Haiti’s Chronic Crisis of Leadership

By: Research Associate Elizabeth Rust

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