Haiti’s Chronic Crisis of Leadership

Amidst a painstakingly difficult recovery from the January 2010 earthquake, Haiti still struggles to forge a definitive path toward true economic stability and an acceptable standard of living for its citizens. Much attention has been devoted to Haiti’s underlying structural difficulties; specifically, analysts harp on the notion that Haiti is a “failed state” and lacks strong political institutions. At this moment, however, it is worth identifying the ways in which Haiti’s problems are attributable to individual people—namely, Haitian politicians.

Haiti’s New President: Struggling ‘Sweet Micky’

Seven months after its November 2010 presidential election, Haiti still lacks a complete administration. Following a messy and drawn-out campaign that included accusations of election fraud and international intervention on the part of the OAS and Western nations, Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly finally emerged as Haiti’s next president.[i] Martelly took office on May 14, 2011, and his few months in office have thus far revealed little about the shape his presidency might take. Still, his inability to implement meaningful policy up to now can be attributed to his failure to choose an acceptable candidate for prime minister, his second-in-command. Martelly attempted to put together a new government quickly: two days before he took office, he nominated neoliberal businessman Daniel Gérard Rouzier as prime minister.[ii] But after a month of wrangling in Parliament, Rouzier was rejected by the legislature on June 21, 2011. Just a couple of weeks later, Martelly found an alternative, former Minister of Justice Bernard Gousse. Gousse’s confirmation was even more unlikely; he too was rejected by the legislature on August 2, 2011. Thus, it may be months before Haiti assembles a basic government.

Constructing a new government is proving so problematic for the president due to two major, and not necessarily opposing, viewpoints. One puts the burden of blame on the Haitian Parliament. In the November 2010 elections, former president René Préval’s Inité (Unity) party performed remarkably well, despite suffering the elimination of its presidential candidate Jude Célestin over accusations of election fraud.[iii] Parliament is currently well-stocked with Préval’s supporters, and they exert significant influence. When faced with Martelly’s choices for prime minister, Préval’s supporters, who are skeptical about what they see as conservative contenders, scrutinize the candidate’s record more closely than for one of their own. Kenston Jean-Baptiste, a deputy in the lower house who is critical of Préval’s supporters in Parliament, states that “those who voted against [Rouzier] don’t want to share the cake. The people who are used to blocking the country will continue blocking the country.”[iv] Jocelyn McCalla, a Haitian-born political observer living in New York, also questioned the motives of the majority coalition in Parliament. He observes that since Rouzier is “not from the traditional ruling class,” the nominee would have made a fresh contribution to Haitian politics, but Parliament’s longstanding leadership may not have been interested in welcoming someone from the outside.[v]

Rouzier: The Neoliberal Champion

On the other hand—and according to the second major viewpoint—there is much to scrutinize about the two nominees. Discussion leading up to Rouzier’s rejection revolved around evidence of tax evasion and questionable citizenship. In 2010, Rouzier supposedly made USD 1,250,000, with most of his income coming from two businesses in which he serves as general manager and chairman: Sun Auto, Haiti’s largest car dealership, and E-Power, an electrical power plant that competes with Haiti’s state-owned Electricité d’Haiti. However, despite his sizeable income, Rouzier only paid USD 600 in taxes.[vi] Critics of the rejection claim that tax evasion is common and unremarkable in Haiti, and does not present an adequate basis for denying a prime ministerial candidate. While tax evasion is indeed ubiquitous in Haiti, one would nevertheless hope that the prime minister would honor Haitian law. Those who rejected Rouzier further claimed that the candidate simply did not provide the documentation necessary to prove Haitian citizenship. They also questioned his allegiance to Haiti, given his putative position as honorary consul for Jamaica, a post with functions that are supposedly incompatible with his assumption of the office of prime minister. Besides accusations that Rouzier has broken the law and failed to meet certain requirements, many members of the Haitian Parliament are suspicious of the neoliberal ideas that characterize the new executive branch. To many members of Parliament, accepting the nomination of a millionaire Haitian businessman educated at Dartmouth and Georgetown, a supporter of the 2004 coup against former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the son of a minister under dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier in the 1970s, would have further welcomed the neoliberal and conservative bourgeoisie into Haitian politics.

Gousse: The Injurious Justice Minister

Regardless of Rouzier’s flaws, his rejection may still prove lamentable: not only did it slow the formation of a government, but it also opened up the possibility of an even worse nominee. President Martelly adjusted his strategy after his first pick was rejected, and nominated Bernard Gousse on July 6, 2011.[vii] By almost all accounts, Gousse projected a disastrous pick with absolutely no chance of winning Parliament’s support. After the 2004 coup ousting Aristide, Gousse served as Minister of Justice under the country’s interim administration from 2004-2005. Even the most charitable descriptions of the candidate described him as a “complete failure” as Justice Minister. Similarly, dispatches released by the U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince detailed and decried his “mischief.”[viii] His more adamant critics were outraged that a nominee for prime minister was in large part responsible for “repression, arbitrary arrests and killings” of Aristide supporters during his tenure as Justice Minister.[ix] Sources outside Haiti confirm the crimes that Gousse would have overseen. One study, published by the Lancet Medical Journal, estimates that 4000 political assassinations and killings were undertaken between 2004 and 2006. Another high-profile case—the baseless arrest of former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune under Aristide—was brought to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), which ruled in favor of Neptune.[x] At best, Gousse simply neglected his role as Minister of “Justice” and turned a blind eye to human rights abuses; at worst, he played a central role in planning and overseeing them.

Fortunately, Gousse was extremely unlikely to be confirmed as prime minister: soon after his nomination, over half of Haiti’s Senate immediately vowed to reject him. As expected, on August 2, 2011, Gousse was outright rejected by 16 members of the 30-seat Haitian Senate; the other 14 members abstained. Owing to this disaster of a nomination, most sources inside and outside Haiti are baffled by Martelly’s choice. The most probable explanation suspects political cunning. Perhaps Martelly is frustrated with the intense opposition he faces in Parliament, and chose an absolutely unacceptable candidate in an attempt to paint the legislature as a major obstacle to Haitian progress. Alternatively, Martelly could be eyeing the outgoing Haitian prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, knowing that the president’s inability to find another candidate might convince his own camp to accept the left-leaning politician who served under Préval.

A Deep-Seated Crisis

Regardless of the eventual pick, Haiti’s political near-future does not look particularly bright. Despite the United Nations’ frustration with Haiti, it will likely be weeks or months before Martelly finalizes his new government. Meanwhile, the country’s anemic recovery drags on. Even with a complete government, doubts about Martelly, a former Haitian pop star who was elected for his fresh ideas and enthusiastic spirit, continue to surface amidst concern that the new president does not really know how to lead a recovery, and that his neoliberal ideals and center-right outlook will not do much for Haiti’s thousands of poor. Haiti is deeply entrenched in a crisis of leadership. Analysts will disagree over whether that crisis is the cause or the symptom of Haiti’s numerous problems, in a classic chicken-or-the-egg conundrum that may never be definitively resolved. Perhaps the utter dearth of strong leaders is the result of Haiti’s history of perpetual foreign intervention and political instability. Now, however, this lack of strong and well-intentioned leadership may well be the cause of Haiti’s continued political and economic malaise.

Increasingly apparent signs of disenchantment with Martelly are coupled with evidence of increasing nostalgia for Aristide. Martelly has never held overwhelming support amongst the Haitian populace: in the first round of Haiti’s presidential elections, only 20 percent of eligible voters even participated; of that, Martelly earned a mere 22 percent of the vote. Martelly managed to earn a majority in the run-off election, but this round was also plagued by low voter turnout, at 23 percent.[xi] Aristide, however, has continued to concern the United States and other Western nations on account of his unfailing popularity. On March 18, 2011, when Aristide returned to Haiti after a seven-year exile, he was greeted in Port-au-Prince by hordes of journalists and thousands of cheering fans. Since then, analysts have suggested that Aristide may attempt to return to Haitian politics.[xii] Recent WikiLeaks evidence reveals that Aristide’s exile in South Africa was partly organized by the United States, which advocated his continued absence from Haiti. That “obsessive” and “far-reaching” campaign, as Haïti Liberté states, was likely a response to the fear that Aristide’s return to Haiti would be met with so much support that it would be difficult to keep him out of Haitian politics thereafter.[xiii]

Amidst Haiti’s deep-seated crisis of governance, the country’s demand for strong leadership may be at an all-time high. But with the lack of legitimate leaders waiting in the wings of Haiti’s political stage, coupled with a seemingly never-ending dictatorship of foreign intervention, it seems unlikely that a successful recovery—if one ever truly takes off—could possibly be fueled by Haiti’s current politicians.

References for this article can be found here.

Source: Getty Images/AFP



8 thoughts on “Haiti’s Chronic Crisis of Leadership

  • August 30, 2011 at 6:23 pm

    botched sentence, last para:
    "But with the a of legitimate leaders waiting in the wings"

    • August 31, 2011 at 7:06 am

      Thank you for bringing this to our attention. The error has been fixed.

      -COHA Staff

  • August 31, 2011 at 9:30 am

    The botched sentence is the least of the problems with this article. This is completely botched analysis. The heart of the matter in Haiti now is old, corrupt politics versus Martelly’s change agenda, see: http://solutionshaiti.blogspot.com/2011/07/inites… . There is no need for the mental gymnastics to try to overlay US-style conservative vs. neoliberal politics on Haiti’s situation.

    Preval’s INITE Party is in Parliament due to rigged elections so they can preserve the old style corrupt system that is in place, and they are blocking anyone they see as a threat. Rouzier was actually rejected officially on “political” grounds. That’s a constitutional violation. He submitted all the necessary documentation required by the Haitian Constitution (see article 157 and 137), so COHA’s point about doubts surrounding Rouzier’s citizenship is baseless. Gousse also gets smeared in this piece. The Lancet Medical Journal report was a political job not a human rights report. That was an attempt to rehabilitate the public image of former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and elements of his political party, Fanmi Lavalas, see: http://www.alterpresse.org/spip.php?article5133 Haiti’s biggest and most respected human rights watch organization extensively investigated Gousse and cleared him of any human rights abuse allegations. That’s a fact, see: http://www.hpnhaiti.com/site/index.php?option=com… . The speculation over Martelly’s strategy for picking Prime Ministers is preposterous. Martelly is trying to put in place a Prime Minister that is aligned with his vision for Haiti and someone that is a new face. The Haitian people voted for change and they will accept nothing less. That is it.

    This analysis then goes on to point out that Martelly has little support among the people based on low voter turnout in the run off election. It does not mention that the Haitian people had little confidence in the process after the spectacle of corruption that occurred during the first attempt at elections and the significant threats of violence to those who did turnout, see: http://solutionshaiti.blogspot.com/2011/01/haiti-… . But the current poll numbers speak for themselves: Martelly’s current approval rating stands at 77%; Parliament has a 3% approval rating. That’s the fact.

    Finally, this report goes on to lament the lack of leadership in Haiti and insinuates that the Haitian people are longing for a return of Aristide. Actually, there were very few people who turned out at the airport for Aristide’s return. But the people did manage to loot his house the day he returned. Taking everything from silverware and mattresses to the bananas and mangoes on his tree. How’s that for a supportive welcome home? People suffered under Aristide through violent political campaigns and greed. According to the Haitian GAO, Aristide made off with $350 million in stolen funds. That’s the fact, see: http://solutionshaiti.blogspot.com/2011/03/truth-

    Aristide, Preval and INITE have all had their chance to make positive changes in Haiti and failed preferring instead to enrich themselves at the expense of the Haitian people. This “analysis” seems to be incredibly partisan and biased and unfortunately nothing more than an attempt to undermine the efforts of a popular, new President trying to undo 40 years of corruption.

    • August 31, 2011 at 8:53 pm

      So relevant your statements. Agree about the 'simplicity' in the mirror of many analysis about the Haitian reality. It is very complex to create democratic institutions and struggle to government in a long political crisis-transition.
      Thanks for the argument and link.

  • August 31, 2011 at 10:21 am

    Here and in Haiti it is a fundamental mistake, I believe, to blame politicians for what is wrong with a country. When the politicians are democratically elected they really do represent the best the voters can produce. The problem, then, is for voters to become citizens also. To know history, to know the candidates and to participate in local politics as the prelude to nominating and voting for candidates. People who only think of such matters around election time are a much bigger problem than those they elect.

  • August 31, 2011 at 10:57 am

    Audio: Some Haitian Views on President Martelly's First 100 Days

    A radio piece here by Ansel Herz for Free Speech Radio News,
    broadcast on Friday:

    August 27, 2011

    City Mosaic

    Amsel spoke to some Haitians living in displacement camps since about
    the time of January 12, 2010 earthquake.

  • August 31, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    "In the November 2010 elections, former president René Préval’s Inité (Unity) party performed remarkably well, despite suffering the elimination of its presidential candidate Jude Célestin over accusations of election fraud"

    Are you serious Ms Rust?…"…performed remarkably well" ????? Where did you get your informations? Everybody, including the Haiti's "friends" (Us, Canada, EU etc) knew that Preval "stuffed" the parliament with his people in the rigged ellections of november 2010 leaving his successor deliberately with a "cigarette lighted at both ends" , in order to protect the mafia that holds the upper hand in this country since the downfall of the Duvalier regime….Martelly is stuck between two evils: this so called "parliament" and his questionable " advisers" around him… Which one is the lesser?In the meantime he has both hands tied and I fear, for his whole term…

  • August 31, 2011 at 5:07 pm

    I have a difficult time understanding why the NGO and international donor community is blaming Martelly for failing to get a Prime Minister. He is doing all that he can to avoid appointing a member of the old guard, which has curdled the world's blood for decades with its corruption and downright evilness. Why aren't organizations such as yours decrying Parlaiment, and putting pressure on the old guard to play ball with the new administration, which came in to office despite incredible odds in which the old guard attempted to once again steal the election? I have spent quite a bit of time working with administration staff in Port au Prince over the past months- most who are working for free, BTW, due to lack of government. Let me assure you that Martelly has staffed his administration with bright, young, U.S. and French educated Haitian professionals who appear passionate about fixing Haiti. So ask yourself, who profits if Haiti stays broken? And, please stop spreading dangerous mythes. Aristide is not "unfailingly" popular. There are plenty -PLENTY- of people in Haiti who understand completely how Aristide betrayed his people – the poor of Haiti- in ways that surpassed those of the Duvalier years. Shame on you.


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