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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Haiti Under President Martelly: Current Conditions and Congressional Concerns

Maureen Taft-Morales
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

Haiti shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. Since the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship in 1986, Haiti has struggled to overcome its centuries-long legacy of authoritarianism, extreme poverty, and underdevelopment. During that time, economic and social stability improved considerably, and many analysts believed Haiti was turning a corner toward sustainable development. Unfortunately, Haiti’s development was set back by a massive earthquake in January 2010 that devastated much of the capital of Port-au-Prince and other parts of the country. Poverty remains massive and deep, and economic disparity is wide: Haiti remains the poorest country in the western hemisphere.

Haiti is the Obama Administration’s top foreign assistance priority for Latin American and Caribbean countries. Haiti's developmental needs and priorities are many. The Haitian government and the international donor community are implementing a 10-year recovery plan focusing on territorial, economic, social, and institutional rebuilding. An outbreak of cholera that began in late 2010 has swept across most of the country and further complicated assistance efforts after the earthquake. While some progress has been made in developing democratic institutions, they remain weak. Following yet another controversial, sometimes violent election process, Haiti saw its first peaceful, democratic transfer of power between presidents of opposing parties in May 2011. Outgoing President René Préval handed the presidential sash to President Michel Martelly, a popular musician without any previous political experience. Martelly’s administration was without a prime minister for most of his first year in office, hampering reconstruction efforts. Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe assumed his post in May, and visited Washington in July 2012.

The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) has been in Haiti to help restore order since the collapse of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's government in 2004. MINUSTAH's current strength is 10,773 troops. The mission has helped facilitate elections, conducted campaigns to combat gangs and drug trafficking with the Haitian National Police, and played a key role in emergency responses to natural disasters, especially after the earthquake. Nonetheless, popular protests have called for MINUSTAH’s withdrawal because of allegations regarding its role in introducing cholera to the country and sexual abuse by some of its forces.

The main priorities for U.S. policy regarding Haiti are to strengthen fragile democratic processes, continue to improve security, and promote economic development. Other concerns include the cost and effectiveness of U.S. aid; protecting human rights; combating narcotics, arms, and human trafficking; and alleviating poverty. The Obama Administration granted Temporary Protected Status to Haitians living in the United States at the time of the earthquake.

Congressional concerns include the pace and effectiveness of reconstruction; respect for human rights, particularly for women; counternarcotics efforts; and security issues. Congress is also concerned that overdue Senate and local elections, which the government says will be held by year’s end, be scheduled and be free, fair, and peaceful.

Current law related to Haiti includes P.L. 112-74, P.L. 111-171, P.L. 110-246, and P.L. 109-432. Pending legislation related to Haiti includes H.R. 1016/S. 1576, H.R. 3711, H.R. 3771, H.Res. 510, H.Res. 521/S.Res. 352, S. 1023, S.Res. 26, S.Res. 352, and S.Res. 368. For details see “Legislation in the 112th Congress.”

Date of Report: August 1, 2012
Number of Pages: 26
Order Number: R42559
Price: $29.95

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