Haiti’s New Interim President has Close Ties to Business Elite
CUNY’s Francois Pierre-Louis and Black Agenda Report’s Glen Ford discuss how protesters forced former President Michel Martelly to step down, but the people could lose in the struggle for free and fair elections
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
Haiti now has a new interim president, former parliament head Jocelerme Privert. He was voted into office by parliament after massive fraud in the October 25 presidential election, which left the Caribbean country without credible election results.
The international community, represented by the Organization of American States, OAS, supported the initial results, which placed former president Michel Martelly’s party candidate in a runoff. But after massive protests and a coordinated effort between civil society, opposition parties, and the diaspora, Michel Martelly stepped down at the end of his term on February 7. He left office without an elected successor, and it will be up to this interim government to orchestrate fair presidential impartial legislative elections.
Now joining us to unpack all of this are our two guests. Glen Ford is the executive editor of Black Agenda Report, and also joining us is Francois Pierre Louis. He is the associate professor of political science at Queens College. Thank you both for joining us.
GLEN FORD: Thank you.
DESVARIEUX: So Glen, you see this news as a real victory for the Haitian people. What makes the appointment of a new interim president so victorious?
FORD: Well, you know, it’s been twelve years since the United States overthrew the democratically elected government of Haiti and imposed its own rule, and then brought in the United Nations, which now occupies Haiti with an armed force that then infected the country with cholera, and won’t take responsibility. So Haiti has not enjoyed its national sovereignty, its nationhood in twelve years. And then in 2010, under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the U.S. forced upon Haiti in a rigged election the night club entertainer Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly as the new president. And Haiti has had to live under his rule for the last five years.
So finally, to have the United States and its desire to call the shots in every election in Haiti thwarted by this new call for a transitional government, and then elections that the Haitian people can put together, yeah, that’s, that’s a victory. That’s certainly a good mark after twelve years of no sovereignty.
DESVARIEUX: But Glen, do you give the Martelly administration any credit here, too? I mean, Martelly did step down at the end of his term, and as we know, it’s not always the case in Haitian politics, especially with the legacy of the Duvalier dictatorship in recent memory. So doesn’t he deserve some credit here?
FORD: You know, it’s very difficult for me to give credit to murderers because they could have murdered more people. I don’t know if the United States is distracted by the events in Syria or whether the fact that Hillary Clinton could be embarrassed in her run for presidency if Haiti occupied too high a profile in the news, but I don’t think that we can give credit for Martelly for stepping down as the constitution required.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. Francois, let’s get you into this conversation. Do you agree? Should Martelly get any credit here for stepping down?
FRANCOIS PIERRE LOUIS: Well, first, let me say, I think Mr. Glen is going too fast in saying it’s a victory for the Haitian people, the fact that there’s a transitional government. Yes, there’s the change, but we don’t know yet, because Mr. Privert came as president based on a deal with Martelly. And we know at the last minute Martelly was trying to put in his own guy as president [of the] provisional government. And we know also that the majority of the members in parliament came from Martelly’s party. And they’re going to play a decisive role in the future.
So therefore we have to wait, instead of, you know, claming a [inaud.] victory right now. Yes, there’s a change, but we have to wait and see how it’s moving forward. Because Privert has not set up his cabinet yet, and he has not named members of the provisional electoral council, who will be holding the next round of the elections.
Having said that, I think Martelly had no choice but to step down. Not because he wanted to. I think he wanted to stay until May 14, or as long as he could. However, as we all know, Martelly’s not his own man. Martelly is controlled by the international community, primarily the State Department. So I think even though the State Department tried at the last minute to [inaud.] election in Haiti, when they realized that wasn’t happening, and it couldn’t happen, that’s when they decided to encourage Martelly to leave.
And I think the fact that they could have, there could have been not a [civil war] but a lot of violence, more violence than we’ve seen on the streets of Port-au-Prince, if Martelly don’t step down. Because Martelly already had his gangs ready to shoot people, to create civil strife. But the fact that we had a transition that was peaceful, I think it’s worth something. And yes, Martelly is not the best man. But at the same time I think we have to acknowledge that he decided to leave, instead of holding on and pushing. Which, I think we have to give him some credit for that.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. Francois, let’s talk a little bit more about this man that replaced Martelly, the interim president, Privert. Let’s talk about his record a bit. He once served under former President Jean Bertrand Aristide as the interior minister. What else do we know about him?
LOUIS: He is an accountant. He is a member of the business community in Haiti. He does book, the books of many businesses in Haiti. He’s also someone who works on the centralization and trying to set up the municipalities, organize them. He was also an advisor to Rene Preval, and he became senator at the end of the Preval administration’s term.
So it is true that Privert is seen as a moderate, of the [inaud.] people. And number two, how much of his relationship is still with Aristide or whether his relationship is more with Preval. Because as you know, within the [inaud.] camp, you have the Preval camp and we have the Aristide camp. So therefore we–and also Privert, although he was a senator for six years, he worked well with Martelly. Do not estimate, underestimate, the relationship that Privert may have had with Martelly, because from the information that I’ve gotten a long time ago, and there was very helpful in helping Martelly [inaud.] of domestic agenda issues.
So therefore I think we still have to wait to see whether these compromises came as Privert being the provisional head of government, whether really it wasn’t coming out also from a pact between Martelly and the, some sector of the [inaud.] movement.
DESVARIEUX: And just really quickly, you mentioned domestic policies he helped Martelly with. Can you just point to some specifics?
LOUIS: Well, for example, at one time I heard that Martelly was trying to–you know Martelly’s from [inaud.]. And Martelly was trying to change the territorial boundaries of [inaud.] so he could put in a different department in a different municipality. And I think [Privert] was very helpful in helping Martelly look at these things.
LOUIS: So therefore, I don’t think he was hostile to Martelly, as such.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. Now, we know that Haiti’s provisional government will be organizing Haiti’s twice-postponed presidential and partial legislative runoffs which I mentioned, and President Privert will certainly have an issue of credibility to wrestle with.
So, Glen, if you were to advise the new interim president, what would you recommend that they do to get free and fair elections in Haiti, and is it even possible with the presence of the UN peacekeeping force MINUSTAH in the country?
FORD: Well, I, I couldn’t put myself in the position of advising anybody’s president. But I can say that the professor is right, nothing is guaranteed here. Things are in flux. And there–and not even an open and free presidential election is guaranteed. But many Haitians, of course, point out that the parliament itself was not elected by a free, open, and fair process. And they are not just accepting the legitimacy of that body, either.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. Francois, same question to you. What would you advise President Privert do in order to restore credibility to the process?
LOUIS: Well, you know, usually Haitian presidents have a lot of advisors. But you know what? Having worked with, for two presidents in the past, they don’t listen to advisors. So they’re not going to listen to anyone.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. And what about the occupying force of MINUSTAH being there?
LOUIS: Well, I would say basically I think we will have to see who gets appointed in his cabinet. And I’m, I think obviously MINUSTAH is going to play a key role, and the U.S. embassy is going to play a key role, because those two sectors are very important in having [Micky] leave the office, and also [bring in] Privert. With all those forces, Privert will [inaud.] been the provisional government president at all.
So therefore I think what’s going to happen, definitely there’s going to be a lot of question, to open up the electoral process. Because [inaud.] the final, the two final candidates were Jovenel Moise and Jude Celestin. But as you know, Pitit Desalin, Moise Jean-Charles, and Maryse Narcisse, who was there yesterday at the inauguration, probably would like to open up the process so that they can be included also.
So therefore it all depends whether he was going to open the whole process, which would be a Pandora’s box. That means the elections will probably not take place in 120 days. And also that could set up a lot of other issues that Privert may not be able to control.
DESVARIEUX: All right.
LOUIS: The other thing, also, is the private sector. Yesterday when he spoke, he usually thanked the private sector. Now, we know the private sector is divided, also, among two sectors. Those people who are more open toward bringing businesses into Haiti, textile, labor-intensive, and businesses that are mostly dealing with commerce and trade, while not really doing any local investments. So these two sectors are going to be balancing and playing their roles to see whether they can influence Privert also.
And then you have the gangs. You have the street crowds. Now, I’m making a difference between the gangs and the people that are on the streets that really got Micky to leave. The gangs are controlled by various sectors in the country. Now, those gangs are not going to stay quiet until they get their part of the benefit also, because some of them might think that they’re contributing in sending Micky home.
And then you have the popular organizations. The people on the streets every day, claiming the departure of Micky. Now, yesterday we heard him not even thank these groups. It is recognized at [G8], the eight political parties that came together to denounce the election. Now the question is will he be dealing with them, or will he say okay, you guys go home now. Micky is gone. And stay put.
So therefore, I think all of these issues, if I were him, I would try to organize a government that could meet the basic demands of the population, which in the 120 days it’s impossible to do, and he has to be clear with the people. Tell them about the economic situation. That now it’s a [inaud.] for a dollar. So therefore life is really expensive in Haiti. And the state coffers is empty. So he has to come clean with the population. Tell them the truth. And tell them what he can do in 120 days. And whatever–and there were a lot of secret deals that Martelly made before he left. For example, there is a rumor that he leased La Gonave to a foreign company. He did it by decree. And this came out after he left.
So he has to come clean, tell people the truth, and tell them also what he can do in 120 days. In that case, he may be able to achieve something. But if he over-promises, and he hired too many cabinet members, and too many consultants and advisors, then it’s going to be trouble all over again.
DESVARIEUX: Yeah. I just want to let the viewers know, La Gonave is this island off the coast of Haiti. It’s still a part of Haiti. But that is certainly troubling, and I certainly hear you, Francois, that the truth shall set them free, if we need to know what we’re really dealing with in order to progress here.
All right. Francois Pierre Louis, as well as Glen Ford, thank you both for joining us.
FORD: Thank you.
LOUIS: Thank you.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.