In Enemy Terrain
Reviewed by James R. Morrell, executive director of the Haiti Democracy Project. Former member of President Aristide’s advisory team at Governors Island. Review written in 1998.
Review article of Raoul Peck, Monsieur le Ministre . . . Jusqu’au bout de la patience (Port-au-Prince: Éditions Velvet, 1998). $15.00 plus $5.00 shipping from Herbert Peck, Jr., H. Peck – Velvet, P.O Box 22529, Philadelphia, Pa. 19119-2529
In this book, a former minister of the Préval government leads us relentlessly through the palace intrigue of Haiti. In doing so he provides an invaluable inside look, available nowhere else, at the phenomenon of divided government that is further immiserating the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The book is a personal memoir–unabashedly so. Peck is not only partisan, he is passionate. He comes down heavily on the anti-Aristide side of the debate currently wracking Haiti and paralyzing its government. But he did not begin that way, in 1996, when he was appointed. His personal odyssey to that conclusion is a large part of the book.
So it is no course in political science that one should expect here, even though it is a treasure trove of facts invaluable to understanding how Haiti’s politics have sunk to their current low level. It will be up to the reader to decide whether the author’s passion has distorted his rendition of the facts. But if the facts can be accepted, reading this book is indispensable for understanding Haiti’s political predicament and the clouded outcome of a major policy commitment by the Clinton administration and the United Nations. Without this book, you’re running blind.
Raoul Peck, an internationally-renowned film producer, served as minister of culture in the Haitian government from March, 1996 until he resigned in October, 1997 to protest what he saw as an anti-democratic takeover by former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. He leads us through the skein of events from the idealistic beginnings he shared with many other Haitian professionals to the betrayals that took him to the “end of patience.”
If a book could be a film, this would be it: Raoul Peck takes you inside the palace, into the smoke-filled rooms. One can only thank the author for the volume of facts new to this book and the matchless way in which the author draws the context with the unsparing eye of a master film director.
He begins by portraying himself, unkindly, as a burnt-out intellectual in New York. In fact, he had won prizes from Human Rights Watch and the Cannes international festival for his films and was guest-teaching at New York University. For the moment, however, his film projects were stalled and friends had asked him to consider a government post in Haiti for patriotic reasons.
His new life began, one of uncertainty, whispering, innuendo, “true rumors and false information,” hints, and friendly and unfriendly vibrations — all in the course of “serving his country.” His motivation was to help rebuild the country, to fuse his identity as an politically-committed filmmaker with practice in his own country.
As his nomination was mooted in Port-au-Prince in early 1996, alliances and intrigues succeeded one another. Rosny Smarth, a member of the leadership of the Organisation Politique Lavalas (OPL) was finally named prime minister, as his party had a majority in both houses of parliament. It was his responsibility to form a cabinet. That did not, however, keep President Préval from offering his own list of members of the future government. This list went into Smarth’s pocket, never to emerge. Peck later learned that his own name happened not to be on it.
However, the nomination was Smarth’s to make and he asked Peck to serve as his minister of culture. Peck extracted a year’s leave of absence from his company; he would be gone twenty months.
In an early chapter entitled, “The Smiles of the Palace,” Peck brilliantly recreates the gilded seat of power. The smiles of the guards and protocol-keepers are alternately bored, concerned, sly, timid, obsequious, doubting, and fearful. The palace was a special place created by and for power. It knew only obeisance to the supreme chief. “As loyal as the palace musicians,” the Haitian saying had it. There had hardly been a change of personnel in the palace. The values, dress, and procedures continued from the previous regimes with scarcely a ruffle.
Peck soon discerned a special quality to some of the smiles of the palace, smiles which hovered between polite amiability and derision. The Haitian constitution barred two successive presidential terms. But a strong contingent wanted to prolong President Aristide’s term by the three years he lost in exile.
The turnover to a new president irritated and embarrassed this group. They tolerated the new president but they were by and for Aristide. In Peck’s formulation, he was the one whom they wanted to serve and knew how to serve. They knew the man, they knew the terrain, they knew how to survive. They looked down on the ministers of the new government like Peck from heights of arrogance. They intended to defend their territory, power, and authority. They regarded Peck and his colleagues as usurpers.
In this ironic, passionate language Peck describes the arrogance of the Aristide loyalists, all of whose power, lest we forget, flowed from an event not of their doing: the landing of twenty-two thousand American troops in 1994 with the imprimatur of the United Nations.
As Peck says of himself and his fellow ministers of the Smarth government, “We were in enemy terrain.” He recalls the turnover of power in the palace. Aristide relinquished the presidential sash to Réné Préval. There were nice speeches about democracy and the modesty of power. Peck recalls Aristide departing by helicopter — the “outgoing” president, put deliberately in quotes.
Aristide had symbolized the hope and resistance of all Haiti. Through him, Haiti celebrated its victory. But in Peck’s words, he wanted this victory for himself alone. The struggle was his. The rest was accessory.
The cabinet began with high hopes. The ministers were varied, some highly qualified and chosen for their professionalism, some more for their loyalty to Aristide. Peck scandalized Port-au-Prince with his unsparing portraits of them all in this book. Less noticed was the revealing way in which he juxtaposed the personalities with the urgent tasks each of their ministries faced in a devastated Haiti:
- Rosny Smarth. Professional agronomist, politically committed, member of the OPL leadership, scourge of rote ideology and dogmatism, placed at the head of government seemingly by default. Neither President Préval nor the OPL, the majority parity, had been able to settle on a candidate. The negotiations were all the more complex because they included a third interlocutor, ex-President Aristide, who had to bless every decision. Smarth was finally chosen because Préval appreciated his pragmatism and honesty and thought he could deal with him, maybe even manipulate him, in part because his brother William, a priest, was then very close to Aristide.
Smarth was the best prime minister one could have, in Peck’s estimation. He was conciliatory, logical, sensitive, and “rarest of all, modest.”
- Jean Molière, minister of the interior. Affiliated with the MOP (Mouvement ouvrier paysan, worker-peasants’ movement), a leftist party descended from the Mouvement d’organisation du pays. He had been a member of the first Aristide government in 1991 as minister of health and population, losing his job some months later to political intrigue. His return was “sweet revenge,” in Peck’s words. He was considered close to Préval although, paradoxically, he was not fiercely pro-Aristide. His party had six or seven members in parliament. When Smarth resigned, Molière stayed on the job.
His ministry’s biggest job was decentralization, the development of the local collectives and setting up new local structures foreseen in the constitution. For this immense task he had at his disposal a ministry made up largely of the bullies of the previous regimes, whose first vocation was spying on and repressing the citizenry.
- Fritz Longchamp, minister of foreign affairs. He had held this position in the previous government. He was the perfect career diplomat, with a penchant, Peck adds, for “the secrets of the palace,” but nonetheless competent. Personally agreeable, and of goodwill, politically he made sure to stay on the right side of the powers-that-be.
The diplomatic corps, Peck considered, after two centuries of Haitian sovereignty had become but a shadow of its former self. The considerable cost of maintaining it might better have been invested in the economy, culture or tourism. Not that the diplomats were particularly incompetent, but except for a few top postings (Washington, Brussels), they were almost completely isolated.
- Max Antoine, minister of justice. Starting out as a politically-committed lawyer, from the extreme anarchist left, in Peck’s estimation he became one of the most conservative in the cabinet. He belonged to the parliamentary Anti-Neoliberal bloc. His ministry was crucial for the Haitians, for whom justice and compensation seemingly ranked even above health and employment.
After the dissolution of the armed forces the ministry of justice inherited the new police, who faced a hard road to prove themselves. The rest of the judiciary was notoriously corrupt, incompetent, and obsolete, according to Antoine himself. A new generation of judges could not just be improvised. There was no one to teach them. Under the justice portfolio were two secretaries of state:
- Robert Manuel, secretary of state for public security. He was politically committed, brave and efficient, who had the heavy responsibility of forming a modern, effective police force which would respect human rights and steer clear of political intrigue.
- Astrid Fouché Gardère, secretary of state in charge of judicial reform; a lawyer from the Haitian diaspora. Progress on this crucial issue was held hostage to the unusual degree of personal enmity between this secretary of state and the minister.
- Fred Joseph, minister of finance. Peck paints him as the most ambitious of the group, a “young wolf.” He rapidly distanced himself from Préval in order to draw closer to Aristide, where he saw the true power lay. He was a founding member of Aristide’s new party, Lafanmi Lavalas. He used his power in the finance ministry to advance his personal cause and that of his master, Aristide. When it came time to quit, he stayed. “If anyone would stay, it would be him, ” Peck remarks.
In reviewing the choices before the ministry of finance, Peck saw not a choice between neoliberal or national policy, but of solutions to each problem, and with what means. Haiti needed to increase the value of its currency and its level of productivity — so aggravated by the embargo — to rein in the speculation of certain big banks and moneymen, to fight inflation, and to reform a state budget three quarters of which came from foreign aid.
- Fresnel Germain, minister of commerce and industry. Favorite object of President Préval’s sarcasm. Also from MOP, from a previous generation. He was in the government because nobody else wanted a post that the population saw as synonymous with the high cost of living. Former official of the Inter-American Development Bank.
Origins of the Aristide-OPL split
1. Creation of a party independent of Aristide
Peck finds that the first moment of the split occurred not long after the return of President Aristide. In his absence, those who were left in the country after the coup d’état set up a national organization which was up and running–the Lavalas Political Organization (OPL), a party which Aristide helped to create in 1991. This organization had its weaknesses, but operated with autonomy over the whole country. It was this autonomy that disturbed Aristide, says Peck. There was a democratic structure comfortable with power-sharing, averse to concentration of personal power. On his return from exile in 1994, Peck says, Aristide found OPL to be an organization which he could neither control directly nor eliminate with a wave of his hand. He could not get rid of it by a coup or openly disparage it. He proposed the creation of a huge catch-all group called “Bo Tab La” (Around the table) to run in the parliamentary elections. Peck finds that the aim of this “enlargement” of all allied parties and Lavalas tendencies was to subsume the OPL in a nebulous, ill-defined soup where the ex-president would remain the only common link, the only chief. Despite all this, a majority of the deputies and senators elected under the common Bo Tab La banner were members of the OPL.
2. The three more years
Peck identifies the second moment of the split as the nomination of René Préval in 1995 as presidential candidate. This nomination came after many negotiations, combinations, strategizing, and money outlays to negate the idea of recovering the three years of Aristide’s absence. Peck had been himself persuaded–like many others at the time–that Aristide totally disapproved of this campaign. He had asked Aristide about it personally. Aristide’s response was ambiguous, but at that time Peck had interpreted it the way he wanted to–in Aristide’s favor. Many people believed, Peck included, that this campaign for the three years coming out of the radical sector of Lavalas was manipulated by the adversaries of the movement trying to discredit President Aristide by portraying him as a power-monger. Peck says he had underestimated the man and his desire for power. In the end, under pressure from within the country and without, Aristide had agreed to propose Préval in the belief that the OPL would veto him. But the party, taking the state of affairs into account, accepted Préval as a candidate for tactical reasons, surprising the schemers.
And it was OPL and its organization that staged Préval’s election campaign. President Aristide had not publicly supported Préval’s candidacy until very late, at the end of the campaign and under American pressure. In fact, Peck now believes that Aristide wanted to show that without him no one could rule, that his Lavalas people would follow only him and were all under his control. This message was directed at the Americans, the bourgeoisie, his political adversaries and above all at the OPL.
In the meetings of the OPL leadership, which Peck had sometimes been invited to as a likeminded official, some members cited their negative experiences with Aristide. But they were in the minority. The majority still believed it possible to reach agreement with him. The reports coming back from the meetings at Tabarre seemed biased–they showed bizarre attitudes that did not seem possible. Also, Peck found it impossible that there would be illegal and criminal actions perpetrated, especially with President Aristide. But the multiplication of unexplainable incidents was not reassuring.
With or without his direct assent, a conspiratorial atmosphere surrounded Aristide, Peck says. The “centralized” functioning mode, which may have been necessary during the years of exile and struggle, no longer had any place in a constitutional regime, which requires a minimum of transparence.
Division of the government into Aristide loyalists and independent social democrats
The greater significance of the “three more years,” as described by Peck, was to reveal the Haitian government and most of the political spectrum as dividing into two broad camps: unconditional Aristide loyalists and social-democratic independents. Not everyone fit neatly into one or the other category, and the two types had coexisted, indeed cooperated much of the time, during the coup period and until the end of 1995, when the presidential-candidacy issue once again put the focus on personal power. However, the division can be traced throughout the government, from the prime minister down. In the prime minister’s office:
Aristide loyalist or executor
René Préval, 1991
Claudette Werleigh, 1995
Independent, social-democratic orientation
Robert Malval, 1993
Smark Michel, 1994-95
Rosny Smarth, 1996-97
The dispute between the two types was latent at the beginning of the Préval administration, and would flare out into the open only in spring, 1997 over the election issue. But even in early 1996, President Préval and the OPL majority in parliament had trouble agreeing on a candidate for prime minister. (The constitution requires that this choice be negotiated between the president and the parliament.) This difficulty in early 1996 prefigured the later eighteen-month impasse in 1997-98. Peck says that negotiations were complicated by the fact that a third negotiator, ex-President Aristide, always had to be included.
Finally, the capable and principled Rosny Smarth, an OPL member and agronomist, was chosen. The president believed he could work with Smarth because of his pragmatism and honesty. Peck also theorizes that Préval and Aristide believed that Smarth could be easily manipulated through his brother William, a priest like Aristide and at that time very close to Aristide.
Much of the government that Préval and Smarth assembled could be divided according to the same grid as the prime-ministerial roster above:
Stayed after resignation of Rosny Smarth
Jean Molière, minister of the interior
Fritz Longchamp, minister of foreign affairs
Max Antoine, minister of justice
Fred Joseph, minister of finance
Jacques Dorcéan, minister of public works
Jacques Edouard Alexis, minister of education
Pierre Denis Amédée, minister of social affairs and labor
Gérald Mathurin, minister of agriculture
Erick Deryce, minister of planning
Raoul Peck, minister of culture
Ginette Chérubin, minister of women’s affairs
Paul Déjean, minister for the diaspora
Yves André Wainright, minister of environment
Rodolphe Malebranche, minister of health
Note: Not all who stayed are loyalists, nor all who resigned opponents.
Establishment of democratic procedure, 1996
1. The unpromising institutional backdrop
Representative democracy such as practiced elsewhere in the world was not irreversibly planted in Haiti, despite the undeniable advances of 1994-96. Members of a young and inexperienced parliament scarcely balanced off the traditional Haitian presidency, which for Peck was camouflaged by the charismatic messianism of Aristide. The relations between citizen and state had not really changed. These relations historically were on the one hand defiance and distancing, on the other authoritarianism and unaccountability. This lack of confidence in the state continued.
To put in place the institutions of the state was not an easy thing in a country that resisted every rational advance particularly in the political sphere, dominated by the omnipresent chief.
The tradition was to bypass all the administrative channels so as to arrive directly at the chief. The official channel was slow, inoperable; the parallel channel, fast. There was efficiency but you paid. To get a passport, a business permit, a copy of a document, all required payoffs. These corrupt routes were the true practical link between the public administration and the common citizen. The existence of this parallel structure made going through normal channels unwelcome to those who profited from the situation as it was.
The social situation was not simple. The country on the return of President Aristide had suffered through three years of repression, traumas, and severe poverty. A number of emergency aid programs were started, including with public funds, called the “small projects of the presidency.” These projects, without measurable results, were occasions for corruption and recalled the clientism of the Duvalier days. This rendered the phrase austerity even harder to take.
2. Democratic procedure plants roots
The government began functioning. A true governmental team was in place. It was a coalition government. Peck acknowledges that the cabinet members had their party allegiances, but they did work for the prime minister. Even if it was hard for some of them, there was a momentum for change. Peck found the discussions free, frank and productive. This cabinet had the ambition to change the state, to construct a true government, with different prerogatives from those of the president. There was the difficult task of determining the functions of one or the other as intended by the constitution.
For the first time, the power relation between the president and prime minister was not so out of balance. For the first time, the ministerial team was oriented around the prime minister and not around an omnipotent president.
For the first time there was a real chance to create an honest, modern government.
The previous custom was that every president–and Aristide did not change this–would choose the ministers. But this new government was the result of a negotiation, which gave a real autonomy to the prime minister. This new way of governing and the establishment of the functions prescribed by the constitution would survive all the crises except the last one.
For Peck, it began well. The president and prime minister understood each other well and shared the duties according to their constitutional prerogatives. This may have been the first error, Peck theorizes. The president left to his prime minister the daily thankless work.
As Peck describes it, Préval believed he could easily work over a long period with this team and this prime minister without offending the “prince” who stood behind him. He sincerely believed he could enact the necessary reforms, since they had been supported by his predecessor (they had been blocked after the summer of 1995) without provoking Aristide. Peck describes Préval’s goal: To advance without yielding anything to anybody, least of all the OPL. To carry out reforms, but holding the reins tightly and collecting all the dividends. This way, the press and public opinion would ask, “What was the prime minister doing? Why was it the president who always appear to be in the thick of things?”
Like his predecessor Aristide, Préval had a certain knack for publicity. He went out to unblock the roads occupied by demonstrators. He questioned officials accused of corruption. He went on television to negotiate directly with strikers.
All this certainly was difficult work but it put the prime minister and his ministers outside the visible political world. However, they still retained real power.
Council of ministers takes root
The routine of the council of ministers took some time to put in place. In the previous administration everything revolved around one man. The prime minister had been the chief executive of the president. The much more coeval function of the prime minister as laid out in the constitution was not put in practice. The tentative initiatives of the president to leave enough space and initiative to the prime minister and the ministries in retrospect appeared too little to Peck. Préval’s only goal was to avoid a blow-up by the cabinet or prime minister. The friendship between the two men appeared to be sincere. This added to the final disappointment of Rosny Smarth when the break came.
The president named François Séverin, a former minister of agriculture and an unconditional supporter of Aristide, the head of his cabinet. Séverin was a loyal vassal, harsh towards those who did not sympathize with the chief, affable with others, a true example of the power-follower. He had a sensitive position, controlling access to the decisions of the council of ministers.
Nevertheless, a true council of ministers was put together, with a strict schedule, note-taking, regulations, decisions, and signatures.
Besides the council of ministers with the president, the tradition of meetings of ministers with the prime minister, at his headquarters, was established. These meetings allowed franker discussion of important problems. They had a precise agenda, but the discussion always finished with questions of general interest.
3. The aid donors
This tradition of meeting at the prime minister’s office, and not at the national palace as was the case before, was done in preparation for negotiations with the donors. As Peck recalls, the donors to Haiti conditioned their aid on “structural adjustment,” which some bluntly called a neoliberal policy and forced globalization. The adjustment followed certain dogmas: strict control over the country’s economic indicators, drastic reduction of state expenses, privatization of public enterprises, stimulation of the private sector, reduction in social expenses, integration into the global market, economic reforms. In the overall economy these measures would give results rarely beneficial to the whole population, which continued to get poorer.
Without getting into a theoretical debate about orthodox economics, however, Peck believed that to speak without any nuance about a “neoliberal policy” was too hasty. Many of the criteria were not applied radically. Virtually all of the loans to Haiti were made under conditions that would make its Latin American cousins jealous. The moderate attitude of certain donors, contrary to their normal behavior, made sums available for socially important aims–education, health, and employment.
Destruction of the Rosny Smarth government
Out of office in 1996, Aristide faced a long road back. Others were in the limelight: President Préval believed he had the room to enact the necessary reforms, stalled since the summer of 1995. He also would minimize the credit to OPL by assuming an active public profile.
However, Rosny Smarth as prime minister had the constitutional power of the executive. His signature at the bottom of a document counted. This, Peck argues, may have aroused Aristide from his retirement as much as any other factor. The exile was intolerable; to wait until 2001 was too long. He would not be a “Jimmy Carter of the tropics” and wait five years in honorable seclusion.
The members of his entourage believed that every nomination passed through him. They asked, what was the decision of the “chief?” By which they did not mean Préval. But as the new government took hold, this external dominance was threatened. Little by little, the prime minister won his independence. President Préval also could claim a certain number of victories, as could the individual ministers. In 1996, Peck finds that a democratic structure beginning to take root. 1. Initial disturbing incidents
The murder of Antoine Leroy
On August 20, 1996 the pastor Antoine Leroy was reported killed. He was a member of an opposition party, the Mobilisation pour le développement national (MDN), killed by those who had evidently gone to arrest him. It looked like an assassination. The usual accusations issued forth, followed by a strange silence. New rumors, more ominous than before, spread. The Miami Herald of September 7 presented another picture, in which the trail led to the presidential palace. In the council of ministers that day, the president was obliged to refer to the issue. Without entering into details he reported to the cabinet the rumors and told them the official version to be given to the press. There were a number of very obscure points between the reports and the official version. Nobody at the table asked, “What really happened?” No voice was raised. Perhaps some there knew more? Peck wonders. In the end, Peck finds that the thesis of the Miami Herald was partially upheld.
The roughing up of a member of parliament
The president convoked a meeting of the members of parliament at the national palace. One was roughed up by a member of the presidential bodyguard. Several members of parliament would not take excuses but demanded that the bodyguard be punished. At a meeting of the ministers, the president presented his excuses for the incident but refused to enter into the details, hinting that the group was too big (ministers and sympathetic parliamentarians) to discuss such a delicate affair. This suggested state secrets. The incident didn’t appear particularly grave. But it hid a more worrisome truth, namely that the president had no control in the palace or was the hostage of stronger forces. Why so many secrets? Who was protecting whom?
The answer was banal. Most of the presidential bodyguard were unconditional Aristide supporters. One of them, in an excess of zeal and in order to show that power had not really changed hands, decided to humiliate the visitors. The president did not dare to openly disavow this demonstration of his predecessor’s power or create his own security detail.
2. The hospital strike
The interns at the state university hospital (HUEH) had been striking for several weeks. The hospital was the principal care provider in the capital for the poor and was in a calamitous state. The strike rapidly took on a political aspect, like everything in Haiti. Added to the demand for salaries and better conditions was the demand for the firing of the director-general of the hospital and the director of research. The health minister, Rodolphe Malebranche, refused on principle to fire the official and to yield to pressure tactics. The strike seemed to take on aspects of a power struggle within the government. One morning, it was suddenly announced that the strike was over and that the strikers had won firm promises to fire the director-general.
The details began arriving. Ex-president Aristide had intervened in person and spent the night negotiating with the strikers. During the night Aristide called President Préval many times and negotiated the recall of the director-general.
The radios announced the end of the strike. Aristide got the laurels. The minister was disavowed but did not consider himself beat and refused to fire the director-general.
A prime minister’s meeting was organized. Most of the ministers took part. Rodolphe Malebranche threatened to resign. If the president insisted on firing the director-general and upholding the result gained by Aristide, he would walk.
The majority of ministers condemned the extra-institutional intervention of the ex-president. Meeting again in the council of ministers, they took the same position. They refused to fire the director-general and asked for continuation of the negotiations to resolve the crisis. As far as the resignation of Malebranche was concerned, that was out of the question.
The president found himself in the unaccustomed position of being in the minority. Yet, as would happen again in the case of the elections of April, 1997, he overrode his cabinet’s opposition and the principle of consensus-seeking to fire the director-general and research director. He could not disavow the former president, whose intervention had been widely publicized in the media. Malebranche resigned.
For the majority of the ministers the repetition of such decisions confirmed their worst fears. The president had the right and duty to make hard decisions, but in this case he proceeded arbitrarily, he was clearly prepared to break up the cabinet, despite his fine words about consensus. For those who were still naive, the game was clear. Aristide did not negotiate.
The most ironic outcome of this troubling episode for Peck concerned the minister who resigned. He was actually a founding member of the Famille Lavalas of Aristide, one of only three on the cabinet. Yet he was sacrificed without remorse, without a second thought. Bye, bye. See ya.
It might be only a matter of time, Peck believes, before Aristide might well sacrifice even his marassa Préval to save himself, despite all the years of loyalty.
3. The popular organizations
In early 1997, small “popular” groups such as JPP (Let it fall where it will fall) mounted “general strikes.” Few observed them, but the media reported widely and added to the air of intimidation. Parents did not want their children to take the risk of going to school; tap-tap drivers did not want to risk having their vehicles burnt; shopowners did not want to have their stores attacked. Public opinion, basically apathetic, wanted no part in this intramural Lavalas affair. On December 24, 1996, Rosny Smarth declared, “A systematic destabilization offensive has been launched against the constitutional government.”
Soon Préval asked Smarth to leave. If he stayed, the country would become ungovernable. Smarth said he would never yield to pressure from the streets. If he was to leave, the constitution laid out the parliamentary procedure.
Smarth noted that his government program was largely inherited from the previous government. This included the privatization program. He warned of those who would “substitute their personal aims for those of the country.”
“Some would pin on the government the responsibility for the ills which they themselves, one way or another, are creating.”
Parliament rejected a motion of censure. Smarth sought a meeting with President Préval. Instead Préval again asked him to resign, so that he could leave “with his head held high.”
4. The electoral crisis
The decisive crisis was electoral. Smarth categorically opposed the publication of the April, 1997 election results, which were questioned by the whole political class and by the OAS election-observation mission. The only party that took the contrary position was Lafanmi Lavalas of Aristide, which had won. President Préval said he could not intervene. The election commission’s independence was guaranteed by the constitution. This didn’t keep Préval from dismissing six members of the commission a month after a visit by Anthony Lake, Peck notes. But despite the advice of the majority of the ministers and the prime minister, President Préval refused to deal seriously with the flawed election.
“In our country, power is a disease,” Smarth said in his address to the nation announcing his resignation. He invited his ministers to leave as well, saying that their presence risked legitimizing a profoundly irregular situation.
This left a constitutionally difficult situation. The ministers were appointed by the prime minister. Once the prime minister left, the others had no constitutional basis to stay. The constitution said the number of ministers in the council of ministers could not be less than ten. The government of Haiti, once again as in 1991, was de facto.
Smarth called Peck to tell him that President Préval was distributing the vacant posts among the remaining ministers. The political class was scandalized, the crisis mounted and the ministers still in place were attacked. It was an uncomfortable position.
He called Peck repeatedly during this period, which was rare with him. Peck believed that Smarth was feeling doubt and uncertainty. He was concerned that the situation for which he had responsibility not deteriorate further.