By Ardain, Isma, Ph.D.“Dear compatriots, the road to success isn’t easy. The challenges are enormous. But we are a hard-working people. I can’t promise miracle. However, I can promise that my presidency will be one that all Haitians will be proud of,” he said, rolling his eyes and sticking his chest out. Before an army of international dignitaries, and as the resilient people looked on under a 90-degree hazy tropical day, he went on. “I cruised the country, listened to your problems and astonished to see the current state of our infrastructure, the living condition of our people and the plight of all those who nourish the desire to leave the country to seek a better life.” This passage is not extracted from Préval pre-inaugural speeches, nor is it from one of his overseas’ lectures during his many trips abroad prior to this new inauguration. That was Préval’s historic speech in February of 1996, as he stood at the doorstep of Haiti’s presidential palace to deliver what sounded more like a homily than a political speech. Since then, he spent 5 years presiding under the shadow of his former mentor, Jean Bertrand Aristide, who ruled directly from below and who used his henchmen as enforcers to make sure that Préval acted in tacit accordance with the then-Lavalas platform.Préval did travel across the country, but he promised nothing in substance. Instead, he let the media to speculate on an elusive plan to bring Haiti back from the brink. He created a false illusion that BCA (Banque De Credit Agricole), in existence since the Duvalier era, was going to be at the forefront of what he then called his “agricultural restructuring plan,” where the semi-feudal agrarian system would have been replaced by new mechanisms of farming production. On the balcony of the city hall in Port-De-Paix, the main town in the Northwest, Haiti’s most neglected province, he said that “I will do my utmost to make sure that risking your lives on rickety boats to brave sharks infested water in order to reach the shores of the Bahamas” will no longer be the only means of getting out of poverty. And in a flip move to reassure the Haitian elite, he reaffirmed his commitment to implementing the draconian structural adjustment program put in place by the IMF.Within his 5-year tenure at the presidency, Préval accomplished very little from the very few things he had promised the masses. He found himself pinned down by the strongman from La Plaine, implementing only what he was dictated to. Apart from few roads, few schools that Préval had managed to build or rebuild in the countryside, he accomplished very little, taking pride on the gut-wrenching work performed by Cuban doctors that UNICEF and some other UN institutions agree that because of them, thousands of lives are being saved each year in the country.But if Rene Préval did very little to ameliorate the hellish condition in which the Haitian people find themselves everyday, he went in great length to scrupulously implement the IMF plan, the so-called “Roadmap for economic recovery plan” that resulted into substantial cuts in basic subsidies like food and transportation that once benefited the impoverished masses, dramatic layoffs in the public sector and in large-scale privatization of state institutions in order to please a recalcitrant bourgeoisie and its masters, the international corporations. During his first term in office, Préval never hid his impotence in the face of his estranged friend, Jean Bertrand Aristide, leaving the impression that he was a president whose hands were tied and who was prevented from fulfilling his duty freely. At the end of his term, he retreated to his farmhouse in Northeast Haiti, giving very few interviews, living in complete stealth-ness while quietly crafting his comeback.
A politician with conformist credentials
When Préval was named prime minister by Jean Bertrand Aristide in 1990, he was portrayed in the press as an obscured personage appointed by Aristide to dilute the constitutional stance that empowers the Primacy to independently head the government, leaving only the foreign ministry to the president so he or she can conduct foreign diplomacy as head of State. Aristide wanted to rule unopposed and unchecked. Then, few people questioned it, for the unspoken consensus was that the “president of the people” needed all power at his disposal to implement economic reform. Ironically, the “obscure” sobriquet pleased Préval, who, rightfully so, did not want to associate himself with the discredited traditional politicians. However, René Préval was far from being an alien landed from outer space parachuted by Aristide in order to grab everything under his fold. He was a longtime activist of En Avant, a leftist organization with close ties with the base communities within the Catholic Church.When En Avant was uprooted in the Far West by an ultra fascist group headed by notorious Tonton Macoutes, David Poitevien and Jean Michel Richardson, Préval was found within the Democratic Convergence, a civic group made mostly by elements of the once well-structured leftist movement. Economist Gerard Pierre-Charles, professor Marc Romulus, well-known writer Arnold Antonin, political activist Patrick Elie, well-known businessman from the downtown district Antoine Izmery, businesswoman Gladys Loture, peasant leader Chavannes Jean-Baptiste to name a few were all part of the DC. It was that group that engineered the coming of Aristide, then a parish priest considered by many as a living saint for the many risks he had taken under the Baby Doc regime and successive duvalierist regimes that followed after the downfall of Baby Doc in 1986.The DC goal was to use Aristide popularity to block Washington point man in the election, Marc Bazin, and to put the international community before a fait accompli to accept the will of the people should the US embassy attempt to impose Bazin. Shrewd maneuver that succeeded only in putting Aristide into the presidency but failed to reach its desired end, which was to put the Haitian left in full control of the government for the first time in history. In a political coup, Aristide, who never believes in organized politic, brushed the entire group aside and handpicked Préval only after he pledged complete allegiance to him. Can he really change the tide?This brings us to Préval’s current mandate to preside over the country for the next five years—a mandate conceived under intense political maneuvering, contested by the ruling elite, the so-called classe politique of the traditional politicians and the three main triumvirates in Port-au-Prince politic, noticeably the US, the French and the Canadian embassies. Although the masses in Haiti and the international observers clearly believe that René Préval won an outright victory during the first round of the presidential election, it was under conditions of extreme political crisis and before a clear prospect of popular uprising that a compromise was reached to allow Préval to assume the mantle of president-elect.Préval, a conformist né was not about to launch a protracted fight for a clean and unequivocal victory on behalf of the people. He quickly jumped into a compromise spearheaded by the UN, Brazilian and Chilean diplomats in which they stressed that he be named the winner based on blatant irregularities uncovered during the vote count. The French and Canadian diplomats, who worked hand-and-hand with American diplomats to bundle Aristide out of the country 2 years earlier, reluctantly agreed to the compromise for there were no clear alternative to Préval, and Leslie Manigat, who came second in the presidential contest, did not master anymore than 12 percent of the vote.Sweet victory for Brazil and its allies Argentina and Chile in their quest to create an autonomous block for the first time in Latin America, free of US diplomatic influence. But if the compromise to avoid Préval a second round played well for Brazilian diplomacy in its proxy competition with the US, it was far from being a clean victory for the vast majority of the Haitian people who, according to Préval himself in a letter being circulated throughout many internet sites, “braved doomsday scenarios and organizational lapses to send a message to the world.”While Lula may be celebrating his new diplomatic breakthrough in regional politic, and working to make Haiti a pilot study in his quest for regional supremacy, he could not spare Préval from passing through the last clearance before he was declared the victor. According to the New York Times, which cited several foreign diplomats in the Haitian capital, Préval had to guarantee that “Aristide be barred from returning to the country.”René Préval, who ran for this second time in office, promises once again nothing in substance to the resilient people he swore, just like his estranged mentor Aristide, to lift from “misery to poverty with dignity.” The political grouping, Lespwa or Hope in English, under the banner of which he ran for office, is nothing but a circumstantial entity made up of petit-bourgeois opportunists who have long divorced with revolutionary politic, former Lavalas party members and business people like the Vorbes family, Unibank etc…designed to give Préval the perfect craft he needed to run.Préval understands that in Haitian politic, those who survive are those who learn to play by the rules imposed by international donor countries. That means strict implementation of the IMF plan of which he has already renewed his vow to uphold and work to reconcile the many differences plaguing the Haitian society (rich and poor).Finally, it is fair to say that in this current predicament, it would be extremely difficult if not impossible for Préval to meet the demands of the impoverished masses. How does one reconcile forces in society that are diametrically opposed to each other? How does he tackle and eradicate the utter of corruption within the state bureaucracy? How does he appease many of his supporters who voted him into office under the unspoken accord that he would work to bring Aristide back into the country?Seeking regional legitimacy in Havana won’t work no matter how many trips Préval may want to undertake to Cuba, as he was seeing parading alongside Fidel in the streets of the Cuban Capital last month. Millions of photo-ops with Fidel to boost his “revolutionary” credentials won’t work. History dictates that the prestige of a country lies on top of what its leadership does, not in what its president desires. Haiti does not need just a declaration of intent. Haiti needs real economic, social and political changes. To do that, its leaders MUST cease to please those whose interests are fundamentally at odds with what needs to be done to truly lift the country out of poverty. In CSMS Magazine, we believe there is little room for Préval to maneuver between the demands of the people who have been reduced to live in less than $2.00 a day, the IMF demands and that of a shameless bourgeoisie that does nothing but wallowing in extravagant luxury. Based on such sharp inequality of class divide, not even a masqueraded democracy can be established. And nothing either Préval or anyone else can do to appease the masses’ desire for change until justice prevails. In the absence of genuine changes, one can only foresee a bleak future as the country advances to an even greater social polarization. Dr. Ardain Isma is the chief editor for CSMS Magazine and the executive director of the Center For Strategic And Multicultural Studies. He also teaches Cross-Cultural Studies at Nova Southeastern University. He is a novelist and the author of several essays on multiculturalism and Caribbean politics. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.