Nearly two years after a 7.0 earthquake hit its capital city, Port-au-Prince, Haiti is rebuilding. Slowly. Forty percent of the international aid money that poured into the island has still not been distributed because of the disorganization within the government that followed the quake. Now, a government under musician-turned-President Michel Martelly and newly-confirmed Prime Minister Garry Conille is grappling with the task.
Haiti's president lives in the elite suburb of Peguyville, where some walls are painted in the pink and white colors of his campaign. The wealthy neighborhood shares its sidewalks with the poor, left homeless after the 2010 earthquake.
The Haitian Presidential Palace shows just how much rebuilding needs to be done. It looks the same as it did nearly two years ago. And, directly across from the Palace is a tent city.
After the earthquake, more than a million Haitians moved to public parks, set up a tarp and called it home. Six hundred thousand still live in these tent cities. Why? It's a question for Haiti's President.
“How do you lure businesses here when the first thing they see when they come out of the airport is a tent city, the first thing they see at the presidential palace is a tent city?” VOA asks.
“That’s not all that Haiti’s about," notes Martelly. "Once you leave Port-au-Prince, you see a lot of things. You see beauty, you see wealth, you see a rich country with humongous possibilities.”
To show off those possibilities, President Martelly flew some builders north of Port-au-Prince - to find land for 3,000 new houses. But it's been a slow process since the quake shattered Haiti's infrastructure and destroyed 17 of 18 government ministries.
"But up until now 21 months after the earthquake we find the people's living situation has not changed at all," noted Ghemps Desauguste who is with a group demanding land and houses now.
The Martelly administration says it takes time.
“We are trying to identify homes first for these people, so they walk out of a tent and go into a home,” Martelly explained.
There are new, pre-fabricated houses for sale in Haiti. But even at a price of only $5,000, builder Jean Mark Louishomme says tent city residents cannot afford them.
"They can't, they can't," he emphasized. "But the NGOs or government can buy this and build them for them."
That's not the government's plan, though. President Martelly invited VOA to join his presidential motorcade into the central plateau of the country, where the government will build affordable housing. He says it's a major step toward Haitian independence, and away from foreign loans.
"We will change this country. I’m determined. The people of Haiti want a better life,” Martelly said.
The president admits there is much to be done. It’s a country where in 35 seconds, in a 30 square kilometer area - 300,000 people died.
Timeline of Haiti's Presidents