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Anger in Haiti as new leader stumbles in politics

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Haitian President Michel Martelly has styled himself as a man of the people, a showy former pop star who waded easily into adoring crowds. So the reception he received on his latest trip to his country's north was a surprise: Protesters pelted his entourage with soft drink bottles and rocks.

Martelly wasn't injured during the unexpected protest Sunday in Cap Haitien, the country's second-largest city, and police haven't determined a precise motive for the ruckus.

But it is becoming increasingly apparent in a country overwhelmed by poverty, natural disasters, disease and decades of unfulfilled governmental promises that Haitians have little patience for politicians who don't produce — even if it is a president who has been in office for less than three months.

"Martelly made a lot of promises — but so far nothing," said Frantz Nelson, a 34-year-old who voted for the former singer. Nelson said he had hoped Martelly would help get him and his family out of an encampment across from the National Palace where they have lived since a massive earthquake struck the country in January 2010.

"We are impatient and our children are impatient," Nelson said.

One of the keys to Martelly's success in November's election was his outsider status, which attracted voters apparently tired of the traditional, educated elite who tend toward higher office in the Caribbean country.

He was a popular performer of a style of Haitian music known as compas, and was notorious for occasionally bawdy performances and foul-mouthed stage antics. He ultimately won a race that at one point included a handpicked successor to President René Préval and a former senator who was also a former first lady.

His dearth of experience is partly what constrains him now, however: He lacks much of a power base beyond his music fans and relies heavily on a tight-knit team of close friends who are also new to government.

That he has failed to win over lawmakers to approve his choice for prime minister explains in part why he so far boasts of few accomplishments. He has almost no support in Parliament, which flatly rejected his first pick for prime minister and appears ready to vote against his second choice as well.

Consequently, he has made little progress on promises to build homes for the hundreds of thousands left homeless by the earthquake as well as to create jobs in a country with an unemployment rate of more than 50 percent. Martelly has also done little to provide free education in a country where half of all children didn't attend school even before the quake.

Martelly, aware of the growing signs of disenchantment, insists he's still on track to achieve his lofty campaign pledges. "I promise to do this for the benefit of the masses and our citizens and create conditions for the recovery of our country," he said at a meeting of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission this month.

Mark Schneider of the U.S.-based think tank the International Crisis Group said the new president needs to learn how to work across party lines. "He needs to govern with a vision of national reconciliation and national reconstruction," Schneider said. "That has to be his mantra."

Anger in Haiti as new leader stumbles in politics 07/26/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 26, 2011 11:13pm]
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