The University of Virginia will hold a symposium April 29 and 30 to examine the situation in Haiti more than a year after it was struck by a deadly earthquake.
The challenges faced by Haiti were enormous even before its capital, Port-au-Prince, and surrounding areas were pulverized by the 7.0-magnitude earthquake on Jan. 12, 2010, killing more than 300,000 people and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless.
The island nation was struggling with political stagnancy, corruption and overwhelming poverty. Now the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere is also faced with the daunting task of reconstruction and moving hundreds of thousands of people out of squalid tent camps in the face of a cholera outbreak that has killed nearly 5,000 since October.
Add to that president-elect Michel Martelly, an untested political novice best known by his stage name, "Sweet Micky," and you have a situation where "no one knows what the heck is going to happen," said symposium co-organizer Robert Fatton, a politics professor and associate dean for graduate programs in U.Va.'s College of Arts & Sciences.
The symposium, "Haiti: One Year after the Earthquake," will tackle the biggest issues facing the tiny Caribbean country: reconstruction and politics. "The reconstruction of the country has not started yet and there is the political situation with the new president," Fatton said. "It remains to be seen what will happen in his leadership – we have no clue. If the political situation gets into serious trouble. reconstruction will be affected."
Martelly, an adored performer of Haitian music known as "kompa," is known to have pranced on stage in a diaper and his signature color is pink. He won last month's election in a landslide and is promising big things in his first 100 days in office.
During a visit to the U.S. State Department with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on April 20, Martelly said they discussed his three biggest goals – education, creating homes for tent dwellers, and restarting Haiti's agricultural sector. Clinton pledged U.S. support of Martelly's efforts.
Haiti's extremely fragile infrastructure was devastated by the earthquake, with images of the president's palace lying in ruins broadcast around the world. A massive relief effort was undertaken and countries pledged billions of dollars to the effort. But the disbursement of those funds has been hampered in part, Fatton said, because many of the pledges were not fulfilled.
The symposium, to be held in the Minor Hall auditorium, is free and open to the public. Among the speakers is Michele Montas, widow of beloved Haitian reporter Jean Dominique. Dominique, a frequent critic of the government, was murdered in 2002. Jacqueline Charles, an award-winning foreign correspondent for The Miami Herald with responsibility for Haiti and the English-speaking Caribbean, will discuss the role of the press in Haiti and if it promotes greater accountability. Other topics include the economy and development.
The symposium is sponsored by the Conflict Prevention and Peace Forum of the Social Science Research Council and several U.Va. offices, including the Office of the Dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, the Office for Diversity and Equity, the Office of the Vice Provost for International Programs, the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies and the Haiti Working Group.