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Haiti election results could open spigot to billions in aid

With foreign governments and donors hesitant to send funds to President René Préval's administration, a Haiti election was necessary if the country wanted to tap into into billions of dollars in aid.

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Aid hinges on election

Of the $2.12 billion that international donors (not including humanitarian agencies) pledged to Haiti in 2010, only $897 million of it, or 42.3 percent, had been disbursed as of late November, according to the United Nations Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti.

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There was "a reluctance on the part of the international community to fund the Préval government, a lack of faith," says Haitian political scientist Jean-Germain Gros at the University of Missouri, St. Louis. "If you delayed the vote by three or six months, what would have guaranteed you would have a better outcome? It was important that Haiti proceeded with this."

The United States government, for example, has delivered not a dime of the $1.15 billion it pledged. It's been held up in Congress.

Rep. James Clyburn (D) of South Carolina, who was in Haiti for the elections, tells the Monitor he is hopeful that the US and other foreign donors will have confidence in the next government.

"I think it's always important to have credible leadership in place, especially when you're dealing with this kind of international involvement," he says. "I would hope that when this process is all over, [the government] will have the sufficient international support to allow the nation to move forward."

Delaying the election would have meant slowing the already glacial pace of the recovery and reconstruction process. No Haitian wanted that.

Donors seek partner in new president

Rubble lies at every turn in the traffic-filled capital, Port-au-Prince, where the US government has taken the lead on rubble removal but has cleared just 1.2 million cubic meters – about 5 percent – of the 25 million cubic meters of debris, according to the US Agency for International Development. And just thousands of the more than 1 million displaced by the earthquake have been moved from tents and shacks into more permanent homes.

"People are realistically going to be in these camps for one or two years more," says Pierre Frandy, a politically active camp resident. "But we need to see progress, that someone is working for us."

With the withdrawn and wildly unpopular President Préval out of the picture next year, the aid spigot might open, providing the next president with potentially billions of dollars and a chance to rebuild a country beset by decades of poverty.

International donors "want to know they have a partner on the ground, someone who is going to be there for the next several years," says Leonard Doyle, Haiti spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, which organizes services to the country's 1,300 camps for displaced persons. When the election period "settles, you'll see a lot more of the aid come in."

The front-runners for the runoff differ in how to spend that money.

But one thing is clear: The next president "is going to need an awful lot of international support," says Eduardo Gamarra, a professor of international relations at Florida International University in Miami who monitors Haitian politics. "The next president will face enormous problems. But maybe a new government will mean a new start, and that will be a good thing."

IN PICTURES: Haiti elections

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