News and opinions on situation in Haiti
René Préval: Haiti May Get One Last Chance in Spite of Washington’s Best Efforts
Council On Hemispheric Affairs
Weekend Release: Saturday, May 13, 2006
With his official inauguration planned for May 14, Haitian President-elect René Préval faces a Brobdingnagian challenge in rebuilding his shattered country. Succeeding a U.S.-installed de facto government headed by Interim Prime Minister Gérard Latortue, which couldn’t have performed more poorly, Préval must search for a precise balance between the interests of foreign donor governments and bitterly divided domestic forces. In recent weeks, Préval has shown a genuine interest in consulting with the competing pressure points that will soon enough affect his new government.
On the domestic front, there is a near consensus that Préval has inherited a broken country from Latortue. Because of this, once inaugurated, the new president will need to act quickly to prove his credibility after a questionable election process, which almost illicitly consigned him to an unwarranted run-off. He must also prevent a flare up of domestic political malcontents; create an effective coalition among the several parties in his government; and constructively assess former President Aristide’s possible request to return to Haiti.
Not only has the president-elect initiated his efforts on the domestic front, but he has already made various strategic foreign visits, and has attempted to build a consensus with the international forces that have had a historic presence in Haiti, such as the U.S. and Canada. However, he is also attempting to form new alliances elsewhere, with Cuba and Venezuela for example, breaking away from a traditionally Washington-controlled Haiti.
Préval’s efforts on the domestic front
Many of the island’s political weaknesses were exacerbated by the notorious interim government that preceded Préval. The departure of the hapless Latortue regime marks the end of a government that fundamentally disregarded human rights and the rule of law. Ironically, this government was set up and appointed by a band of self-serving international powers – primarily the U.S., Canada, France, and the UN’s Kofi Annan – in early 2004, just as the anti-Aristide forces were reaching Port-au-Prince. Human rights organizations such as the Haiti Support Group, several Latin American governments, as well as CARICOM (the Caribbean Community), accused the Latortue government of further darkening the country’s already shaky human rights record by arresting, torturing and imprisoning pro-Aristide government officials and supporters, including former Interior Minister Jocelerme Privert and former Prime Minister Yvonne Neptune, who still remain behind bars but most likely will be released the moment that Préval assumes office.
During the Chilean presidential inauguration in March, Préval, South African President Thabo Mbeki, Brazil and several other international players – such as Argentina, France, and Chile – discussed Aristide’s possible return and its likely implications. Préval will thus have to find a middle ground between Aristide’s domestic supporters and opponents, while taking into consideration the potential reactions of key international actors, among them the U.S., Canada, France, Brazil, Chile and Argentina, who fear that Aristide’s return to Haiti would cause unnecessary political turmoil and unrest, and could use the return to justify sanctions.
Préval in the global arena: A call for continued international aid and responsible behavior
During his predictable visit to the United States in late March, Préval met with President Bush in Washington to discuss financial assistance, and visit institutions such as the United Nations – where he requested the continuing presence of MINUSTAH (the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti); the World Bank; the Organization of American States; the Inter-American Development Bank; and the IMF, all venues where he requested long-term development aid.
Préval also paid a visit to Ottawa for a series of meetings with Canadian officials, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, to remind the officials of the importance of their country’s goods and assistance to Haiti. In his conversations, Préval emphasized the recognition of dual citizenship for the Haitian Diaspora in Canada, and the need for foreign investment and tourism in Haiti’s future, which would undoubtedly lead to increased economic development and more stable conditions in the country. Prime Minister Harper promised continued support of the Caribbean nation, indicating that the relatively new Conservative Canadian administration views Canadian financial assistance to Haiti as a priority in the two countries’ relationship. Ironically, during Préval’s visit to Ontario and Quebec, Interim Prime Minister Gérard Latortue who is to leave office on May 14, asked the Canadian government to lift the travel ban on several former Haitian officials (accused but not charged of human rights abuses), stating “Help us, forget about that… give a chance to all Haitians now to be able to reconcile once again and be able to work together,” according to the Canada-based newsletter Embassy.
Beating the Brush for Aid
Importantly, Préval made his first visit to the Dominican Republic in March, where he dialogued with President Fernandez on the vitally important immigration issues that dominate the relationship between the neighboring countries. Préval then continued to Brazil, where he met with Brazilian president Luis Inacio “Lula” da Silva, to discuss infrastructure projects, as well as thank Brazil for its troop support in Haiti under the Brazilian led UN mission MINUSTAH, later traveling to Argentina and Chile.
This is, of course, Washington’s primary concern, as a renewed instability would lead to a higher number of illegal Haitian immigrant boats floating towards Florida’s shores, a problem Washington is eager to avoid. This may give Préval some much needed autonomy to formulate policies and build alliances that, while untraditional, may ultimately benefit Haiti. Thus, Préval’s attempts towards domestic, as well as international cooperation, including Cuban and Venezuelan aid to Haiti may not produce an immediate backlash. For decades, until the present, the State Department has been content to allow lower policy standards, based on the working philosophy that since it is only Haiti, the best need not be required.
As Florida Governor Jeb Bush prepares to lead a U.S. delegation to Haiti for Préval’s official inauguration on Sunday, unfortunately very few will be watching the situation closely and carefully.
This analysis was prepared by COHA Research Associate Mara van den Bold
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COHA Report 06.09