House foreign affairs chair: Haiti needs leaders

Real recovery and development in Haiti depends on accountability and strong leadership by the Caribbean country's government, the new chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said Tuesd...

Real recovery and development in Haiti depends on accountability and strong leadership by the Caribbean country's government, the new chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said Tuesday.

"Leadership that is not there," U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said after returning to Miami International Airport.

Wednesday marks the one-year anniversary of the magnitude-7 earthquake that killed more than 230,000 people and left more than 1.5 million homeless.

Ros-Lehtinen said future U.S. and international support for Haiti depends on concrete efforts to curb corruption and graft. The congresswoman said she planned to reintroduce legislation to increase oversight of U.S. funding to Haiti.

In her first trip abroad since becoming foreign affairs chairwoman, Ros-Lehtinen joined former President Bill Clinton and Cheryl Mills, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's chief of staff, on a daylong tour of reconstruction efforts and a Project Medishare hospital in Haiti's capital.

Mills has said the U.S. could support throwing out the disputed results of Haiti's first-round presidential election in November, if that's what is proposed by a 12-member election team from the Organization of American States.

A draft copy of the OAS report on the election, obtained by The Associated Press, said the disputed vote should neither be thrown out entirely nor recounted. But it said enough fraudulent or improper ballots should be invalidated to drop ruling-party candidate Jude Celestin into third place and out of the second-round runoff.

Haitian President Rene Preval's office declined to accept the report Monday from the OAS team, delaying a decision about what to do.

Ros-Lehtinen declined to comment on the report, saying she had not seen it and was honoring Preval's wish to postpone discussion of it until after the earthquake anniversary.

"Beyond that, there can be no more delays in ensuring the true will of the Haitian people in electing their future representatives must be honored and must be respected," she said.

"It will be crucial, critical, necessary for Haiti's next leader to take every step necessary to institute the needed changes to bring transparency, trust and credibility back to this nation."

Haiti's first round of voting Nov. 28 was criticized for low turnout, disorganization, fraud, violence and voter intimidation. A two-candidate run-off was supposed to be held Jan. 16.

Ros-Lehtinen last visited Haiti six months ago, and she said she could see a distinct difference in the amount of rubble cleared and the number of Haitians moving from tent camps back into their homes or transitional shelters.

However, much work remains, as roughly a million people remain homeless.

"What frustrates me greatly is the electoral system and having people not have faith in their system of government," Ros-Lehtinen said. "If you don't have that faith, I worry about looting, I worry about crime in the streets, I worry about people taking to the streets. Those are the things that keep me up at night when I think about Haiti."

An industrial park project on the northern coast, which includes an clothes factory for U.S. retailers, could help meet Haiti's reconstruction goals by offering the opportunity for jobs and stability outside Port-au-Prince, Ros-Lehtinen said.

She also said she would support fast-tracking the entry of 55,000 legal Haitian immigrants into the U.S., but that it would be up to the president. These immigrants' petitions to join their families in this country were approved before the earthquake, but they are stuck on waiting lists for the necessary visas.

"We hope that Immigration and the State Department take a second look and reevaluate these petitions," Ros-Lehtinen said. "These are folks that have been prescreened and have said they are going to be worthy participants of our community."

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