INTERVIEW: Presidential candidate: Haiti needs 10-15 years to rebuild
By Silvia Ayuso Nov 25, 2010, 11:14 GMT
Port-au-Prince, Haiti - Mirlande Manigat, the presidential candidate most polls show as the favourite in Haiti's upcoming elections, speaks with a calm, authoritative voice, acquired during her long years as a university professor.
She is also an experienced politician, having co-founded the conservative RDNP party and been first lady during the brief period in 1988 when her husband Leslie Francois Manigat was president.
Though she speaks like a politician, she doesn't make promises lightly, given the magnitude of the problems facing the country she hopes to govern.
The January earthquake, which devastated the country, killing more than 230,000 people and displacing 1.5 million others, has been followed by a cholera epidemic that has so far killed over 1,500 people.
'Unfortunately I don't see the country recovering for 10 to 15 years,' the frankly-spoken 70-year-old told a group of foreign journalists in Port-au-Prince during an interview.
Haiti is facing 'very serious' problems which existed before the earthquake, she stresses.
The list seems endless: a 50-per-cent illiteracy rate, 800,000 children who did not go to school last year, large numbers of women who die in childbirth, no access to drinking water for more than half the capital's population, no food security, 'etcetera, etcetera,' Manigat says tiredly.
'The earthquake revealed all the permanent problems and of course made them worse,' she continues.
She believes the government elected on November 28 'should, if it's serious, at least consider beginning to solve these problems, because it's going to take at least 5 years before we can find definitive solutions.'
For Manigat there is no one solution to the problems of the poorest country in the western hemisphere, but a 'combination of solutions,' with the priority being the cholera epidemic.
Containing the disease is as much a matter of prevention as of cure, she says.
'We have to launch a wide-ranging programme of sanitary education in the country,' she says.
But the problem is also a political one, she says.
'Access to drinking water is a political problem which we really have to work on.'
Manigat knows that if she is elected Haiti's first female president her to-do list would be interminable.
Topping the list is the fate of the 1.5 million people who have been living in temporary camps since the earthquake.
Solving their situation will 'cost time and money,' Manigat says, describing it as a 'serious problem with no quick or easy solution.'
Long-term thinking in solving Haiti's problems is a recurring theme in her discourse.
Putting the poorest country in the Western hemisphere on the path to sustainable development will be 'a lengthy business' which largely depends on its recovery from the earthquake.
Although she is currently leading in opinion polls, Manigat says she fears 'massive fraud' in the elections.
If that happens, she fears, these critical polls are 'probably not going to be the first step towards normalization which elections should represent.'
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