Friday, February 24, 2006

HEADLINE: Speculation Builds on how Haiti’s Preval Will Rule








This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I’m Steve Inskeep. After demonstrations and allegations of massive fraud, the Haitian government, last week, named Rene Preval as the new President. He’s often described as close to Haiti’s former President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, but if Aristide returns from exile, it is not clear that President-Elect Preval will roll out the red carpet. Amelia Shaw reports from Port Au Prince.

AMELIA SHAW reporting:

Michele D. Pierre-Louis knew Rene Preval long before he entered politics. Today, Pierre-Louis, the Executive Director of the Open Society Institute in Haiti. Back in the 1980s, she and Preval were bread-makers in a large bakery in downtown Port Au Prince. She says this is where they first met Aristide.

Ms. MICHELE D. PIERRE-LOUIS (Executive Director, Open Society Institute in Haiti): Besides selling bread in the bakery, we used to give to practically all the hospitals, the hotels, the markets and also the priest where I still was because they used to give food to about 20,000 to 25,000 kids a day, and they often used to offer bread to the kids.

SHAW: Pierre-Louis says the bakery was where Preval began his involvement in politics. It was also where he got his first lesson in management.

Ms. PIERRE-LOUIS: He learned a lot of things. He learned to plan because when you were an enterprise with such a fragile item as bread, you have to plan. If you over-produce, you lose. If you under-produce, you lose.

SHAW: When the first coup d’etat occurred in 1991, then President Aristide and Preval, who was Prime Minister at the time, both went into exile. Aristide was reinstated as President in 1994. When Aristide stepped down, Preval took over as President and later made way for Aristide to return to the presidency in 2001. Aristide left Haiti after a violent uprising in 2004. Historian, George Michelle, says that many Haitians remember Preval’s years in the palace as a sweet time.

In contrast, to numerous coup d’etat, an aid embargo, and the last two years of instability under the interim government, Preval’s political campaign called Hope in Creole, inspired many poor Haitians, who want a future of change, but Michele says Preval also inspired the wealthy, who want a future of investments.

Mr. GEORGE MICHELLE (Political historian): The very wealthy gave him money for his campaign because the very wealthy like security, and they have seen Preval, at times, not to be bad one. So, they are ready to give Preval a second (Unintelligible).

SHAW: Preval’s future; however, may be overshadowed by his past alliance with the exiled President, Aristide. Many of Preval’s voters are among the urban poor, who say they want Aristide to return. On the other hand, analysts say that Aristide’s return could cause instability. The United States has called Aristide a thing of the past, and George Michelle says that Preval may have personal reasons for keeping Aristide out.

Preval’s sister was shot while he was president.

Mr. MICHELLE: She was shot. She was shot by Aristide’s henchmen. The driver was killed, and she was badly wounded, but she survived, fortunately–and Mr. Preval did not appreciate that.

SHAW: Michelle says a number of mysterious murders occurred to people close to Preval during his presidency, and he was never able to investigate. Among those killed was Preval’s close friend and radio journalist, Jon Dominique. But James Morrell, Director of the Washington-based think tank Haiti Democracy Project, faults Preval for being too passive.

Mr. JAMES MORRELL (Director of Haiti Democracy Project): He presided over the destruction of Haiti’s democracy. He was not the agent of it, he was just a passive observer of it.

SHAW: Morrell says Preval’s only positive achievement was that he served out his term without being overthrown or exiled. But, he says Preval has well-respected advisers and has made overtures to business leaders and opposition parties. Michele Pierre-Louis says if Preval is still the same bread-maker he was as a young man, Haiti might have a chance.

Ms. PIERRE-LOUIS: He really would like to do something for the country. He really would like to prove himself on his own.

SHAW: She says Preval wants to be judged by his actions and look into the future, but to do so, he is going to have to reckon with his past.

For NPR News, I’m Amelia Shaw in Port Au Prince.