Date: Mon, 12 Aug 1996 06:40:27 -0700 (PDT)
From: Bob Corbett <>
To: Bob Corbett <>
Subject: Washington Post on Preval 1
Message-Id: <>

Date: 12 Aug 96 07:33:39 EDT
From: Greg Chamberlain <100074.2675@CompuServe.COM>

Haiti's new president hurries to help a nation bogging down

By Douglas Farah, The Washington Post, 11 August 1996

Preval hates to be late. Unlike virtually everything else in Haiti, cabinet meetings and appointments begin precisely on schedule, and he reprimands those who are late, including cabinet ministers.

Associates say the change from the style of Preval's predecessor and close friend, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, stems not just from a healthy dose of discipline, but from Preval's sense that, for Haiti, time is running out.

Preval does not take himself too seriously, but he is very serious about what he has to do, an economic adviser said. He knows he has to demonstrate he can deliver the goods. He knows he has to start solving the daily problems of people's lives. ... His back is to the wall.

Indeed, following Aristide, the nation's most popular politician, is a tough act. And it has been made more difficult because Aristide chose not to pay the political costs associated with trying to bring some order out of the chaos.

With unemployment hovering around 80 percent, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere has no social safety net. With an illiteracy rate of more than 50 percent, Haiti has few skilled workers. And with virtually no funds for the nation's crumbling roads, electrical system, telephones and health care, most people have little help escaping the abject poverty they endure.

Preval, who possesses little of Aristide's charisma and popular following, was widely expected to do little more than keep the presidential chair warm until Aristide could run again in 2000.

But in the six months since taking office, Preval has surprised even his friends by seeming to thrive on the job. With crucial foreign aid largely held up by an unruly Parliament's bickering, Preval has focused on accomplishing what he can without outside help and on making the politically unpopular choices that Aristide often avoided.

Although Preval, who served as Aristide's first prime minister, won more than 80 percent of the vote in December 1995, less than 40 percent of the electorate voted. Once so close to Aristide that the two were referred to as twins, Preval has had to make many of the difficult moves with no public support from Aristide.

Aristide had the political support to do just about anything, but he refused to move on privatization, on the police, on reining in the excess flow of cash, said a diplomat who worked closely with both men. Preval, with little support of his own and little to lose, is taking on all those issues with surprising decisiveness.

Preval has followed the advice of Leslie Delatour, the central bank president, by refusing to print money and unleash inflation. Instead, he has allowed the government to spend only what it takes in, day to day.

The policies, and Preval's unflagging pragmatism, have come as a surprise because as prime minister Preval was viewed by outsiders as even more outspoken in support of traditional leftist policies than Aristide, and few expected him to embrace a stringent stabilization plan.

He has angered the nation's tiny elite, which has run most businesses in Haiti as private monopolies for generations, by pushing the privatization law and enforcing tax collection. Proposed privatization of nine state companies could open the economy to competition for the first time in decades, challenging the stranglehold of a handful of powerful families and business groups.

Most of the elite supported the military coup that ousted Aristide in September 1991, just seven months after he took office as the nation's first freely elected president. And most helped pay the Haitian military and assisted it in opposing the U.S. occupation in September 1994 that resulted in the restoration of Aristide.

The state, by simply enforcing the tax code affecting the few with substantial income, increased revenues by more than 30 percent.

Every day for six months, Preval has been learning about the role of a head of state, said Georges Sassine, president of an association of small and medium-sized businesses. Fortunately for us, he does not like adulation. He knows he is weak, but he owes no political favors to anyone. For the first time, he is hitting everyone with taxes. Sometimes you don't like it, but he is hitting everyone.

In an interview last week, Preval showed up exactly on time, wearing a casual shirt and loafers. Aristide was seldom seen in the palace out of a three-piece suit, and his appointments often ran hours behind schedule.

Speaking partly in English and partly through an interpreter, Preval told jokes on himself and said being president was boring, because people only spoke to him as the president, not as Rene. We mostly discuss politics, even my friends talk politics, not about our families or children.

Asked what his biggest accomplishment was in six months, Preval said he had remained true to myself.

I clearly see where I want to go, Preval said. I know I can't do every thing in five years, so I set myself specific objectives.

Preval said his first and most difficult objective is economic recovery, followed by reforming the police and the judicial system, and decentralizing the state's power in favor of local governments. He spoke forcefully of the need to modernize the state and break the power of the elite families.

For 10 years, he noted, these families have been asking for exceptionally high tariffs on imported goods until their own businesses became more competitive.

In 10 years they have been unable to modernize, Preval said. Now, for them, it is sudden death. We have gone beyond reasonable delays.