Originally: Haiti’s interim government, led by Boca Raton resident Gérard Latortue, has gotten mixed reviews as it wraps up two years in power.

 Jacqueline Charles

PORT-AU-PRINCE – Almost two years ago, Gérard Latortue was plucked out of a comfortable retirement in Boca Raton to lead a chaotic Haiti back on a path to democracy after a bloody revolt ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

The former U.N. negotiator and Haitian history buff was sworn in as interim prime minister amid promises to return security to this grindingly poor nation, revamp a police force that had just about collapsed and reconcile the country’s bitterly divided political factions.

But as elections for a new government approach on Tuesday, his government is receiving decidedly mixed reviews — credited with some key advancements, blasted for missing significant opportunities and at times abusing its powers.

Even his detractors give Latortue and his team of technocrats credit for strengthening Haiti’s finances through programs that, among other things, increased government revenues and got rid of the notorious ”zombies” — no-show employees.

”The people will need time to realize what has been done,” Latortue told The Miami Herald as he flew back to Haiti after meetings with U.S. State Department officials in Washington to discuss the presidential and legislative balloting Tuesday.


”We saved the country from a civil war, and a big social explosion, and introduced more civility in political life,” he said. “It’s far away from being a failure, but I cannot expect to call it a complete success. It’s definitely better.”

But others say the Latortue government deserves a mixed report card of ”C’s” and “F’s.”

”If the elections take place and we have a legitimate government in power, then it was a success. But if they are not done properly and we have new insecurities, then it was a failure,” said Micha Gaillard, spokesman for the opposition coalition Democratic Convergence, which helped force Aristide’s 2004 ouster.

The elections were postponed four times amid bickering among members of Haiti’s electoral council and between them and election experts from the Organization of American States and the United Nations.

The security situation has improved in most parts of the country of eight million people. But it has remained chaotic and at times worsened in the capital, where a surge in kidnappings and violence in the Cité Soleil slum has panic-stricken residents afraid to leave home after dark.

”The transition has been a complete failure,” said Jean-Germain Gros, a Haiti expert at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. “The first mandate is security. Is Haiti safer now than before? No.”

Gros acknowledged that Haitian history has long been plagued by political violence and noted that the United Nations, which has about 9,000 peacekeepers here, “did not have a robust security presence in the face of the collapse of the Haitian National Police.”

”There should have been a much stronger intervention,” Gros added.

Without the force in fact ”this country would have probably collapsed,” said Juan Gabriel Valdés, the Chilean diplomat who leads the U.N. mission here.


Under the political accord endorsed by the political factions after Aristide’s ouster, the transition government had 15 mandates that ranged from arranging the new elections to investigating corruption and human-rights abuses under Aristide and his political party, the Lavalas Family.

And it was in carrying out these latter mandates that the interim government has been most criticized, with Aristide supporters and independent human rights activists accusing it of arbitrarily arresting and jailing thousands of Lavalas members.

The most high profile of these cases involved former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, who was eventually indicted for a 2004 massacre in the port city of St. Marc, and former Miami Haitian-rights activist Gérard Jean-Juste, a priest who was finally freed Sunday under heavy U.S. pressure and was allowed to fly to Miami for cancer treatment.

The two men’s long detentions caught the eye of U.S. congressional leaders and human rights activists, and Jean-Juste was even declared a “prisoner of conscience.”

Allegations of corruption also trailed Latortue’s cousin, Youri Latortue, described in one French news report as ”Mr. 10 percent” because of the commissions he allegedly demanded while working as the prime minister’s security chief. The younger Latortue, a Senate candidate in Tuesday’s election, has vehemently denied the accusations.

Gérard Latortue’s own blunders, meanwhile, landed him in diplomatic hot water, including his description of rebels who led the revolt against Aristide as ”freedom fighters.” He also fired off a letter to Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson and recalled his ambassador from Kingston after Patterson invited the exiled Aristide to vacation in Jamaica. Caribbean leaders responded by refusing to recognize Haiti’s interim government, saying they will revisit the issue after elections.

”Latortue did not understand the job,” said Leslie Voltaire, a moderate Lavalas member chosen to help the transition after Aristide’s departure. “He did not have a constituency. He aligned himself with the elite and then they left him.”


Latortue, who said he is looking forward to returning to Boca Raton after he hands over the reins of power to the winner of the elections, disagrees. He is a consensus builder, he insists, whose office was always open to anyone.

The man whose name means ”the turtle” and became a sharp jab in his first months in office, listed a few of his claimed successes as he wound up the interview: new roads, increased revenue, a civil service program and an end to government-sponsored violence. But the real success, he said, will belong to the Haitian people: free and fair elections on Tuesday.

For The Miami Herald’s coverage of the Haiti electoral process go to MiamiHerald.com and click on the Americas section.