By STEVENSON JACOBS, Associated Press Writer
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Virtually bankrupt and faced with the costly mistakes of past governments, Haiti’s interim leaders are trying to rebuild this shattered country ? a daunting task as many ministries were looted and foreign aid is only trickling in.
The United Nations (news – web sites) has raised a little over a quarter of the $35 million in emergency relief needed to help stabilize Haiti after a three-week rebellion led President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to flee a month ago.
U.S.-backed interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue is to meet foreign donors April 14 to appeal for more funds.
A U.N. official on Tuesday called on the world organization to make a commitment of at least 20 years to bring political and economic stability to Haiti.
U.N. special envoy Reginald Dumas told reporters after briefing the U.N. Security Council on his recent 10-day trip to the country that 10 international missions to Haiti in the last decade had failed because there was no sustained commitment.
“We cannot continue with the start-stop cycle that has characterized relations between the international community and Haiti. You go in, you spend a couple of years, you leave, the Haitians are not necessarily involved and the whole thing collapses. This has to stop,” Dumas said he told the council.
Government agencies in Haiti are virtually paralyzed, unable to provide basic services like electricity and garbage collection.
“We have all this urgency and no funds to do anything,” Cabinet Minister Robert Ulysse said. “We’re still trying to get the engine started, but we’re not moving anywhere.”
The Ministries of Agriculture and Social Affairs were gutted during the chaos and several other looted offices still have no furniture or vehicles.
Haiti’s state electricity company ? which had a hard time providing even half a day of service in normal times ? has been forced to take out private loans to provide minimal service.
Officials blame the financial woes on corruption and mismanagement under Aristide. He and his officials pilfered as much as $1 billion, Ulysse claimed, though an audit by an international firm is pending.
“The corruption ruined the country,” said Anne-Marie Issa of the seven-member Council of Sages that helped form the new government. “People are poorer, children can’t afford to go to school and institutions aren’t functioning.
“We can’t afford to have another government like that.”
Former Aristide Cabinet Minister Leslie Voltaire, among a few who are not in hiding, refused to comment on the allegations.
On Tuesday, Latortue promised not to persecute former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, who has gone into hiding amid threats against his life following Haiti’s bloody revolt.
Neptune earlier accused the government of carrying out a “witchhunt.”
“I would like to tell Neptune that he has nothing to fear from this government,” Latortue told Radio Metropole. “He will benefit from the same security as the rest of the population.”
The poorest country in the hemisphere, Haiti’s economy never really recovered from U.N. sanctions during a 1991-1994 coup regime. The country’s biggest source of foreign currency is remittances from millions of Haitians living abroad, mainly in the United States, Canada and France.
Most workers among Haiti’s 8.3 million people are unemployed or get by with odd jobs. Most Haitians live in the deforested countryside with no electricity, no clean drinking water and no health care.
Cities are equally decrepit. Port-au-Prince, the capital, has only four elevators.
The country sunk deeper into despair after international financial organizations suspended more than $500 million in aid and most donors froze direct aid after Aristide’s party swept flawed legislative elections in 2000.
Inflation soared to double digits and the Haitian gourde slumped from 20 to 40 to the dollar while the average Haitian income remained $1 a day or less, breeding deeper misery and unrest.
“Basically this government is inheriting a catastrophe,” said importer Jean-Claude Assali. “Unless the international community comes up with substantial help to rebuild … I think it’s going be almost impossible.”
U.N. officials hope to raise enough money to cover basic humanitarian needs over the next six months, especially for the strife-torn north, where the rebellion erupted Feb. 5 and some 200,000 people dependent on food aid were cut off from relief.
So far, U.N. agencies have raised $9 million in cash and pledges, mostly from Canada, France, the United States and Norway.
International peacekeepers also have pitched in, clearing the capital’s streets of debris and patrolling volatile areas.
Foreign donors met in Washington last week to evaluate needs ahead of the April 14 meeting in Port-au-Prince.
Adama Guindo, the U.N. mission chief in Haiti, is confident “There will be strong support from the international community. They would like the transitional government to succeed.”
But Latortue’s government has not been recognized by Caribbean leaders, who criticized him at a summit last week for praising as “freedom fighters” the rebels, including convicted assassins, who helped bring about Aristide’s downfall.
Caribbean leaders also question the legitimacy of Latortue’s government, given Aristide’s claims that he remains Haiti’s democratically elected president who was forced from power by the United States ? charges U.S. officials vehemently deny.