Haiti president defends first 2 years in office

AP News
Posted: May 14, 2013 9:22 PM
Haiti president defends first 2 years in office

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haitian President Michel Martelly defended his administration Tuesday as he marked two years in office, pointing to a national school-tuition program, social protection projects and the return of tourism as his leading achievements.

Pacing on a stage in downtown Port-au-Prince, Martelly ad-libbed for about 30 minutes about his government's accomplishments that were detailed in a 500-page book that he held aloft.

He also said he opposed the division that has long been a hallmark of Haitian politics and invited former leaders Jean-Bertrand Aristide and Jean-Claude Duvalier to meet with him.

"It's for you all that I'm working," Martelly told a crowd of several thousand people on the plaza in front of where the National Palace stood before it collapsed in the devastating 2010 earthquake. "A lot of things are starting to happen."

As one of his biggest accomplishments, he pointed to a school program that he said has enrolled more than a million children by covering their tuition. There have been no independent studies to verify the number and critics have said they believe the number of students enrolled in the program is lower.

Martelly, a former pop star known as "Sweet Micky" who was famous for his raunchy stage antics, spent his first year trying to install a government with an opposition-controlled Parliament. The second year was largely spent trying to implement government projects, many of them heavily focused on courting foreign investors and tourists.

"I'm happy that we have a government that's finally thinking about development," said Jean Marc, a 28-year-old who sported a pink Martelly T-shirt that read "Victory is always for the population" — a slight variation on a government slogan.

Marc pointed to a newly paved road in the Delmas district of the capital, where he lives, as one of the administration's concrete accomplishments. He also hoped the government would be able to bring down the cost of basic food staples.

Martelly's critics showed their disdain for the president the past two years by organizing street protests, including one Tuesday, and by criticizing him on the Senate floor. But there has been no sign of a united front in the opposition.

A potential opposition figure has emerged in Aristide, who made his first public appearance last week as part of trip to court to answer questions for a judge investigating the unresolved case of a slain journalist. The two-time president had not openly ventured from his home since returning from exile in 2011, and his motorcade through the capital drew thousands of supporters.

A leader in Aristide's Lavalas political party said it wants to run in still unscheduled legislative and local elections.

The vote was supposed to have been held in late 2011 but was delayed because of infighting, the holdup frustrating Haiti's international partners. A nine-member electoral council was created last month but has yet to announce a date for the vote.