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Education is technically free in Haiti. But fewer than 1 in 4 Haitians has graduated from high school or university, according to the Haitian Institute of Statistics and Informatics. To pay for an overhaul, Martelly would like to tax international money transfers and phone calls. He has also pledged to pursue new foreign loans and invest in agriculture to cut back on shocks from food inflation – up 36 percent worldwide in the past year. Haiti imports most of its food, including 80 percent of its rice, once grown in abundance. Poor Haitians have resorted to eating small cakes made from dried mud when prices for rice and other staples are high.
"The two things he has focused on – education and agriculture – are the most important areas for many Haitians," says Mr. Jean-Baptiste. "As president, we want him to uphold those promises."
The lofty agenda will prove challenging. "I think it's going to be very difficult for him to accomplish some of his goals," says Charles Henri Baker, a prominent Haitian businessman and two-time presidential candidate. "The big challenge initially will be parliament."
Negotiating the sharp-elbowed world of Haitian politics will require the help of experienced handlers, says Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington. "The problem is really that he's completely inexperienced," says Mr. Shifter, who met with Martelly in Washington last month. "The first major obstacle is just establishing a government that works. If he can put a good team together, that alone would be a major accomplishment."
To head his transition team, Martelly named as an adviser Daniel Supplice, a US-trained ethnologist and sociologist who held various government positions from 1973 to 1986 during the Duvalier regime. With most of Martelly's team still unnamed, observers wait to see who he taps for prime minister – a key position that could set off political jousting with the outgoing president's party, INITE (Unity), which will likely control parliament and have a say in choosing the candidate.
The outgoing president has said INITE lawmakers will work with the Martelly administration. If that promise turns out as empty as Martelly's vow to dance naked on the palace, Haitians may be left wanting. "Haiti has been this way for a very long time," Jean-Baptiste says. "In reality, changing it is not easy."