Showing posts with label René Préval. Show all posts
Showing posts with label René Préval. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Thoughts on Haiti’s elections

My most recent thoughts on Haiti's elections can be read at my other blog here.

United States Embassy Cable: Deconstructing Préval

O 161802Z JUN 09

FM AMEMBASSY PORT AU PRINCE

TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0044

INFO HAITI COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

AMEMBASSY BRASILIA PRIORITY

AMEMBASSY MONTEVIDEO PRIORITY

AMCONSUL MONTREAL PRIORITY

AMCONSUL QUEBEC PRIORITY

DEA HQS WASHDC PRIORITY

HQ USSOUTHCOM J2 MIAMI FL PRIORITY

CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L PORT AU PRINCE 000575


DEPARTMENT FOR WHA

SOUTHCOM ALSO FOR POLAD

DEPARTMENT PASS USAID FOR LAC

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/01/2019

TAGS: PGOV HA KBIO

SUBJECT: DECONSTRUCTING PREVAL

Classified By: Ambassador Janet A. Sanderson, reason 1.4(b) and (d).

(Originally posted here)

Summary and Introduction
-------------------------

¶1. (C) Haitian President Rene Preval has now completed three
years of his five year presidential mandate. Widely touted as
the "transitional president" poised to lead Haiti into a new
era of democracy and economic prosperity, he has had only
modest success thus far. Haiti's problems are indeed
daunting, and redressing them will take much more than a
five-year term. However, Preval's particular world view, his
personality and often indecisive and uncommunicative
leadership style, coupled with Haiti's deeply divided
political class and the devastating events of 2008, have
conspired to defer, if not derail, forward movement here.

¶2. (C) That being said, Preval remains Haiti's indispensable
man. Legitimately elected, still moderately popular, and
likely the only politician capable of imposing his will on
Haiti - if so inclined - Preval's role over the next 18
months is critical. Dealing with Preval is a challenge,
occasionally frustrating and sometimes rewarding. He is wary
of change and suspicious of outsiders, even those who seek
his success. Managing Preval will remain challenging during
the remainder of his term yet doing so is key to our success
and that of Haiti. We must continue to find creative ways to
work with him, influence him, and encourage him to recapture
the activism of his first year in office. Until he does,
political change and economic progress, so necessary to
Haiti's future, is likely to be incremental at best.

The Politics of Personality
----------------------------

¶3. (C) Preval's attitude towards his presidency has been
shaped by both experience and personality. As Aristide's
Prime Minister and successor, he was overshadowed by the more
charismatic ex-priest. At our first meeting, Preval recounted
that he was "the last stop after Tabarre (where Aristide
lived) when visitors came", bitterly reminding me that many
USG visitors barely had time to see him when he was
president. Those slights still rankle. A retiring, complex
personality, the president shares little. His inner circle
has greatly constricted during the past two years, with key
advisors including Bob Manuel, all but dropping out. His
involvement with his fiancee, financial advisor Babette
Delatour has colored many of his other relationships,
according to friends, and caused an estrangement of sorts
with his sister and one of his daughters.

¶4. (C) Even those close to Preval concede that his
chameleon-like character makes dealing with the president
difficult. One close advisor calls it "the roller coaster
that is Rene Preval." Personally engaging - even seductive -
when he so wishes, Preval can be equally harsh with
colleagues and others. Ministers, close advisors and others
have felt the sting of his tongue, both in public and in
private. Stubbornly holding to ideas long past their shelf
life, he rarely welcomes dissenting opinions. His courting
of Taiwan in 2006, which almost led to the Chinese blocking
renewal of the MINUSTAH mandate in 2006, is a case in point.
Preval is highly disinclined to delegate power or authority
and even the smallest detail comes to his office for
decision, a situation which has caused stress in his
relationships with both his current and former prime
ministers. Planning Minister Bellerive described to me a
recent Cabinet meeting where the Prime Minister and the
Cabinet presented a development plan for the long-suffering
northern tier of the country. Preval ridiculed the idea and
when confronted by a united ministerial front, walked out of
the cabinet meeting and told his advisors to strike the
proposal from the agenda.

¶5. (C) Uncomfortable in formal settings such as summits and
international conferences, Preval seeks personal
"relationships of trust" with his interlocutors. Often
unable to articulate exactly what he wants - except in the
broadest of terms - Preval tends to view issues in black and
white. Nonetheless, he expects a positive - and prompt
response. That is particularly true of his dealings with the
international community. He remains skeptical about the
international community's commitment to his government's
goals, for instance telling me that he is suspicious of how
the Collier report will be used. He measures success with the
international community - and the U.S.- in terms of positive
response to his priorities, rather than according to some
broader international benchmarks of success.

¶6. (C) Nevertheless, Preval's stubborn and cautious nature
has sometimes borne fruit. In his first year in office, he
was widely praised for reaching out to Haitians of all
political stripes and for attempting to bridge Haiti's
massive political divides. He has shrewdly coopted major
political rivals into his personal cabinet over the past two
years and has, through patient diplomacy managed to get
fractious parliamentary groupings to sit around the table
working on issues ranging from the budget to privatization to
the current minimum wage crisis. He believes strongly that
without his intercession, the international community would
have ignored the impact of the 2008 hurricanes on Haiti, and
that his early efforts at negotiation and discussion with the
gangs of Cite Soleil (which he often reminds me that I
criticized at the time) set the stage for the successful
MINUSTAH operation to clear the area.


A Narrowing Circle?
------------------

¶7. (C) Preval's seeming isolation in the palace during the
past year is striking. Close friends report that they have
little contact - and even less influence - with him. A
businessman who was key to Preval's election said the last
time that he talked to Preval, the president brushed him off.
Shunning newspapers and radio, he has a friend in New York do
a daily press summary for him; otherwise he freely admits
that he neither reads nor listens to the news, either local
or international. He uses one or two cell phones but rarely
shares the numbers with his colleagues. He uses his email to
communicate with family and close friends, but prefers to
talk on the telephone. He seldom leaves the palace except to
travel to his residence each evening and to the retreat he
has bought for his fiancee in the mountains above Port au
Prince.

The Health Issue
----------------

¶8. (C) Preval's occasionally erratic behavior over the past
year has again sparked widespread rumors that he is suffering
from the effects of his past prostate cancer or that he has
resumed drinking. There is no indication that he is taking
medicine that affects his judgment or temperament, but he has
ignored suggestions from his inner circle, including that of
Delatour, that he do complete medical check-up in the U.S. He
has not been to Cuba for follow-up tests in more than a year.
Preval has increased his alcoholic consumption and often
attends a Petionville night club with friends, but during our
social interaction I have never seen him drink to excess.
Nonetheless, reports of heavy drinking are circulating
widely.


An Agenda deferred: Elections, Constitutional Reform, and
Drugs
--------------------------------------------- ---------------

¶9. (C) Preval has said that his agenda for his remaining
years in office focuses on three interconnected issues:
elections, constitutional reform, and drugs. He came late to
the election issue, originally suggesting that the partial
Senatorial elections be combined with the lower house polls
scheduled for fall. He backed down in the face of
international pressure, but also as he came to realize that
he would have little success - or support - if he moved on
constitutional reform without a fully functioning senate.
Given the delays in moving this election forward, he no
longer believes that he will see an overhaul of the
constitution. He now expects to focus on two critical
constitutional issues, dual nationality and government
decentralization. He has angrily denied charges that he
manipulated the electoral process through the CEP and its
decision to exclude Lavalas to undermine an already weak
legislature.

¶10. (C) Preval's focus on comprehensive constitutional reform
over the past year raised concerns about his ulterior
motives. Many in Haiti's political class drew the conclusion
that Preval was seeking a third term. The President's
refusal to explicitly reject that possibility created
confusion and uncertainty, but I view this development as
highly unlikely. Nonetheless, concerns about Preval's
intentions, coupled with deteriorating relations with
parliament, and his cavalier treatment of major political
parties has undermined consensus on constitutional reform and
he seems now resigned to more limited changes.

¶11. (C) Preval's fixation on drug trafficking reflects both a
growing frustration with the inflow of drugs into the
country's political process and irritation that his
government is unable to address something that could indeed
pose a personal threat to his future after the presidency.
Shunning all GOH responsibility for the problem, he looks to
hand it over to us. He has yet to believe that we take his
concerns seriously, and that has colored much of his dealings
with us beyond the counternarcotics agenda.


A not-always-helpful world view
-------------------------------

¶12. (C) Although Preval's presidency started off well, with
the new president reaching out across the political spectrum
in an effort to create a new political culture in the
country, those efforts have now essentially stalled. The
President, whether by inclination or design, has not fully
developed a vision of Haiti's future. By turns determined or
distracted, Preval is often reluctant to use the levers of
power given to him by the office of the presidency. In one
telling instance, he held off going public in the April riots
until the presidency appeared to hang in the balance.
Skeptical of friends from abroad, and cynical about his own
political class's ability to effect change, Preval believes
that it is best only to speak out after the deals are done.
Pressing him to be more expansive and communicative has been,
in my experience, counterproductive. At the same time, he is
reluctant to let anyone else pick up the slack, and as a
result, the political vacuum in Haiti is often filled by
those who do not necessarily have the nation's best interests
at heart.

¶13. (C) There are those who argue that the April, 2008 riots
so badly shook Preval's world view that he has become
reluctant to act. We believe this is too simplistic an
explanation. Preval was indeed unprepared for the riots in
the street, but he used them to press some key objectives,
including the removal of then-Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard
Alexis. More to the point, I believe that the President's own
style and outlook, his often unilateral decision-making
style, his propensity to micromanage, and his essentially
cynical (and often justified) view of the Haitian political
process were, I believe, reinforced by what he saw in April,
and he is looking for ways to ensure he is not caught
unawares again.

¶14. (C) Preval's old friends suggest that in many ways he
remains the radical student who broke with his conservative
father and spent his university days in the political
maelstrom of 1960s Europe. While this may overstate the
case, Preval remains essentially a nationalist politician in
the Haitian sense of the word - suspicious of outsiders
intentions and convinced that no one understands Haiti like
he does. He often takes actions, such as publicly dismissing
the results of the Washington Donors Conference or stalling
elections, which could be construed as working at cross
purposes with the U.S. Preval clearly believes that he can
walk a fine line without losing U.S. or international
community support. Here, however, he runs a risk. Although he
briefly lived in the U.S., Preval does not truly understand
Americans or the Washington policy environment - and he often
ignores advisors who do.


The After-Life
--------------

¶15. (C) Close friends speculate that many of Preval's actions
during the past year - his rapprochement with Alexis and the
Neptune faction of Lavalas, his obsession with constitutional
reform, his anger over drug trafficker Guy Philippe, even his
reactions to the April riots - stem from his very real fear
that politics will prohibit him from returning to private
life in Haiti after his presidency. Thus, they argue, his
overriding goal is to orchestrate the 2011 presidential
transition in such a way as to ensure that whoever is elected
will allow him to go home unimpeded. Based on our
conversations, this is indeed a matter that looms large for
Preval. He has said to me on various occasions that he is
worried about his life after the presidency, that he would
not survive in exile. His concerns seem real, given Haiti's
history, albeit somewhat overblown at this point in time.


What It Means for Us
---------------------

¶16. (C) Preval and I entered on duty in our respective
positions at pretty much the same time and we have enjoyed an
interesting, if not always harmonious, relationship during
the past three and a half years. During that period, I have
found him somewhat isolated, less open to ideas and advice,
and more reluctant to use the tools of his office to advance
his agenda than in his first year in office. Some say that
he is reverting to the do-nothing persona of his first term
as president. Like much about Preval, the reality is somewhat
more complicated. What is clear to me, however, is that
Preval has yet to truly provide the strong, consistent
leadership that Haiti's current circumstances demand. In
other places, we could find ways to circumvent or overcome
these weaknesses. Not so in Haiti. Given Haiti's strong
tradition of presidential rule, the blurred constitutional
lines of authority, and his own reluctance to delegate
authority, I believe that Preval - and only Preval - will
continue to set the rhythm and scope of change in Haiti. And
while we may argue with him about pace and priorities, we
will have to adapt to his rhythm. Dealing with Preval has
never been easy. Yet he remains Haiti's indispensable man and
he must succeed in passing this country to a new leadership
in 2011. We therefore must continue to find creative,
consistent ways to reinforce and maintain our engagement - at
all levels of the USG - with Preval and to press him to move
forward the important agenda of change that remains as yet
unrealized here.


TIGHE

Monday, July 12, 2010

The international community's responsibility to Haiti

The international community's responsibility to Haiti

By Michael Deibert

The Guardian

12 July 2010


(Please read the original article here)

It is a gloomy anniversary: the six-month mark since the earthquake that levelled vast swaths of Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, and surrounding towns, killing well over 200,000 people.

Though the earthquake was promiscuously destructive, killing the good and the bad, the rich and the poor, those who still remain encamped in sprawling tent cities lashed by tropical rains in and around the capital now represent the lowest and most disempowered strata of Haitian society. They are the Haitians who, for generations, have fled the poverty of the countryside to its largest city in search of jobs that were not there and where only further struggle awaited them.

At a time when only 2% of a promised $5.3bn (£3.5bn) in reconstruction aid has materialised and an equally small amount of rubble has been removed, it is worth pausing to remember how economic policy in a very real way helped drive Haitians off their land and into the labyrinthine slums of Port-au-Prince, where so many of them died.

From the 1940s, when the United States sponsored a half-baked attempt to cultivate rubber in Haiti, to the early 1980s, when 1.2m creole pigs were destroyed in a US-Canadian funded programme to prevent the spread of swine fever, the results were largely the same. Life for Haiti's rural poor got worse.

In 1995, an economic adjustment plan mandated by the International Monetary Fund implemented by the government of then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide cut tariffs on rice imports to Haiti from 35% to 3%. Haiti, which for many years had produced low-cost, inexpensive rice for domestic consumption, effectively lost the ability to do so.

And so the heirs of patriotic leaders such as Toussaint L'Ouverture and Charlemagne Péralte ("Les enfants du héros", as the Haitian writer Lyonel Trouillot called them) continued to flood into Port-au-Prince. And six months ago, on a Tuesday afternoon, more of them died there than the mind can really grasp.

Almost surreally, with an estimated 1.5 million Haitians still homeless, presidential and legislative elections are set to be held on 28 November. They will be presided over by an electoral council faced with conducting a legitimate ballot in a country where hundreds of thousands of voters have either been killed or displaced, and during which its own headquarters were destroyed.

Before the earthquake, Haiti had seen a steady, if gradual, improvement in its fortunes. Attracting modest levels of foreign investment and maintaining robust diplomatic relations with neighbours as divergent as the United States, Cuba and Venezuela, the county also enjoyed a more or less extended period of political calm, reinforced by a 10,000-strong United Nations peacekeeping mission (a mission that also suffered grievously that January day).

The wantonly murderous security services and armed civilian bands of regimes past dissipated as, whatever his other faults, President René Préval marked a change in at least this aspect from the litany of rancid despots who have actively victimised the Haitian populace without cease since colonial times.

With no clear successor to Préval, and a series of badly factionalised micro-parties with little popular support, Haitians now face yawning uncertainty. While elections are a favoured means of the international community to point to progress in countries as wracked by poverty and political unrest as Haiti, most Haitians will tell a visitor that such exercises will count for little if not matched by a commitment to changing the destructive dynamic of rural disintegration and urban migration that has taken hold in recent years.

After the earthquake, the Haitian government produced a preliminary damage and needs assessment that envisioned a decentralisation of the Haitian state. To this date, little has come of this promise. A body set up to manage reconstruction funds chaired by Préval's prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, and former US president Bill Clinton – a man with a sometimes worrisomely shaky grasp of Haiti's history – has succeeded in drawing pledges of aid but little in concrete results.

It is important on this date, with so many of Haiti's citizens to mourn and so many still waiting for assistance in conditions that can only be characterised as an affront to humanity, that we in the international community not forget our past follies in Haiti.

Before another six months pass, foreign governments, international agencies and non-governmental organisations must quickly and decisively work with Haitians, both urban and rural, on issues such as resettlement, reforestation and agrarian reform, to help them build a decent country out of the rubble of the broken state that came before.

Among all the Haitians I've met in my travels around Haiti, since my first visit there in 1997, a decent country is all most have ever asked for.

Michael Deibert is a visiting fellow at the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation Studies at Coventry University and the author of Notes from the Last Testament: The Struggle for Haiti. His blog can be read at www.michaeldeibert.blogspot.com.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Good neighbours?

Good neighbours?

Published: June 08, 2010

Foreign Direct Investment


Haiti and the Dominican Republic have endured a fraught relationship over the past 200 years, but could the latter’s response to the former’s recent earthquake lead to a more mutually beneficial partnership in the future? Michael Deibert investigates.

(Read the original article here)

When an earthquake devastated a large section of Haiti in January, no country responded more empathically than the Dominican Republic, which shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with Haiti.

Despite what has been an often stormy and distrustful relationship between the two countries – due in large part to the many Haitian occupations of the Dominican Republic, as well as the long history of abuses committed against the almost 1 million Haitians living in the Dominican Republic – Dominicans almost immediately began fundraising drives and gathered supplies. These were then ferried across the border to Haiti by a combination of local relief organisations and ordinary citizens.

“I had been visiting Haiti for such a long time, and have such good friends over there, that I knew I had to do my best to help,” says Juan Pablo Fernandez, president of Químicos & Plásticos, a Dominican company that supplies raw materials to the industries of both nations. After the earthquake, Mr Fernandez and his employees joined other Dominican businesses in transporting privately donated relief supplies to Haiti’s stricken capital, Port-au-Prince.

The Dominican response to the earthquake just might have eased some of the mutual recrimination brought on by an oft-tragic shared history stretching back two centuries.

In 1822, then Haitian president Jean-Pierre Boyer invaded the eastern part of the Dominican Republic. Despite this, country succeeded in declaring its independence in 1844. Another Haitian leader, Faustin Soulouque, who would go on to declare himself emperor of Haiti, then invaded the Dominican Republic twice.

In 1937, following the expulsion of Haitian cane cutters by Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, even more Haitian labourers flooded the Dominican Republic, then led by dictator Rafael Trujillo, who would rule the country from 1930 until his murder in 1961. That October, under Mr Trujillo’s orders and for reasons that still remain unclear, Dominican soldiers and police massacred an estimated 20,000 Haitians.

Haitians continue to stream into the Dominican Republic looking for work today, even though they continue to face “severe discrimination”, according to the 2009 Human Rights Report issued by the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. But though both countries have experienced authoritarian regimes and high levels of corruption, their economic and investment portfolios paint a markedly different picture, analysts say, especially over the past two decades.

Revealing data

Before the earthquake, according to the CIA’s World Factbook, the GDP real growth rate for the Dominican Republic was 1.8% during 2009, and the GDP per capita was $8300. In Haiti, these figures were 2% and $1300, respectively. While average life expectancy for the Dominican Republic is 73 years, the figure in Haiti is just 57 years. To add to Haiti’s woes, according to its government’s Preliminary Damage and Needs Assessment, the damage bill from January’s earthquake was in the region of $7.9bn.

While two-thirds of Dominican exports remain bound for the US, foreign remittances, mostly from the US, continue to account for nearly one-tenth of the country’s GDP, and there remains a robust tourism industry. Boasting the largest economy in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic currently has approximately 50 free trade zone parks, producing everything from textiles to electronic devices and pharmaceuticals. The country’s financial sector has also largely stabilised since the collapse of its second-largest bank, Banco Intercontinental, in 2003, which had to be bailed out by the Dominican treasury at a cost of some $2.2bn.

“Business is increasing on a daily basis [in the Dominican Republic] and there is much optimism,” says Aryam Vázquez, an economist who covers country risk for Wells Fargo’s emerging markets unit in New York. “The banking sector is much better regulated than in the past, and we have seen concerted efforts by successive governments to stabilise the domestic demand market.”

Across the border

Before the earthquake, Haiti seemed to be regaining some of its financial footing following the chaotic presidency of Jean-Bertrand Aristide between 2001 and 2004 and the often erratic rule of the interim government that replaced him. Relations between Dominican president Leonel Fernández, in office since August 2004, and Haitian president René Préval, who has governed since May 2006, are said to be warm. During their mutual first term in office in the 1990s, Mr Fernández made the first official state visit by a Dominican leader to Haiti since the 1937 massacres.

Political instability in Haiti has led to environmental degradation and economic atrophy. While Haiti was ruled by a series of ravenous civilian and military dictatorships for much of the past 50 years, Joaquín Balaguer, a long-time Trujillo consigliere who led a series of authoritarian governments in the Dominican Republic over the past half-century, was taking steps to prevent the country from sliding into the environmental disaster that was befalling Haiti, including using the Dominican army to prevent extensive deforestation. Haiti, on the other hand, has lost 90% of its tree cover over the past 60 years (and about one-tenth between 1990 and 2000), with the resulting erosion destroying two-thirds of the country’s arable farmland.

Hope beyond the despair

Despite such statistics, there is hope that out of the tragedy of January’s earthquake there lies an opportunity to help Haiti advance beyond the modest improvements in economic stability and security of recent years.

Haiti’s garment industry, once a pillar of its economy, has benefitted in recent years from measures that provided certain Haitian textiles with duty-free status when entering the US. Last year, Haitian firm the WIN Group, along with the Soros Economic Development Fund, announced their intention to construct a $45m industrial park in Port-au-Prince’s Cité Soleil slum region, a project that has been put on hold in the aftermath of the earthquake.

The OTF Group, a competitiveness consulting firm, has continued to advocate for the creation of “growth clusters” around Haiti, a proposal that fits closely with the Haitian government’s desire for decentralisation, economic diversification and the “decongestion” of the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area, rather than rebuilding as before.

Such measures might well provide a possible future at home for the Haitians currently living in the Dominican Republic and spell a less fractious new era for two nations whose economic destinies, despite frequent tensions, remain inextricably linked.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Long View: Haiti Before and After the Earthquake


The Long View: Haiti Before and After the Earthquake

Address delivered by Michael Deibert to the Above Group

Fernandes Industrial Centre, Port of Spain, Trinidad, 30 April 2010


Good evening, and thank you very much to Alex Smailes for that kind introduction and to the Above Group for having me speak here in Port of Spain this evening. As much as Haiti is a world story, it is also empathically a Caribbean story, as well, and that is why I am particularly thankful to address you tonight about this country I have come to know and love so well over many years.

Even before January’s apocalyptic earthquake, much of the what the world knows about Haiti has been of a negative nature, partially the legacy of what Haitian writer and diplomat Frédéric Marcelin in 1904 called “civil strife, fratricidal slaughters, social miseries, economic ignorance and idolatrous militarism.” But there is also so much about Haiti many people don’t know. If people do know, for example, that Haiti was the second independent republic in the Western Hemisphere after the United States, many of them are unaware that one of Haiti’s founding fathers, Henri Christophe, had fought alongside American revolutionary forces at the Battle of Savannah. Many people are unaware that it was the Haitians’ stunning defeat of Napoleon's army - perhaps the greatest military force in the world at the time - that prompted the French dictator to sell Louisiana to the United States, doubling its size. In the lovely city of Jacmel on Haiti’s southern coast, where I once had a small beach cottage and whose colonial zone now lies devastated, the South American leader Simón Bolívar based himself and was provided with material and logistical support at a crucial time during his campaign to liberate the Southern Hemisphere from Spanish rule. People also rarely hear about Haiti’s rich artistic and intellectual culture, perhaps the most impressive in the Caribbean, which produces writers like Jacques Roumain, Jacques Stephen Alexis and Lyonel Trouliot, painters such as Philomé Obin and Stevenson Magloire and musicians such as Toto Bissainthe and Boukman Eksperyans.

Since I first visited Haiti now nearly 15 years ago, I have seen the country in many manifestations. I first saw the early days of the first-term of Haiti’s current president, René Préval, which seemed to many at the time as a simple stop-gap between the two terms of priest-turned-politician Jean-Bertrand Aristide, but which now appears to have been an essential interim of relative peace during which nevertheless the seeds of later political disaster were planted. I saw Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s second term as Haiti’s president, which began with great hope as a man who had been a champion of Haiti's poor returned to office, but which ended in blood and tears as his government descended into a mire of corrupted elections, organized youth gangs and widespread corruption at its highest levels. I saw Haiti during the interim government the ran the country after Aristide’s flight into exile in February 2004, a time when Haiti descended into some of the worst political violence it had ever seen - with a policemen being killed every five days - and I have seen Haiti since René Préval’s second inauguration as its president in May 2006, a time when, despite a series of devastating hurricanes and some questionable political choices, the country, at long last, seemed to be moving, ever gently, towards economic progress. Before the earthquake.

Much has been said and written about the sorry state of Haiti’s politics and the gradual of erosion of what was always a fragile economic base in recent years. Particularly since about 1980, the country has been in an economic freefall Haitians themselves, especially Haiti’s political leaders, bear a share of responsibility for the country’s sorry state, but it must be said that they have had a lot of help

Foreign aid flowed largely unfettered to the Duvalier family dictatorship which ruled Haiti from 1957 until 1986, and since then various political and intelligence elements in Washington courted Haiti’s political actors in ways that often served to muddy and obscure what Washington’s policy towards Haiti actually was, thereby undercutting some of the genuinely democratic elements there, a cynical game at which money was also at play.

Following Mr. Aristide's return to Haiti in 1994, politically connected operators from both political parties in the United States were only to happy to sign off an barely-transparent deals of questionable legality in Haiti in the name of supposedly privatizing the country’s moribund state industries. This was particularly true of the telecommunications sector, which Haiti’s financial intelligence unit and anti-corruption body later found was looted of tens of millions of dollars during the Aristide years, a plunder for their role in which several American businessmen and former Haitian government officials now sit in prison in Miami. American lawyers and lobbyists, likewise, were also all too happy to cynically gobble up some of Haiti’s meagre resources in the name of promoting the Haitian government’s agenda abroad.

Haiti’s peasantry, which makes up a majority of the country’s 9 million people, were suffering grievously even before the earthquake, the victims of both the short-sighted policies of the international community and the venality and brutality of Haiti’s homegrown political leaders. As such, amidst the glittering donor conferences and political pow-wows happening today, I think it is important to realize the fact that the international community policies towards this sector of Haitian society have contributed to its social stresses and economic decay, a litany that would be written as farce had the results not been so tragic.

In the 1940s, the United States sponsored the Société Haitiano-Américaine de Dévelopment Agricole in an ill-fated, half-baked attempted to cultivate rubber in Haiti, an effort that ended up harming the very farmers it was designed to help.

Between 1980 and 1983, when tests showed nearly a quarter of Haiti’s pigs were infected with African Swine Fever, a U.S- Canadian funded program destroyed 1.2 million Kreyol pigs in the country, pigs that formed one of the backbones of the peasant economy. Of the replacement pigs that were delivered, many soon died, unable to adjust to the rough world the Kreyol swine had grown so accustomed to, and the already difficult rural economy suffered another blow.

Further undermining Haiti’s ability to feed itself, President Aristide, implementing an economic adjustment plan mandated by the International Monetary Fund, cut tariffs on rice imports to the country from 35 percent to 3 percent in 1995. This further undermined the peasant economy despite the fact that Haiti for many years had produced low-cost, inexpensive rice for domestic consumption. After 1995, that is, after implementing the economic policies of the international community, it effectively lost the ability to do so.

So the economic policies of the international community, in a very real way, helped drive Haitians off their land and into the labyrinthine slums of Port-au-Prince where so many of them died this past January.

But if we are being honest with ourselves, it must also be fairly said that, as much as Haiti has been failed by the great powers of the world in recent years, events there over the last decade plus and the failure of the wider Caribbean to engage there represents perhaps the greatest failing of CARICOM in the body’s history.

Since Haiti became a full member of CARICOM in 1999, a step that was ratified by the Haitian Parliament on 2002, Haiti - now CARICOM’s most populous member - has too often been treated as a second class citizen by the larger body or, alternatively, as a canvas on which regional leaders attempted to play out what seem to me poorly-informed scenarios of what Haiti is or more accurately should - to them - represent. Even today, despite being full members of CARICOM, the Trinidadian government's own immigration website says that citizens of all CARICOM countries do not require entry visas to enter here, except Haiti.

When CARICOM signed off on Haiti’s deeply-flawed May 2000 legislative elections as free and fair, elections which both the United Nations and Organization of American States refused to endorse, the organization's reputation as a neutral body was badly damaged in the minds of many of those with a stake in Haiti’s political process. When, during Mr. Aristide’s second tenure as Haiti’s president, Caribbean leaders such as Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, St. Lucian Prime Minister Kenny Anthony and Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent continued to fête and praise Mr. Aristide despite the growing evidence of the criminality and brutality of his government on the ground in Haiti, the body’s reputation sunk still further.

Although the world at large seems to have forgotten, Haitians remember that when demonstrators, journalists and ordinary civilians were being attacked and sometimes murdered by Mr. Aristide’s security forces and aligned armed gangs in late 2003 and early 2004, the response of Prime Minister Patterson was to open Norman Manley Airport in Kingston to a South African Boeing 707 bound for Haiti with a cargo of some 150 R1 assault rifles, five thousand rounds of ammunition, smoke grenades and bullet-proof vests for a government that was at the time savaging its own citizens with great brutality. South African President Thabo Mbeki circumvented the usually weeks-long approval process of his country’s National Conventional Arms Control Committee to approve and set in motion the arms distribution in a matter of days, and was roundly criticized for this in the South African press, but Mr. Patterson’s role in this has never been fully explained. The plane eventually returned to South Africa with its cargo intact. Today, former Prime Minister Patterson has been named as CARICOM’s Special Representative to Haiti.

Following Mr. Aristide’s ouster, CARICOM called publicly, via two communiques, for an investigation into the circumstances of Aristide’s departure, but never bothered to formally ask the United Nations for one. Talk equalled action, evidently. Likewise, after Hurricane Jeanne, killed over 3,000 people in Haiti in 2004. CARICOM, despite its statements of solidarity, didn’t lift a single finger or contribute a single dollar to alleviate the suffering there, they were nowhere to be found when it really mattered. In CARICOM’s absence, Latin American nations, particularly Brasil, have stepped in to take the lead of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the country.

But even with all of this, there has been a singular endurance to the Haitian character which has taught me much in my time interacting with the Haitian people, and this was nowehere more in evidence than in the aftermath of January’s earthquake. I would like if I may, to give you a picture of what the aftermath of Haiti’s earthquake looked like.

It was Elvis Cineus, a teacher in the town of Leogane, running home to find, under the remains of his home, smashed flat as if pummeled by a giant fist, the bodies of his wife, his nephew, his cousin, and a friend, all dead. He found his 1-year-old son dangling from the building's jagged facade, injured, but alive.

It was two dozen men working in the once-picturesque town of Petit-Goave, set along the glittering Caribbean Sea, labouring all day under the blazing sun with hammers and saws, tearing down what little remained of the town's 208 year-old Église Notre Dame, which once loomed over the city in gleaming blue-and-white relief but collapsed in a matter of seconds, burying market women, passers-by, and people who had paused to rest in its shade

It was young Robert Henry Etienne, walking the dusty streets of the same city with a notebook in hand, carefully cataloging every ruined and damaged structure in meticulous handwriting in the hope that they might one day be rebuilt.

It was Micha Gaillard, a university professor and son of one of Haiti's eminent historians, was one of the first political leaders I met while traveling to Haiti, whom I recall greeting me in his modest home as his wife prepared us coffee. Micha died after the Palais de Justice collapsed on him, in what must have been agony after having been trapped for many hours. Four of the country's foremost feminist thinks -- Myriam Merlet, Magalie Marcelin, Anne Marie Coriolan and Mireille Neptune Anglade -- also died that day. The damage to the country's artistic heritage, from the almost-total collapse of the Episcopal Cathédrale Sainte Trinité, which boasted stunning indigenous murals by eminent Haitian painters, to the loss of much of the Nader art collection, probably the best private collection of Haitian art in the world, is incalculable.

One night, only days after the quake, I found myself cruising thorough the capital on the back of a moto-taxi. A crowded, dirty but also irrepressibly vibrant city during normal times, Port-au- Prince that night presented a landscape that could fairly be described as nightmarish.

Visible through the darkness, the ruined shells of buildings destroyed looked over the fragile forms of hundreds of thousands of people reduced to sleeping in the streets, while in the air mingled the corrosive smell of burning garbage and the vomitous, cloyingly sweet stench of human decay.

Port-au-Prince had never seemed more desperate or defeated.

But the something happened.

Next to the shell of Haiti's Palais National, the hypnotizingly white grand dame of the city's architectural jewels that successive Haitian politicians have fought to control even as their country grew ever-more impoverished and ruined, market women were still frying up marinade and fritay in old steel pots. In the Petionville market, despite the late hour and lack of electricity, goods and fried chicken were still being sold by the orange glow of kerosene lamps. By the following day, dozens of young Haitians had begun sweeping with brooms in front of the ruined Cathédrale Nationale, in preparation for the Saturday funeral on its grounds of Archbishop Serge Miot, who perished within its walls.

"I've worked with this moto for my entire youth," the driver, a young man named Emmanuel, told me that night as we headed up Avenue Pan American, passed the ruins of the United Nations compound where scores of United Nations workers, including mission chief Hédi Annabi, his deputy, Luiz Carlos da Costa, elections chief Gerardo Le Chevallier and scores of other lost their lives.

"Tout moun jwenn," Emmanuel told me as we conversed in Haiti's native Kreyol language.

"Kounye-a, y'ap domi ak Jesu."

Everyone was hit. Now they sleep with Jesus.

Far from being the looting mobs that some media have portrayed them as, hardly anyone who has witnessed the response of the Haitians to this great catastrophe could not be moved by their incredible resilience and solidarity and their intact sense of humor in the face of an unimaginable tragedy.

As all the pillars of the Haitian state -- a state that has often seemed only able to rouse itself to parasitically victimize its own people when it did make its presence felt -- collapsed around them, the Haitians helped one another, dug through rubble, prayed, sang and showed everyone who has watched them what the meaning of true perseverance in the face of adversity looks like, even though the losses were tremendous and irreplaceable.

Sometimes since I had returned to Haiti in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, I felt as if I would be overcome by despair. Looking at block after block of ruins throughout the capital's downtown, or seeing the terrible death and destruction caused by the collapse of the Université de Port-au-Prince, ringed by weeping, desperate relatives of those lost, one almost wanted to turn away.

But the Haitians, always the Haitians, kept one going, and seeing their dignity in this moment has made me love them and their battered country as never before.

"Life goes on," a friend of mine who lost his wife in the earthquake told me, bringing to mind the famous Haitian proverb, deye mon gen mon. Beyond the mountains there are more mountains.

I hope that, as we in the international community move forward with Haiti’s people as they attempt to rebuild their shattered county, we can speak to the best qualities that we in find in them - their incredible resilience, their good humour, their gentleness and laudable work ethic - and are less succeptible to the illusions and self-interest that have driven so much of the international community’s involvement with Haiti in the past.

Step by step, with the right help, I believe that Haiti, a country of personal goodwill and stunning artistic accomplishment as much as it is a place of dysfunctional politics and venal politicians, will indeed rebuild. Perhaps differently than before, but a people who have suffered and endured so much seem, in my conversations with them on street corners under the blazing sun, in tent cities that have sprung up along the roadside, and in grievously affected provincial villages, to be able to withstand even this latest grievous shock and come back swinging.

I hope that we foreigners, who have been so moved by the place, treated so kindly and educated so patiently by its people, will be there to help. Haiti needs its friends now more than ever.

Thank you.


Michael Deibert is a journalist, author and Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation Studies at Coventry University. He is the author of Notes from the Last Testament: The Struggle for Haiti (Seven Stories Press).


Photo © The Above Group

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Interview with Haiti President Rene Preval: 'I don't think we could have done better'

Interview with Haiti President Rene Preval: 'I don't think we could have done better'

Haiti President Rene Preval popped out of a shiny SUV. Then, just like that, he took my arm and pulled me inside with him. 'Don’t you have some questions for me?' he asked. As a journalist, how could I say no?

By Kathie Klarreich, Correspondent

posted March 17, 2010 at 5:36 pm EDT

Port-au-Prince, Haiti

(Read the original article here)

Without an appointment, the easiest place to get an official quote from someone in the government – including Haiti President René Préval – is the DCPG, the old police headquarters. But the only police that are there now are the ones protecting the government, which moved in after the Jan. 12 earthquake.

In contrast to the once elegant but now collapsed National Palace of Haiti, the new offices are in an innocuous, one-story blue and white building so small that press conferences are held in the parking lot.

That’s where I was standing when several shiny four-wheel drive vehicles pulled up.

President Préval emerged from one.

He was instantly surrounded by flashing cameras. He flashed a smile back at them, and then at me. We’ve known each other for 20 years.

Just like that, he took my arm and pulled me inside with him.

“Don’t you have some questions for me?” he asked.

As a journalist, how could I say no?

A simple guy

His office was down two halls and in the interior of another room. There was a secretary’s desk, a round board-room type table, a mounted television that wasn’t plugged in, and a coffee maker. Maps of Port-au-Prince and an aerial photo of the city hung on a side wall.

Ti René, as he is called among friends, placed a blue folder and author Claude Moise’s book “The Constitution and Struggle for Power in Haiti" on the table and made sure I had a cup of coffee before asking me if I was ready to write down my answers.

President Préval is, at heart, a simple guy.

The last time I interviewed him was in 2008. I was with a television crew waiting in an ante-room inside the National Palace. Rather than send an aide to come get us, he came himself, grabbed the tripod, and carried it to his office, despite the cameraman’s protest.

“If what happened to Haiti on Jan. 12 had happened in the United States,” he started, “it’s comparable to 8 million people dying. When the Twin Towers fell, it took them two years to remove the debris. Between the international aid and resilience of the Haitian population, we did everything we could. I don’t think we could have done better.”
Elections not an option?

Préval reiterated his call to hold legislative elections – originally set for February and March, but postponed after the quake – as quickly as possible. “Democracy is the condition for development,” he said. “Development equals equality. We must reconstruct the entire country, not just Port-au-Prince.”

When asked about corruption, he bristled.

“Everyone is talking about it but no one has spoken about one specific act of corruption," he said. "International donors are increasing their budget support for us. Why is that?

“Is there corruption in the Haitian government? Yes," he said. "Are we doing something about it? Yes.”

He began to search his blackberry for the name of a man who was recently convicted of corruption charges in the United States due in part because of help from the Haitian government. Minutes passed and he was still looking.

“Not to worry,” I said, wanting to use my time efficiently. “I can find his name.”

“No, my name is well known, his should be too,” Préval insisted. Finally he found it. “Robert Antoine.”

Mr. Antoine is a former director of international relations for Teleco, the state-owned telecommunications company of Haiti and he was one of five people charged in Miami in December 2009 in connection with a bribery and money-laundering scheme involving the government company.

Antoine was one of three Haitians charged in the case, all of whom kept residences in Miami. Another of the Haitians, Jean Rene Duperval, also a former director of international relations for Teleco, was arrested in Haiti by a police unit that specializes in investigating financial corruption and sent to the US to stand trial, according to the US Justice Department.

Ties to Aristide

Préval spent the past five years shaking off the association of his name with that of Jean Bertrand Aristide, his predecessor. Now his name will be forever linked with that of the Jan. 12 earthquake, long after his term ends on Feb. 7, 2011.

Constitutionally he cannot run again, but he wants to hold democratic elections before he leaves office.

He also said he wants to work on decentralization, the reinforcement of the government, and the improvement of health and education services. But his immediate priorities are to open schools, provide adequate seeds and fertilizers to farmers, and secure housing for those left homeless after the quake.

When I asked how he responds to criticism that the international aid agencies have the supplies for housing but can’t do anything until they get land, which the government has yet to give, he just smiled, then said: “Interview over.”

Thursday, February 4, 2010

René Préval : "La communauté internationale a confiance"

Entretien

René Préval : "La communauté internationale a confiance"

LE MONDE | 02.02.10 | 14h23 • Mis à jour le 02.02.10 | 14h23

(Read the original article here)

Port-au-Prince Envoyé spécial

René Préval, président d'Haïti depuis 2006, après un premier mandat de 1996 à 2001, défend son bilan anti-corruption.

L'ONG Transparency International s'inquiète de possibles détournements de l'aide qui afflue vers Haïti. Ces craintes sont-elles justifiées ?

J'ai fait de la bataille contre la corruption une priorité. Mais compte tenu de la faiblesse actuelle de l'administration haïtienne, nous n'allons pas nier qu'il y a des possibilités de corruption. Depuis que je suis président, que ce soit sous mon premier ou mon deuxième mandat, je crois avoir eu des premiers ministres au-dessus de tout soupçon. On ne peut pas dire, parce que le président ou le premier ministre ne sont pas corruptibles, qu'il n'y a pas de corruption. C'est une lutte que l'on doit mener avec les moyens que l'on a, et il faut renforcer ces moyens.

L'administration a été durement touchée par le séisme. Avez-vous les moyens d'éviter que la corruption sévisse ?

Transparency International exprime la perception de la corruption, pas la réalité de la corruption. Si cette ONG a des dossiers, qu'elle les rende publics pour que tout le monde soit édifié. A propos de la crainte que certains ont que l'aide internationale soit détournée par le gouvernement haïtien, je dis tout de suite que nous essayons de définir les priorités, mais que nous ne gérons pas l'aide. L'aide est gérée par l'USAID (l'agence de coopération américaine), par l'ACDI (son homologue canadienne), etc. L'aide des Nations unies est gérée par la Croix-Rouge, par le Programme alimentaire mondial (PAM).

La communauté internationale a-t-elle confiance ? Oui. La preuve, ce sont les transferts directs au budget de la République par la Banque mondiale, par la Banque interaméricaine de développement (BID) et le Fonds monétaire international (FMI). S'il n'y avait pas confiance, ils ne laisseraient pas la gestion de millions de dollars au gouvernement haïtien.

Etes-vous satisfait de la coordination de l'aide ? Cherche-t-on à vous imposer des choix ?

Après la catastrophe, il y a eu un mouvement spontané d'aide à Haïti. La coordination n'existait donc pas au départ. Mais au fur et à mesure, les agences essaient de coordonner leurs interventions, et c'est une bonne chose. Quand un Etat est faible, quand il est instable, les pays qui veulent l'aider passent par les ONG et on peut les comprendre. Il faut que les Haïtiens arrivent à la stabilité pour renforcer l'Etat afin que celui-ci puisse gérer ce pays.

Propos recueillis par Jean-Michel Caroit
Article paru dans l'édition du 03.02.10

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Hispaniola Honeymoon

Judging from the keyword searches bringing people to this blog, many people seem to be interested in the fact that Haitian Preseident René Préval got married again this past weekend. I can't help but think, though, as Haiti appears poised to lurch away from tentative progress to yet another crisis, all that inquisitive energy might be better directed.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Un regroupement paysan met en garde contre des velléités d’un projet antidémocratique

Haïti-Politique : Un regroupement paysan met en garde contre des velléités d’un projet antidémocratique

mercredi 4 novembre 2009

(Read the original article here)

P-au-P, 04 nov. 09 [AlterPresse] --- Le Mouvement paysan national du congrès de Papaye (Mpnkp) lance un cri d’alarme sur le danger de mise en place d’un projet antidémocratique par le pouvoir en place, au regard des derniers développements de la conjoncture nationale ayant abouti au vote de censure contre la première ministre Michèle Duvivier Pierre-Louis.

« Nous appelons toutes les organisations paysannes, les organisations du mouvement social, les partis politiques et la population à barrer la route à tout projet antidémocratique », déclarent les délégués paysans du Mpnkp dans 9 des 10 départements géographiques du pays (à l’exception des Nippes / Sud-Ouest) dans une synthèse analytique sur la conjoncture politique nationale, dont une copie a été acheminée à l’agence en ligne AlterPresse.

Attention aux actes d’intimidation et aux manœuvres de manipulation de la présidence en faveur de l’établissement d’un parti politique unique, avertissent les délégués paysans du Mpnkp, rattachant le plan du regroupement politique « Lespwa » (Espoir, qui avait soutenu la candidature de René Garcia Préval à la présidence en 2006) à « l’échec total de la plateforme politique Lespwa devenue désespoir ».

Le regroupement paysan invite les partis politiques démocratiques à se démarquer véritablement du président Préval, en rassemblant leurs forces au sein d’une coalition antidictatoriale pour l’envoi de moins de candidates et de candidats aux prochaines élections de 2010, mais en se soignant contre la maladie dite « présidentite ».

La population nationale est appelée à la vigilance contre la tenue d’élections non transparentes, mais pour l’organisation de compétitions électorales libres, honnêtes et démocratiques sur tout le territoire national.

« C’est une indécence et une manipulation inacceptable que le président de la république se sert des ressources publiques pour tenter d’établir une dictature dans le pays », soutiennent les délégués du Mpnkp en se référant aux promesses faites par Préval aux représentants de 570 conseils d’administration de sections communales (Casec), il y a quelques semaines, pour les porter à intégrer un parti unique en formation.

La façon, dont les sénateurs de Lespwa ont voté la motion de censure contre la première ministre Michèle Duvivier Pierre-Louis, est identifiée par le Mpnkp comme un signe très clair d’une volonté de mainmise sur les ressources de l’Etat dans le cadre d’un projet de consolidation d’une dictature.

« Dans le milieu paysan, surtout dans le département de l’Artibonite (Nord), le pouvoir de Préval œuvre seulement avec sa clientèle politique, laquelle utilise les semences et les outils agricoles pour se rattacher des partisans pour la prochaine campagne électorale », dénonce le regroupement paysan.

En dépit d’une légère augmentation dans la production de riz dans l’Artibonite et d’une réalité similaire dans la production d’haricots (pois) dans certaines zones, une majorité de paysans ne bénéficierait pas d’intrants agricoles, ni de tracteurs.

Une grande partie des paysans se trouve davantage mise à l’écart par l’Etat, notamment dans le Nord-Ouest, département géographique où une sécheresse, enregistrée depuis les cyclones de septembre 2008 jusqu’en septembre 2009, a détruit toutes les plantations paysannes.

La sécheresse affecte le bétail dans le Nord-Est. Les paysans ont perdu leurs récoltes dans le Haut-Artibonite, le Haut Plateau central et une partie du Nord comme Limonade. Quant au département géographique du Sud, ce sont les inondations qui frappent l’attention.

La situation environnementale d’Haïti tend à la catastrophe, s’inquiète le Mpnkp.

« Rien n’est fait pour protéger les bassins versants, il n’y a pas de programme de conservation de sols, ni de reboisement ni de crédit. Il n’y a pas non plus d’assistance technique aux paysans. On ne parle plus de réforme agraire. Ce qui a droit de cité, ce sont les plantations sur lesquelles est envisagée la culture de jatropha (plus connue en Haïti sous le nom de gwo metsiyen) pour l’implantation de zones franches », signalent les délégués paysans du Mpnkp, aux yeux de qui le pouvoir en place serait intéressé à « céder aux multinationales de l’agrobusiness des terres arables à forte productivité alimentaire » au lieu d’une politique de développement agricole national.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A few notes on the dismissal of Prime Minister Michèle Pierre-Louis

mardi 3 novembre 2009

A few notes on the dismissal of Prime Minister Michèle Pierre-Louis

By Michael Deibert

(Read the original article here)

It was said that during the reign of Jean-Jacques Dessalines - liberation icon, military dictator and “emperor” who ruled Haiti from 1804 until 1806 - a certain level of corruption was tolerated and dismissed with the phrase plumez la poule, mais ne la faites pas crier. Pluck the chicken, but make sure it doesn’t squawk. That tradition of corruption has been a woeful constant in Haiti’s political life since Dessalines was assassinated over 200 years ago.

Another chapter in the disregard for honesty and transparency that infuses the marrow of Haiti’s political class was written last week with the ouster of Haitian Prime Minister Michèle Pierre-Louis by a parliament dominated by the allies of Haitian President René Préval, who appointed Pierre-Louis to the position a little over one year ago.

Since she assumed office in September 2008, Pierre-Louis was probably more responsible than any other single individual in beginning to restore some level of confidence in Haiti’s government and in encouraging the stirrings of international investment in a nation of industrious but desperately poor people all-too-often written off as an economic basket case. During her tenure, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the the Inter-American Development Bank collectively canceled $1.2 billion of Haiti’s debt, while the latter institution approved an additional $120 million in grants to aid Haiti to improve such sectors as infrastructure, basic services and disaster prevention.

Having previously led FOKAL, a civil society group supported by businessman and philanthropist George Soros’ Open Society Institute, Pierre-Louis was well-regarded both at home and abroad for her personal incorruptibility, and displayed a surprisingly adroit political touch on the international diplomatic stage.

That being the case, one might then ask why Haiti's senate, dominated by partisans of Préval’s LESPWA political current, chose this moment to oust Pierre-Louis under the almost-laughable rationale that, in her year in office, she had not solved the problems caused by two centuries of what Haitian writer Frédéric Marcelin in 1904 called “civil strife, fratricidal slaughters, social miseries, economic ignorance and idolatrous militarism.”

With the ouster of Pierre-Louis spearheaded by such LESPWA stalwarts as Senators Joseph Lambert and Jean Hector Anacasis, and with René Préval himself remaining publicly silent as the plot to remove his Prime Minister came to its inevitable and absurd conclusion, there appears to be an explanation as simple as it is depressing for removing Pierre-Louis at a moment when Haiti finally appeared to be gaining some international credibility: The Prime Minister was standing in the way of some powerful people making quite a lot of money.

Government insiders speak darkly about millions of dollars in aid money being siphoned off via the Centre National des Equipements, a body established by the Préval government to aid in Haiti’s efforts at reconstruction after a trio of hurricanes killed at least 600 people last year and further devastated the country's already fragile infrastructure. The machinations of the Groupe de Bourdon, a cabal of allegedly corrupt businessmen with firm roots in Haiti’s elite who have the president’s ear, are also mentioned as culprits. Many of the leaders of the drive to oust Pierre-Louis in Haiti’s senate are also individuals around whom allegations of corruption - and worse - have swirled for many years.

Pierre-Louis’ assertion to me when I interviewed her in Haiti this past summer that “chaos is good for a few sectors” and that Haiti's political system would reject anyone who would not allow themselves to be corrupted now appears to have been prophetic [1].

After his return to office in 2006, René Préval succeeded, against all the odds, in bringing relative peace to Haiti after years of bloodshed, something for which he should be lauded in no uncertain terms. However, the weight of corruption, along with a tradition of impunity, is continuing to strangle Haiti under his watch, and the ouster of Michèle Pierre-Louis is a worrying sign for Haitians who have long sought in vain for decent leaders who would build a government responsive to the nation’s poor majority.

The fact that Pierre-Louis’ replacement, Jean Max Bellerive, served in the personal cabinets of both Jean-Marie Chérestal and Yvon Neptune, Prime Ministers during the 2001-2004 tenure of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, an era that was marked by both widespread corruption and political violence, is cause for further concern. Bellerive has more than once been described to me with the rather nasty Kreyol phrase se yon ti poul ki mare nan pye tab yo, an allusion to someone who essentially does whatever they are told.

So the forces of disorder have won this latest round in Haiti. No doubt Haiti’s parliamentarians and perhaps even Préval himself are congratulating themselves at their cleverness, with the country’s corrupt bourgeois no doubt equally thrilled to now have a government with a popular base that will more or less allow them to continue unmolested with their nefarious activities.

But, as Haiti’s politicians strut around in expensive suits and travel over decaying roads in SUVs with impressive armed escorts, they seem not to realize that they should take no pride to occupy the position that they occupy with their country in such a state, a fact that remains equally true for many of Haiti’s economic elites.

Since the deployment of an international peacekeeping mission in Haiti in February 2004, almost 50 members of the United Nations mission in the country and thousands of Haitian civilians have lost their lives to political violence, criminal banditry and environmental catastrophes whose severity is directly linked to the inability of the country’s political class to create some semblance of a state to serve its people. This despite the presence of 7 UN missions to Haiti over the last two decades. Haiti’s long-suffering people deserve better than the country successive generations of leaders have bequeathed to them.

In his finest novel, 1955’s Compere General Soleil, Haiti greatest novelist, Jacques Stephen Alexis (who would be slain by agents of dictator François Duvalier in 1961), wrote of the journey of a pair of Haitians home from near-slavery in the neighboring Dominican Republic that “the closer they came to the promised land, the more they felt the net tightening around them.”

The net of corruption has been tightening around Haiti for far too long, and one hopes that those remaining honest people in Haiti’s political and business sectors, and Haiti’s genuine friends abroad, may find the tools to cut free that confining web that has succeeded in almost choking the life of the country that once taught the world so much about freedom.

Michael Deibert is the author of Notes from the Last Testament: The Struggle for Haiti. His blog can be read here.

[1] "The Elites Are Like a Huge Elephant Sitting on Haiti," Michael Deibert interviews Haitian Prime Minister Michèle Pierre-Louis, 3 July 2009, Inter Press Service

Monday, October 19, 2009

Haiti - Back to life

Haiti - Back to life

Published: October 15, 2009

Foreign Direct Investment

(Read the original article here)

The violence, poverty and corruption that has blighted Haiti over the past few years has given way to an air of peace, efficiency and optimism. Michael Deibert reports.

Politically aligned gangs warring across the ramshackle capital of shanty towns and gingerbread houses are a thing of the past in Port-au-Prince, the capital city of Haiti, and visitors cannot help but be struck by the feeling of change in the air.

An airport previously staffed by political cronies, where passengers sweated in boiling halls, is now a model of air-conditioned efficiency. Streets once deserted after sunset now teem with life, with upper-class restaurants in the hillside Petionville district and the kerosene-lit roadside stands of the ti machann (vendors) downtown luring customers late into the evening, something unthinkable only a few years ago.

Peace has been brought to this Caribbean country of 9 million people through the work of president René Préval’s government, and the 9000-member United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, known as MINUSTAH.

Haiti was previously ruled by the erratic priest-turned-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide from 2001 until his ousting in February 2004. This was followed by turmoil under an interim government that ruled until President Préval’s inauguration in May 2006.

From a police force of just 3500 at the start of Minustah’s mandate, Haiti now boasts 9200 police officers, a number projected to grow to 10,000 by the year’s end, and to 14,000 by the end of 2011. Recent mid-term parliamentary elections passed largely peacefully – no small feat in a country where ballots often threatened civil order.

In addition, the World Bank, the Inter­national Monetary Fund and the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) collectively cancelled $1.2bn of Haiti’s debt in June, erasing almost two-thirds of the country’s outstanding debt in one stroke. The IADB went even further, approving an additional $120m in grants to help Haiti improve its infrastructure, basic services and disaster prevention plans.

“Haiti has a lot of potential,” says Michèle Pierre-Louis, the country’s prime minster and a respected civil society leader before she joined President Préval’s government. “But we have a very fragile civil society, and we’ve never thought of social mobility and prepared for a middle class.”

Positive outlook

Many observers and investors feel a guarded optimism about the country’s political and economic prospects.

“The investment climate in Haiti is far better now than it was during the [interim] period or the days of President Aristide, that can be said without any doubt,” says Lance Durban, a US businessman who first arrived in Haiti in 1979 and now runs Manutech, an electronics manufacturing company employing about 450 people. “You’re close to the US market, you have a lot of people who speak English and you have the lowest wages in the Americas.”

Last year, Haiti boasted modest-though-respectable GDP growth of 2.3%, and at the beginning of 2009, President Préval created the Groupe de Travail sur la Compétitivité, a body designed to increase Haiti’s competitiveness in attracting global businesses.

Beyond the manufacturing sector, new avenues in Haiti’s potential for investors are also opening up. The garment industry, once a lynchpin of Haiti’s economy, could help the country’s economic revival, if given the right incentives and support. In the US, the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement Act of 2008 (HOPE II) built on a 2007 measure that provided certain Haitian textiles with duty-free status when entering the US. Mining is another area of interest (see In Focus, below).

Tourism targets

Also on Haiti’s business landscape is the OTF Group, a competitiveness consulting firm credited with breathing new life into Rwanda’s tourism, coffee and agro-industry sectors following the genocide in the country in 1994. OTF has found encouraging evidence that Haiti might be ripe for a similar renaissance.

“In terms of the business opportunities, I am amazed by what I think is possible,” says OTF director Rob Henning. “And our role is to facilitate a process by which the Haitians, both the public and private sector, take ownership over industries and try to create a prosperous Haiti where poverty is reduced through wealth creation and the creation of businesses.”

Though Haiti currently ranks 154 out of the 180 countries covered by the World Bank’s Doing Business Index, substantial improvement has been made in cutting down the red tape that once made investing in the country an inexplicable maze for foreign capital.

It generally now takes a maximum of 40 days to incorporate a company in Haiti, as opposed to the 202 days that it took as recently as 2003.

However, the challenges the country faces remain substantial. Weak infrastructure, environmental degradation and deforestation contributed to conditions which saw a trio of hurricanes kill at least 600 people in 2008. After Haiti’s Senate passed a measure in May raising the country’s minimum wage to a rate of about $4.90 a day, a 300% increase from its current level, President Préval balked at signing the measure, fearing that it would jeopardise Haiti’s already fragile employment sector.

In unison

Despite this, however, Haiti’s business class and its poor majority have learned some hard lessons about working together.

In the once-violent Port-au-Prince neighbourhood of Saint Martin, member’s of Haiti’s private sector and local community leaders have been meeting with the support of the Irish charity Concern Worldwide since 2007. A ‘peace and prosperity’ committee in the district boasts three members from Haiti’s private sector and 12 representatives from the community of Saint Martin. A recent general assembly to address community concerns attracted nearly 150 people.

“You can no longer put a business in a community where it is built against the community,” says Ralph Edmond, the president of Farmatrix, which has manufactured pharmaceutical products in the district since 1994, and who is active in the debate. “If we are to live in this country, then we have to live differently than our fathers did before.”


COUNTRY PROFILE

HAITI

Population: 9.03 million
Pop. growth rate: 1.84%
Area: 27,560 sq km
Real GDP growth: 1.3%
GDP per capita: $1300
Current account: -$611m
Largest sector (% of GDP): Agriculture 66%
Labour force: 3.64 million
Unemployment rate: na
Source: CIA World Factbook, 2009

IN FOCUS

MINING INDUSTRY TO STRIKE GOLD?

Eurasian Minerals, a Colorado-based mining company, in association with Newmont Mining Corporation, has initiated exploratory prospecting procedures at several sites in the north of Haiti, where there could be substantial gold and copper deposits.

In the neighbouring Dominican Republic, the Pueblo Viejo gold deposit has proven to be one of the largest in the Western Hemisphere, with proven and probable reserves of 570,000 kilograms of gold, 3.3 million kg of silver and 192 million kg of copper.

“Mining could represent a substantial investment in the country, its economy and its infrastructure,” says Eurasian Minerals CEO David Cole, noting the potential for “very large” gold deposits in Haiti that have never been properly explored.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Challenges to Haiti’s Security Gains

Challenges to Haiti’s Security Gains

Saturday 10 October 2009

By Michael Deibert

Presented to the Applied Research Center and the Latin American and Caribbean Center at Florida International University in Miami, Florida, August 2009

(Read the original article here)

At present, Haiti is passing through a delicate and significant period, one which, while giving hints of hope, also provides ample grounds for caution.

Though there have been significant and laudable improvements in the country’s security situation under the mandate of Haitian President René Préval, inaugurated in May 2006, these gains remain fragile and Haiti’s political situation relatively tenuous, and two stubbornly recurring factors of Haiti’s political life will have to be addressed in order to concretize them.

Though he has been criticized in some quarters for ineffectiveness, I believe that it is hard to overstate the impact the restoration of relative peace around the country since Mr. Préval took office has had on the life or ordinary Haitians. Whereas only a few years ago the authority of the state extended little even in the capital, Port-au-Prince, where entire neighborhoods were held in the sway of various politically-affiliated armed gangs, citizens of the capital, including those in poorer quarters, can now largely go about their business without the ever-present fear of being kidnapped or being caught in an exchange of fire between the gangs, Haitian police and forces of the 9,000 member Mission des Nations Unies pour la stabilisation en Haïti, known by its acronym MINUSTAH. 
 Haiti’s long-crumbling road system is being gradually rehabilitated, especially in the country’s south, and its ever-erratic electricity situation has also improved somewhat. The appointment of Michèle Pierre-Louis, a respected and independent-minded civil society leader who formerly directed the Fondasyon Konesans Ak Libète (Knowledge and Freedom Foundation or FOKAL), as Prime Minister in September 2008, should also be viewed as a positive sign in a country where the Prime Minister’s office, technically the head of government according to Haiti’s 1987 constitution, has often meant little more than a rubber stamp for the presidency.

On the economic front, there has also been some good news, with the June announcement by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the the Inter-American Development Bank collectively canceling $1.2 billion of Haiti’s debt, in one broad stroke erasing almost two-thirds of the country’s outstanding debt. The latter institution went even further, approving an additional $120 million in grants to aid Haiti in improving sectors such as infrastructure, basic services and disaster prevention.

Also, in the United States, the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement Act of 2008 (HOPE II), with strong support in the U.S. congress, built yet further on a 2007 measure that provided certain Haitian textiles with duty-free status when entering the United States, perhaps a boon for Haiti’s long near-moribund textile industry.

The amelioration of Haiti’s security situation is, in my view, due to several factors, not the least of which has been the steady and principled leadership of Mario Andresol at the head of the Police Nationale d’Haiti (PNH), bringing back competence and accountability to an institution that, during the 2001 to 2004 rule of Jean-Bertrand Aristide and to a lesser extent the 2004 to 2006 interim government that ruled Haiti before Mr. Préval’s election, was viewed chiefly as a highly politicized bludgeon used by Haiti’s executive branch against its enemies, real or perceived.

A projected five year UN-supported police reform program is now in its third year of implementation, currently providing Haiti with 9,200 police officers, with that number projected to grow to 10,000 by year’s end. For a police force that numbered only 3,500 at the start of the UN mission (of whom over 1,500 had to be dismissed), the target of 14,000 police officers by the end of 2011 would not seem overly optimistic. This surge in police recruits is a far cry from the situation between September 2004 and June 2005, during which a PNH officer was being murdered every five days in Haiti. On the judicial side of law enforcement, Haiti has recently re-opened its school for magistrates after being shuttered for many years.

However, there are some structural problems to Haiti’s political culture that need to be addressed if the calm that we have seen in Haiti over the least few years is to be anything but cosmetic, and if a longer process of both political and economic development can occur.

By now everyone is no doubt familiar with the litany of woeful statistics that so often get repeated about Haiti in gatherings like this: The fact that over 4 million of Haiti’s nearly 9 million people live on less than US$1 a day, that only the people of Somalia and Afghanistan suffer from higher rates of hunger, that 90 percent of Haiti’s tree cover has been destroyed for charcoal and to make room for farming, resulting in erosion that has destroyed two-thirds of the country’s arable farmland and leaves it vulnerable to torrential floods such as those caused by a trio of hurricanes that killed at least 600 people last year.


 As already noted, some steps are being taken at an international level to address Haiti’s economic woes and, though far from adequate, small steps to try and address Haiti’s environmental disaster are being taken by such indigenous groups as Tèt kole ti peyizan Ayisyen and the Mouvman Peyizan Nasyonal Kongre Papay.

Despite this, though, I believe that the two hard grains in Haiti’s political culture that must be addressed, both by the Haitian government and by the international community, if the changes I have outlined are to be anything more than temporary. These grains are those of impunity and corruption, the continuing presence of which have the ability to undermine all of the progress that we have so far seen.

The guilty pleas this past May of two Miami telecommunications executives, Juan Diaz and Antonio Perez. in connection with their roles in a conspiracy to pay and conceal more than $1 million in bribes to former Haitian officials during the Aristide’s government’s tenure is a step in the right direction, but it unfortunately has yet to be see reciprocal prosecutions on the Haitian side for those who accepted the bribes.

Despite the ratification of the UN Convention against corruption by Haiti’s parliament in 2007 and a vigorous speech about the problem of corruption in Haiti by Préval in May of that year, as a Haitian friend of mine recently told me, corruption is a low-risk, high-return initiative in Haiti, one has every chance of becoming very rich, and very little chance of being punished.

Going hand-in-hand with a culture of corruption and impunity, historically in Haiti, armed government loyalists with no formal law enforcement role have essentially became contractors of the state, a phenomenon that held true with the Tontons Macoutes of the 1957-1986 Duvalier family dictatorship, the attaché of the 1991-1994 defacto era and the chimere of Aristide’s 2001-2004 mandate. Under the aegis of the state, such affiliated members, rewarded irregularly through various forms of government largess, were allowed to exist as a competing armed group to the official security forces, and given free reign to commit some sickening crimes, such as the April 1994 killing of Aristide supporters in the northern city of Gonaives and the February 2004 massacre of Aristide opponents and civilians in the central Haitian town of St. Marc, the latter a crime for which no one has as yet been tried.

Though this phenomenon, as far I can tell, is no longer present at the heart of Haiti’s government today as it has been in the past, the aba/a-vie option of mob politics remains an attractive one to many of Haiti’s political and extra-political actors, as we saw with the riots of May 2008 and recent chaotic protests in favour of raising the country’s minimum wage. Legitimate grievances can quickly be manipulated by those seeking instability in Haiti for criminal or political gain.

Though there is a palpable difference now from the years of the second Aristide government and the interim government, when police and security services were objects of fear and distrust in the country and brazen corruption existed at the very pinnacles of power, the Haitian public now needs to feel that the police and judiciary are responsive institutions, not simply commodities that, like so much in Haiti, are for sale to the highest bidder and out of reach of the ordinary citizens.

By my count, there have been 7 UN missions in Haiti over the last 17 years, all of which had been requested by the Haitian government in power at the time. There can be 7 more over the next 17 years, but I believe if these two core issues are not aggressively and substantively addressed, the international community risks only solidifying the already deep and decidedly deserved skepticism that many Haitians have for the political process as it currently exists in the country, as evidenced by recent feeble electoral participation, and the institutions propped up by it, both local and foreign.

The people of Haiti, and by this I mean the poor majority, need to feel that they have some sort of stake in the kind of society that Haiti’s politicians, business elite and the international community are trying to create, because without the reality of a power structure that is responsive to the needs of its citizens and transparent in its governance, the window of opportunity that we are currently provided with will shut rapidly, and those hoping for its closure, and along with that continued drift and anarchy in Haiti’s political system, will once again step into the void, to the detriment of Haiti and its people.

Michael Deibert is the author of Notes from the Last Testament: The Struggle for Haiti. His blog can be read at www.michaeldeibert.blogspot.com.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Tentative calm brings optimism to a 'failed' Haiti

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Tentative calm brings optimism to a 'failed' Haiti

Michael Deibert

The Washington Times

(Read the original article here)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti | The dark afternoon clouds that gradually roll over Haiti's capital herald the beginning of the rainy season, but the early-morning bursts of sunshine might more accurately capture the national mood these days.

While the country remains desperately poor, it is more peaceful than it has been in years - no small feat in a place with a volatile political history. Some of the credit goes to the United Nations and President Rene Preval.

A few years ago, the authority of the state did not extend much beyond Port-au-Prince, where armed gangs controlled neighborhoods. Since the inauguration of Mr. Preval in May 2006, however, a fragile calm has prevailed.

The capital's boisterous population again feels safe enough to patronize downtown bars and kerosine-lit roadside stands late into the evening. Billboards that once extolled the infallibility of a succession of "maximum leaders" now carry messages about the importance of respect between the population and the police as well as decry discrimination against the disabled.

Ruled by priest-turned-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide twice in the 1990s and from 2001 until his ouster in February 2004, Haiti saw violent urban warfare between heavily armed Aristide partisans and security forces, who inflicted collective punishment under an interim government in power from 2004 until Mr. Preval's inauguration.

Working with a 9,000-member U.N. peacekeeping mission, known by the acronym MINUSTAH, Haiti's government has made great strides in recent months in professionalizing security forces that were historically brutal and corrupt.

"The capacity of the police has improved quite significantly ... and the image of the police has begun to change within the society," says Hedi Annabi, a Tunisian diplomat who heads MINUSTAH.

"The level of respect for basic freedoms, such as freedom of the press, is at a historically remarkable level," he said.

In addition, according to MINUSTAH, the number of kidnappings has fallen dramatically, from more than 500 in 2006 to about 50 during the first six months of this year.

A projected five-year U.N.-supported police-reform program is in its third year of implementation, providing Haiti with 9,200 police officers - a number projected to grow to 10,000 by the end of this year and to 14,000 by the end of 2011.

The force began with only 3,500, of whom more than 1,500 had to be dismissed for poor conduct.

The surge in police recruits is a far cry from the situation that existed between September 2004 and June 2005, during which a police officer was killed every five days, according to U.N. statistics.

Some observers here credit the leadership of Michele Duvivier Pierre-Louis, a respected civil society activist, who was appointed prime minister in September 2008.

Ms. Pierre-Louis lauds the U.N. mission, which is heavily Latin American, for helping to stabilize the country.

"It's a new paradigm for regional cooperation," she told The Washington Times. "They have their own interests, of course, but let's make the best of the opportunities that are offered to us."

In a country where voting has sometimes boded ill for civil order, midterm elections in April, with a runoff in June, for Haiti's Senate were poorly attended but largely peaceful, with poll workers and observers directing voters and tabulating votes in a professional fashion. The desultory participation, however, led Mr. Preval to warn that Haiti's "political class should wonder about this abstention" as he cast his own ballot at a Port-au-Prince school.

Haiti still faces massive challenges. Largely deforested, the country was battered by Hurricanes Hanna and Ike in 2008, which collectively killed at least 600 people.

Beyond the capital, after the shabby-chic resorts on the Cote des Arcadins, Haiti's Route Nationale 1 is a pot-holed, crumbling wreck long before it reaches the northern cities of Gonaives and Cap-Haitien.

Poverty and the scramble to find basic necessities remain a constant fact of life for the majority of the 8.5 million population. The social peace that has been restored is fragile and could easily fray if tangible gains are not seen in the day-to-day lives of Haitians.

One exception to the national calm are noisy and occasionally violent demonstrations by university students and other political pressure groups in the capital.

Haiti's Senate voted in May to support a law raising the minimum wage to about $4.90 per day, a 300 percent increase. Mr. Preval has not signed the measure, citing his fear that it would jeopardize Haiti's already fragile employment sector. In response, students have held regular protests, during which dozens of cars have been burned and protesters have squared off against U.N. troops and Haitian security forces. Two demonstrators have been killed.

"They chose not to listen to us, and we were obligated to peacefully mobilize about our concerns and the question about the minimum salary," said Beneche Martial, a student at the state university's medical school.

Nevertheless, there is a tenuous hopefulness here for the first time in many years.

In June, the Inter-American Development Bank approved $120 million in grants for 2010 to help Haiti improve infrastructure, basic services and disaster prevention.

Also last month, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Inter-American Development Bank collectively canceled $1.2 billion owed to them by Haiti, erasing almost two-thirds of the country's outstanding debt.

The scourge of HIV/AIDS is also diminishing, with the rate of infection among pregnant women halved from 6.2 percent in 1993 to 3.1 percent, according to the U.N.

A U.N. report in December suggested that revived garment production might point the way for economic revival, saying that "it is striking how modest are the impediments to competitiveness, relative to the huge opportunities offered by the fundamentals" in the country.

For a nation viewed as a potential "failed state" not long ago, such news cannot help but be encouraging.