Originally: Haiti: Challenges for the Poorest

Mar 28, 2004

When President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s former president, was forced from office last month it was the sixth time in five years that an elected leader in the region had not finished his term in office.

Paraguay (1999), Ecuador and Peru (2000), Argentina (2001) and Bolivia (2003) have all seen presidents depart amid political crisis. Even so, Haiti’s chronic poverty and institutional weaknesses make it an exceptional case. With per capita gross domestic product of $430, Haiti is by far the poorest country in the hemisphere.

Malnutrition is rife and infant mortality twice the regional average. And under Mr Aristide – elected in 1990, brought back to power by US troops in 1994, and then elected again in 2000 – Haiti’s difficulties were exacerbated by poor relations with the international financial community.

His reluctant response to pressure for economic reforms, such as privatisation of telecommunication and electricity utilities, did not encourage prospective donors and creditors. In 2000, when votes in a few of the seats in legislative elections were said by foreign monitors to have been wrongly computed, electoral reform was added to the conditions that the government had to meet for financial assistance, effectively depriving Mr Aristide of access to $800m.

The new administration – led by Boniface Alexandre, interim president, and Gerard Latortue, interim prime minister – will be hoping for more success.