is a real leadership moment for the president as Haiti cannot afford to put its physical or political recovery on hold any longer.  New investment hangs in the balance.  And the ball is clearly in Martelly’s court.
Photo: CSIS


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