Haiti Archives 1994-1996
21-27/02/96 THIS WEEK IN HAITI February 21 – 27, 1996 Vol. 13, No. 48

HAITI PROGRES “Le journal qui offre une alternative”

PREVAL TAPS COMPROMISE CANDIDATE FOR PRIME MINISTER

After weeks of delay which revealed the deep and growing rivalries within the governing Lavalas coalition, President Rene Preval finally designated Rony Smarth to be his Prime Minister on Feb. 16.

Smarth, 56, is an agronomist and educator who was trained from 1963 to 1968 in Chile and then held government posts there, in the administrations of Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei and Socialist Salvador Allende. Smarth later lived for 10 years in Mexico and worked briefly in Nicaragua, before returning to Haiti in 1986. He is also the brother of Rev. William Smarth, a prominent priest close to former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

The late appointment of Smarth comes after Preval’s lackluster Feb. 7 inauguration, where the new president stated that “my first concern is to restore the power of the State,” in other words “law and order” in a country where popular anger and impatience is mounting. However, Preval is not off to a great start. His first move as President-elect was to pathetically ask the U.N. troops to continue their occupation of Haiti so as to “keep order.” Then the Haitian people largely ignored the Feb. 7 inauguration festivities, in which Preval stood on the stage in front of the National Palace looking nervous and thunder-struck. Now, the wrestling over a prime minister has made the public even more skeptical that the Lavalas “continuity” has a clear and unified agenda and strategy.

The Lavalas Political Organization (OPL), from whose ranks the prime minister is supposed to be selected according to the 1987 Constitution because it has a parliamentary majority, initially proposed its principal leader, Gerard Pierre-Charles, for the post along with Frantz Verella, another OPL big-wig who had been Public Works Minister in Aristide’s 1991 administration and is now working for the World Bank in Washington.

Preval rejected both candidates, causing “an awful lot of meetings” to ensue, in the words of palace spokeswoman Michelle Karshan. In the OPL’s final offer, Preval was asked to choose between Smarth, an OPL executive officer, and Suzy Castor, Pierre-Charles’ wife and also a prominent Lavalas intellectual. Preval’s choice has met with non-enthusiastic but polite approval from most OPL politicians polled by Haitian radio stations.

But, in fact, the stage is set for possible future struggles since today’s scenario is similar to that of 1991, when Aristide chose Preval to be his prime minister. Like Smarth, Preval was a relative unknown, a background player. Aristide had used the banner of the National Front for Change and Democracy (FNCD) to make his presidential run, and the FNCD had expected Aristide to choose the prime minister from its ranks. The FNCD had also captured a majority in Parliament, with most of its candidates riding to office on Aristide’s coattails.

But Aristide, with unpredictability that would become famous, double-crossed the FNCD and chose Preval from his own entourage. Likewise, today, Preval has taken his distance from the OPL, even though he was their presidential candidate. “I never joined a political party,” Preval told the New York Times in a piece published Feb. 9. “Even today, I do not belong to any political party.” Like Aristide did, Preval is looking to create plenty of room to maneuver.

In 1991, FNCD quickly became an “opposition” to their own presidential candidate, working to bog down Aristide’s administration in the parliament and supporting destabilization efforts like the “Vent de Tempete” movement of Jean-Auguste Mesyeux. After Sept. 30, 1991, many of the FNCD parliamentarians, most notably Eddy Dupiton and Bernard Sansaricq, welcomed the coup, became defenders of the military putchists, and fought to prevent Aristide’s return.

Today, the OPL legislators in the parliament issue from a coalition that was even more hastily and indiscriminately slapped together than the FNCD. The backlash against Preval and Smarth could be just as severe when problems worsen, as they promise to.

Preval’s troubles will most surely be aggravated by the “middle course” he will be attempting to navigate between the demands of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) and those of the Haitian people. He has said that he intends to try to satisfy some of the World Bank/IMF demands, like selling off the state industries, so as to get some money for this year’s $760 million budget, 65% of which is supposed to come from international lenders. This orientation is likely given the composition of his special five-member advisory council of Aristide hold-overs, including the unsinkable neo-liberal-leaning U.S.-embassy- approved Finance Minister Marie Michelle Rey and neo-liberal- Paris-Plan co-author Leslie Voltaire. Unfortunately for Preval, the World Bank and IMF do not except half-way measures. These institutions demand total surrender and obedience.

However, Preval seems anxious to work with fellow agronomist Smarth to implement some long-pondered well-intentioned projects to assist peasants and increase Haitian agricultural production. His visits to the rice-producing Artibonite Valley and to the Ministry of Agriculture last week, along with his close ties to peasant leader Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, suggest that Preval will try some alternative nationalistic agricultural policies.

This approach, however, will displease the U.S. government, whose model for Haitian development consists of driving peasants off the land and into the cities to provide a cheap-labor reserve army for U.S. assembly industries, thereby creating a population dependent on food provided by U.S. agribusiness, which in turn aims to buy up Haitian land to grow cash crops for export. Here is where the “compromise” approach of Preval and Smarth will likely encounter its first clash with U.S. government “experts” and “advisors.”

The only real alternative for Haitian development is a complete break with the neo-liberal development model, which would require a fundamental political shift entailing justice, participation, and mobilization of the Haitian people and an end to foreign military occupation.

Smarth still must be ratified by the parliament, a process which will probably last until the end of the month, given the nation’s present focus on Carnival from Feb. 18-20.

HAITIAN POLICE BEING TRAINED AS “MILITARY-STYLE” FORCE

U.S. officials are training Haiti’s new police to be a “military- style force,” helping to create volatile and trigger-happy cops, according to a Canadian police trainer. “I don’t know how long [the new force] is going to last,” Sgt. Malcolm MacKinnon, a Canadian police trainer, told the Toronto Star recently. “If things don’t improve, it’s going to fall apart, bit by bit.”

The central problem, MacKinnon said, is that U.S. officials have a militaristic approach to the training. “The biggest, biggest point we’re trying to make is teaching [the recruits] not to pull their guns,” he said, arguing that Canadian trainers were trying to train a “community-based” force as opposed to an aggressive, might makes right, U.S. force.

Since U.S. troops landed in Haiti back in Sept. 1994, and the Haitian army was eliminated by a combination of popular protest and President Aristide’s antipathy, Washington has been rushing to put some kind of new force on the ground. The U.S. has chosen, trained, and financed some 5,000 new police at a police academy in Haiti and at a military base in the United States. Canadian and French “trainers” are also participating in the program. A further 1,000 or so police were chosen by President Aristide late last year, mostly refugees selected at the U.S. navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in the summer of 1994.

But the new Haitian National Police (HNP) have faced severe problems, not the least of which are corruption and a murderous tendency. Even the U.N.’s International Civilian Mission of “human rights observers,” known by its French acronym MICIVIH, has had to step up and criticize the HNP. In a Jan. 25 report to the U.N. General Assembly based on the work of MICIVIH, the U.N. Secretary General wrote that “such problems include breaches of basic discipline…; the bearing of arms while off duty; the disproportionate use of force in carrying out police duties; lack of experience in the legitimate use of force in carrying out police duties; lack of experience in legitimate use of firearms; inappropriate methods of crowd control; and insufficient use of techniques for the peaceful settlement of disputes.” The report went on to note that “disciplinary measures for transgressors by individual police agents have, for the most part, not been forthcoming.”

MacKinnon echoed the report, laying much of the blame for the poor performance at the feet of the United States. He also said that the new police were corrupt, citing the disappearance of some brand new pick-up trucks donated to the Haitian government for police use.

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