Originally: Haiti’s Latortue envisions success where others see only a failed state

PORT-AU-PRINCE — Gérard Latortue, Haiti’s interim Prime Minister and a

former talk show host from Miami, is a jovial fellow who likes to eat cake

and talk.

He doesn’t mince words when it comes to defending the record of his

government. Installed last March after ex-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide

was ousted, Mr. Latortue has been dogged by accusations that he failed to

disarm bandits, control violence or put forward a clear vision for his

beleaguered nation.

Some critics even go so far as to call Haiti a failed state, comparing it

to Somalia or even Afghanistan, and say the country will not be ready to

hold elections in November.

“We are not a failed state at all,” declares Mr. Latortue, a 70-year-old

former United Nations official. “That’s a lie. I won’t stay one minute in

this job if there are flagrant cases of human-rights violations.”

He accuses Mr. Aristide’s supporters and Haitian exiles of waging a

disinformation campaign and lobbying the international press about alleged

human-rights violations and his government’s shortcomings.

In a recent interview inside his official residence high up in the hills

above downtown Port-au-Prince, Mr. Latortue lashed out at Mr. Aristide,

accusing the ex-president of spearheading violence from his exile in South


Nearly a year after his departure, it is clear that Haiti remains a lawless

place, with little sign that the situation will improve.

Mr. Aristide was ousted in a bloody uprising last February, led by former

soldiers and armed rebels. Criminal gangs loyal to him continue to control

portions of the capital, while former soldiers still occupy some police

stations and barracks.

More than 200 people have died in street violence in the past three months,

including several police officers.

Mr. Latortue’s government inherited this violent culture, as well as a

corrupt police force and a dysfunctional judiciary. The interim leader has

yet to deal with the thorny issue of disarming the ex-soldiers and gang

lords, although he recently agreed to compensate some former soldiers for

back pay, and to give them pensions.

The country is still awash in illegal weapons, however, and observers

criticize Mr. Latortue for failing to reconcile with former members of Mr.

Aristide’s government, some of whom are in jail awaiting trial.

At the same time, the myth of Mr. Aristide’s return hangs over the poor

slums, inciting demonstrations that often turn violent.

Two recent studies prepared by experts for the United States Army recommend

turning the country, which has endured years of dictatorships and the worst

poverty in the hemisphere, into an international protectorate. (There is a

historical precedent: The country was under U.S. occupation from 1915 to


“Usually when a dictator is overthrown, there is a process by which the old

regime is judged. But this didn’t happen in Haiti,” a Western diplomat


“The government is really weak here. It doesn’t want to put pressure on the

judiciary to release people, but they should be [released] if there is no

evidence against them. The government has two or three months left to

demonstrate results.”

A senior official with the United Nations Stabilization Mission (MINUSTAH),

which arrived in June to help stabilize and disarm the country, believes

Mr. Latortue is indecisive and has failed to facilitate a national


The leader has none of the slick showmanship of a politician and is so

modest he even asks a Globe and Mail reporter’s advice on how to respond to

articles in The New York Times that have been critical of his government.

However, Mr. Latortue is not above bragging about his government’s

overlooked accomplishments, pointing to the recent disarming of soldiers,

and a budget plan, something he says the country never had under Mr.


He believes Haiti’s progress toward democratic reform has been hampered by

two factors beyond his control: a delay in the release of the $1.4-billion

(U.S.) in aid pledged last summer and the slow start of the UN peacekeepers

who are helping to police the country.

“In the beginning, MINUSTAH was a rag doll. But now that they are running

at capacity [7,400 peacekeepers], violence has been reduced by 50 per

cent,” he says. “Though they still need to work more closely with Haitian

National Police.”

While the World Bank recently approved $73-million to help the country

implement economic measures, Haiti has received only 10 per cent of the

$1.4-billion in aid pledged, as donors say the country is still too

unstable. (Canada has pledged $180-million [Canadian] in aid to Haiti over

the next two years.)

With three-quarters of the country’s 8.4 million people living on less than

$2 a day, the poor want to see some tangible proof that the new government

will improve their lives in material ways, and this is not possible until

the aid arrives.

“We need leadership concerned about the poor, not the elite and I am not

part of Haiti’s elite,” Mr. Latortue said.

The Prime Minister’s biggest challenge will be to facilitate national

reconciliation and prepare the country for elections in the fall.

Former members of the old government concede that while wrongdoings were

committed under Mr. Aristide, the Lavalas party still has widespread


“We need to change the culture of vengeance to a modern one that respects

institutions,” said a Lavalas politician, who says he lives in fear of

being arrested, even as he sips an espresso at an upscale hotel in the

hills overlooking the capital.

“There are some good, moderate Lavalas people and we hope Canada will

create the space for them to be included in the dialogue,” he said.

The UN Security Council recently said it would make a trip to Haiti to

ensure conditions are in place for fair and free elections.