News and opinions on situation in Haiti
Giving Haiti’s New President a Good Launch
Council On Hemispheric Affairs
Weekend Release: April 1, 2006
In the middle of May, after a number of electoral process take place, Rene Preval, the only democratically-elected Haitian president to serve out his full five year presidential term and peacefully hand over power to the succeeding administration, will once again assume the presidential mantle. Haitians are hopeful that a new Preval administration will help to alleviate the gang violence, tame an incompetent and abuse-prone police force, sanitize a completely corrupted judiciary, address questions of past instances unprofessional behavior by the UN peacekeeping force MINUSTAH, and confront the extreme polarization of society that has been intensified by the rule of the Interim Government of Haiti (IGH), headed by Gerard Latortue.
But many questions remain regarding just how effective a Preval government can be, and whether or not the international community’s presence in Haiti, as woefully represented by the UN, along with the three nations most culpable for Haiti’s present plight – the U.S., France and Canada – will let Preval chart his own course. There are two central issues that will determine the extent to which the first duly elected government of Haiti after the 2004 coup – one that was legally mandated by Haitian votes and not imposed upon by them by the international community – is truly autonomous and independent.
Releasing Latortue’s Victims
The Council of Sages – an ad-hoc, totally opaque and unaccountable governing committee of the IGH, which was formed after the coup against Aristide in February of 2004 – even went so far as to formally recommend that Lavalas be banned from the elections due to the party’s alleged promotion of violence. Of course, it should be noted that such a ‘recommendation’ was tantamount to informing the overwhelming majority of Haitians that the proposed election was to be a grand affair, save that they would not be permitted to back their favorite candidate because, in the view of IGH, anyone running on the Lavalas ticket was simply unacceptable and was a self-defining villain.
Gousse’s Numberless Delinquencies
But Latortue’s patently unlawful regime was not only guilty of illegally imprisoning those it perceives as its political foes, but also of circumventing justice in the cases of those legally found guilty and imprisoned under the Aristide or Preval presidency. In one notorious example, convicted FRAPH death squad leader from the period when the military junta ruled Haiti, Jodel Chamblain, was acquitted of murder charges after the direct intercession of Latortue’s infamous Justice Minister, Bernard Gousse, in August of 2004. Latortue also committed the outrageous act of reconstituting the dreaded Haitian Army and purging the court system of Lavalas sympathizers. Last December, he brazenly fired five members of the Supreme Court and replaced them with his own extra-constitutionally appointed cronies, and pledged that he would spend millions of dollars on compensating the Haitian military that had been disbanded by Aristide.
The corollary to releasing those unjustly imprisoned and making the legal case that would rebut Latortue’s assault on the judicial system, is the need to seek justice against those who committed state-sponsored crimes under the Latortue regime. We have yet to hear how Preval will deal with this thorny issue; whether he will press charges against Gousse and those who served him while he was Justice Minister, or whether he will appoint a truth and reconciliation commission, or issue a carte blanche amnesty for those charged with the wanton murder and mistreatment of Lavalas supporters, as well as those guilty of the calculated murder of political enemies, in the spirit of what is best for the country.
Whatever Preval’s relationship with Aristide may be today, he was Aristide’s long loyal political confederate, his former prime minister and is actively connected to many in Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas party. It’s also true that although Preval ran under the banner of his own newly minted party, Lespwa (Hope), the major base of his support overwhelmingly comes from the pro-Aristide slums. That noted, Preval never ran as a mere stand-in for Aristide, and he must harbor some resentment over the fact that the latter had purged much of his cabinet and aborted many of his reforms after again winning the presidency following the end of Preval’s term in 2001.
Notwithstanding Preval’s current personal opinion of Aristide, the state of their relationship, or even Preval’s feelings regarding the wisdom of an Aristide return, the new president sees it as Aristide’s call on the matter of his return. Whether the incoming president’s decision on Aristide is respected – or not – by the U.S. will not only be of keen interest to observers of Haitian politics, but will be seen as a key determinant of Preval’s readiness, if need be, to stand his ground against Washington, and for that matter, Aristide.
Preval Feels the Heat
At the same time, Preval will most likely have to face a different kind of pressure from the pro-business community, Washington and the U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince. All of those forces inevitably will be opposing the Lavalas agenda at every turn and they can be counted on to be pushing Preval to apply the Bush administration’s neoliberal agenda as a prescription for improving Haiti’s economy. The conservative business community of course will find Aristide’s return intolerable, with such hard-line figures like Andy Apaid and his somewhat notorious Group of 184 already making it clear that their intention is to submit Preval to their own desiderata. As reported in the Los Angeles Times, Haitian business magnate Lionel Delatour didn’t mince words about him when he stated that, “If he does try to bring Aristide back, Preval will not finish his presidency. I think Mr. Preval is smart enough [not] to do that.”
The former anti-Aristide American ambassador to Haiti, Timothy M. Carney, has said that he believes the U.S. “can work with” President Preval. But if past is prologue, “working with” Port-au-Prince will mean opposing – and even undermining – the new government, should Preval show any inclination to blaze a political path independent of Washington’s.
Can Washington give up its organic conviction that its embassy in Haiti is nothing more than its southern White House? Washington’s regional agenda clearly flies in the face of some of the aspirations of Preval’s own political base, as well as in the growing rejection of the once celebrated but now repudiated Washington Consensus throughout the region. Successfully juggling these polarities – defined in terms of satisfying his Lavalas base – while not tempting Washington’s own chimères (gangs) to once again engage in coup-making, is the monumental challenge now facing Haiti’s soon to be inaugurated president.
This analysis was prepared by COHA Senior Research Fellow Seth DeLong
Dr. DeLong is currently working on a article regarding the status of women’s’ rights in the Bolivarian Republic of Hugo Chavez.
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