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The President of Haiti and the concept of leadership - Par : Jean H Charles

dimanche 14 mars 2010 par William Toussaint

The President of Haiti and the concept of leadership

Published on Saturday, March 13, 2010

By Jean H Charles

The earthquake of January 12, 2010 that shook Port au Prince and its surrounding areas could not find a country so ill prepared for such catastrophe as the Republic of Haiti. It has no building code enforcement mechanism, property insurance is not mandatory ; squatting on public land (and on private property) by internal migrants is not prevented by public authority and the Haitian government has failed to heed the advice of national and international experts in preparing its people for elementary steps to be taken in case of an earthquake disaster.

Countless people have died because they have rushed into crumbling buildings thinking they were facing the end of this earth. By contrast, similar or stronger earthquakes in San Francisco, have produced only 64 deaths, and in Chile 200 deaths. Haiti may have more than 500.000 deaths, making this disaster one of the most devastating events in modern history !

It is as such, proper and fit to look into the leadership style of the Haitian government, in particular its president, Rene Preval, to understand why there is such a large discrepancy in the protection of life and lamb in Haiti. I have met President Preval twice in my life. I met him some five years ago, when he was out of power (Preval has been president of Haiti twice) in the bucolic village of Marmelade where he retreated after his first term as president. I was the guest of one of the advisers of former President Jean Bertrand Aristide on his trip to Marmelade as the village was celebrating its patron Saint, Mary Magdalena. My friend was representing the president at the official Catholic mass in the village fiesta.

After the ceremony, friends and officials were invited to the president’s parental home for what I was expecting to be a small gathering with some coffee, Haitian patties and the customary pumpkin soup. To my distress, Preval (not president then) did not offer anything to his guests. I later presented to Mr. Preval my congratulations for dotting his village with the rudiments of good living that I am expecting to see in all the other villages of Haiti : a good school, access to internet, paved streets, a bamboo furniture factory. I suggested to him that such aura of welfare should be extended to the other two surrounding villages of Dondon and St Michel, creating as such a halo of sustainable growth in the region.

He left me thirsty for an answer or even an explanation of why he could not go further. I met President Preval again last year at a meeting arranged by the Clinton Global Initiative in New York while he was an official guest of the annual Conference. I shared with him the project for the decentralization of Haiti, while using some of the funds of the Petro Caribe dollars (an arrangement where Haiti receives oil from Venezuela below market price with 60% paid up front and 40% financed with a soft loan to be repaid in 25 years at one per cent interest) to initiate such a policy. His non-commitment as well as the non-engagement of his economic advisers is symptomatic of the style of government of President Rene Preval.

The president of Haiti does not understand that the buck stops with him. His most important task is to make decision. He would engage commissions for different tasks, but when the commission is over, the president must decide on one alternative or the other, yet the work of one commission after the other is catalogued into a drawer with no cause for action.

President Rene Preval comes from a middle class family in the northern part of Haiti. His father, Claude Preval, was a competent agronomist with a sterling reputation who scaled the rank of public service to become a Minister of Agriculture under President Paul Magloire. Rene did his elementary studies at George Marc College run by a friend of the family, one of the best mathematicians that Haiti has ever had. He was sent later to Brussels to complete his professional studies. To the deception of his father, young Rene was more interested in Marxist dialectic than in pursuing a regular course of study leading to a professional degree. He enrolled on his own in Lumumba University in Moscow.

On his return to Haiti he tried a bakery business, where he reconnected with some friends from Brussels, in particular Claudette Antoine WerLeigh, who was engaged with Jean Bertrand Aristide in the underground movement to uproot the dictatorial and military regime of the Duvaliers. He was presented to Aristide by Werleigh ; history has it they became like Siamese brothers.

From 1991 until today 2010, in the last twenty years President Rene Preval has occupied one way or the other the seat of power in Haiti. I have again, with permission of a friend, attended a Lavalas-Lewpwa meeting in the town of Terrier Rouge, Haiti, where the members have pledged they would hold power for the next forty years in Haiti.

President Preval’s most important task in ruling Haiti has been to uphold that pledge. No decision is taken without that goal in mind. On his last visit with President Barack Obama last Wednesday, his main request was not to help the millions of Haitians get out of the fetid and horrid tent cities into their ancestral villages with all the amenities that would retain them there ; it was instead to get 100 million dollars to conduct an election where he would manipulate the electoral machine to perpetuate his grip unto power.

President Preval and his Siamese brother Jean Bertrand Arisitide during these last twenty years (20) have managed to sink Haiti into an abyss much deeper than the twin father and son Duvaliers have done in their thirty five (35) years of bad and dictatorial governance. He is proud of two achievements : road building and governance continuity. Yet these trophies are pregnant with the seed of corruption. Employees and government officials known as graft specialists are maintained or promoted. The program of road building is funded through the Petro Caribe trust that the president refuses to put into the regular public treasury account for transparency and accountability.

Leadership is the complex set of character that distinguishes one leader from the other. After the depression of 1929, President Herbert Hoover believed that the government should stay out the personal lives of the citizens, as such prolonging the crisis. By contrast, Franklin D. Roosevelt, upon assuming office in 1933, brought a pro-active leadership, offering a new deal to the American citizens, while instilling into the men and the women of America to live according to their means ; pennies were saved, belts were tightened. His motto : “The only fear we have to fear is fear itself”, resonates again today. The president used the crisis to attack several fronts at the same time, funding to revitalize business, food and shelter for the needy and job creation in the big projects that last again today ; America was reborn, stronger and better.

After the 9/11 attacks, the rest of the world saw itself as American, we thought frivolity was no more a cashable currency but this expression of good will was squandered and not turned into a new blood to push forward the American manifest destiny.

Haiti’s disaster lesson could go to waste if President Preval does not change course in his style of leadership. As President Obama just told President Preval, the country is set for another disaster as the hurricane and the rainy season is on the way. The world cannot continue to look at Haiti with the same detachment that it did in Rwanda or in Burma.

President Preval, as well as his Prime Minister Jean Max Bellerive, keeps complaining about the ill-engagement of the international organizations in Haiti yet the appointment of a strong Minister of Coordination with the NGOs (with a small portion of their funding going towards financing that Ministry) would go a long way in helping service providers and Haitian refugees to receive much needed solace.

A project of decentralization with adequate funding going towards the small villages will propel Haiti into an orbit it has never been in before. An influential member of the Preval government has told me he has not been able to convince the government that he should engage into that path, instead of building the tent cities. The horde of refugees is needed for election time. Buying each vote with a token is easier and preferable to the government than the welfare of each individual.

For those guardians of the status quo in Haiti, the souls of those half a million unnecessary deaths will haunt you at night, scratching your feet and preventing the benefit of a peaceful night while turning your days into a mortal zombie !

As I have said in previous columns before the earthquake, the year 2010 is a turning point for Haiti ; the whole legislative body, all the mayors, and all the sheriffs of the rural villages as well as a new president must be elected.

As goes Haiti, so goes the rest of the world ! It was first to uproot the world order of slavery in 1804 ; it was again first to propagate the people’s revolution of 1986, it was first to start the food riot in 2004, questioning the developed world payback to their agriculture industry ; the chain of earthquakes in this decade has started first with Haiti.

Helping to usher a democratic, fair and competent leader in Haiti, away from the plethora of corrupt, inept and non sensitive Presidents that Haiti have known for the past 60 years, will be the signal that this world is ready to enjoy a string of a better years to come !

About the author:Jean H Charles MSW, JD is Executive Director of AINDOH Inc a non profit organization dedicated to building a kinder and gentle Caribbean zone for all. He can be reached at :

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