Why Haiti's prodigal son, Michel Martelly, may be its savior
President Michel Martelly’s landslide election marked a profound change in Haitian political history: the first alliance of the general populace with the elite. The big question now is whether he can sustain this unlikely marriage.
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Ironically, this achievement has been made possible by his membership in the elite. Remarkably, he has been widely accepted as Haiti’s prodigal son.Skip to next paragraph
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Martelly's unique opportunity to unify
Will he respond to the aspirations of the masses? Will he be able to guide Haiti and its people toward development, peace, security and progress? Martelly gives the elite the opportunity to work with one of their own as president. Martelly has the ability to push them in the direction of equality, progress, and development.
The Haitian elites have gained wealth chiefly through commerce, but have failed to invest meaningfully in production enterprise. Martelly should be able to encourage this transition from commerce to production, including foreign investment.
But Martelly has already started the most important dialogue with the elite by embracing the masses. Haiti must not stay divided by color and place of residence. The Haitian elite must move away from their barracks mentality to mingle with all Haitians, with respect and dignity. This is, after all, the 21st century, not the 18th.
Having embraced the Haitian masses from the time of his youth, and without any political aspirations, Martelly has earned their trust. First and foremost, he must improve the deplorable education system, which has left one-half of Haiti’s population illiterate. He then must engage this population of Haitians in an intense dialogue about democratic governance and behavior, including rights and obligations, the rule of law, and respect for property.
As a politician, he began some of these difficult conversations during his campaign. Now, he must continue through example and by enacting policies that demonstrate that the voters’ trust in him was well placed. He has to gain the wisdom to move beyond the political paralysis that Haiti has witnessed over the years in Haitian politics. The catastrophic abuses of power and the depletion of state resources to enrich political and economic elites have left the masses in misery. Martelly now has an opportunity to bridge Haiti’s profound gap between rich and poor, one of the widest in the world.
And finally, because Martelly has lived in the United States for several years, he has an understanding of the Haitian diaspora. He is aware of its love for Haiti and its unique ability to contribute to Haiti’s progress. I am confident that Martelly will make the important and, up to this point, missing, connection between Haitians living abroad and Haitians living in Haiti.
The monumental tasks of rebuilding Haiti, reconciling 200 years of major socio-economic division, and creating a platform for development and progress are daunting for any president. Martelly stands as the product of Haiti’s unique social complexity. He can act as a bridge between, and a healer of, our society’s many fractures.
Nesly Metayer is a senior fellow at the Center for Public Management at Suffolk University. He is a project manager at the John Hancock Research Center, Tufts University. He has completed his doctoral studies at the University of Paris Sorbonne and is currently working toward a doctoral degree in Management at Case Western Reserve University.