Saturday, March 11, 2017

René Préval obituary

René Préval obituary

President of Haiti who managed to bring a measure of tranquillity to a country besieged by poverty and violence

By Michael Deibert

The Guardian

(Read original article here)

René Préval, who has died at the age of 74, will be remembered as the only president in Haiti’s history who twice turned power over to a democratically elected successor in a country marked by coups and political strife.

Haiti’s leaders are often defined by their grandiose tastes and a love of the sound of their own voices, but Préval’s style was understated. Whereas some previous Haitian rulers would hold court seated on what resembled a golden throne, Préval’s ethos was better summed up by the time he arrived at the border town of Belladère on the back of a motorcycle-taxi to tell residents that his goal for the country was peace.

René was born in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, the son of Claude Préval, who had served as a government minister. He was raised in the northern agricultural town of Marmelade before departing to study agronomy in Belgium and eventually living in New York for a time. During that era, Haiti groaned under the dictatorship of François Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude.

Upon his return to Haiti, Préval worked at the capital’s airport for a time before founding a bakery for poor people with the civil society leader Michèle Pierre-Louis, who later served as prime minister. The bakery supplied bread to a radical young priest named Jean-Bertrand Aristide in the capital’s La Saline slum, and Préval became active in the democratic movement that succeeded in removing the younger Duvalier from power in 1986.

In 1991, when Aristide became Haiti’s first democratically elected president he appointed Préval prime minister, only to be overthrown in a military coup seven months later. The pair spent three years in exile until democracy was restored thanks to a US-led military intervention, Operation Uphold Democracy. Aristide was returned to power, and in 1996 Préval succeeded him.
His first term was marked by attempts at agrarian reform, furious political battles with opposition politicians and a series of assassinations, culminating in that of Préval’s closest friend and adviser, the journalist Jean Léopold Dominique, in April 2000. Succeeded in 2001 by Aristide, whose chaotic and despotic rule was truncated by his overthrow after three years, Préval took over from an unelected interim government in 2006 and, against all odds, managed to bring a measure of tranquillity to a country divided between heavily armed partisans and opponents of the former president.

Préval was perhaps unique in that he represented a figure in whom many sides of Haiti’s stratified nation, from the rich in their villas above Port-au-Prince to those in the slums, felt they had a representative. Shortly before he took office for the second time, he spoke to reporters in his sister’s backyard and told them that Haiti was like a bottle which must rest on its broad base to be secure, because resting on its narrow mouth (ie the presidency and the country’s elite) it would topple over and shatter.

An adroit dealmaker, Préval maintained convivial relations with world leaders as diverse as George W Bush and Hugo Chávez as he sought to court investment and stabilise political institutions in Haiti. While he was in office, the press went about its business unfettered and the police, so often used as a private army by his predecessors, operated with relative independence.

Despite his subdued style, Préval was hardly naive, displaying a Machiavellian grasp of Haiti’s political factions – sometimes opportunistically overlapping, sometimes bitterly competing – that allowed him to stay several steps ahead of those who periodically wanted to remove him from power. He was capable of betraying old friends in the name of political expediency and showed little appetite for holding his predecessors to account for their crimes.

When an earthquake devastated the capital and its environs, killing more 300,000 people, in 2010 Préval appeared at times paralysed by shock, leading many of his rivals to call for his resignation. (Préval himself had had a narrow escape: he had just been about to go into his home when the earthquake hit.)

In 2011 he turned over the reins to his successor, the singer Michel Martelly – whose stage name had been Sweet Micky – an opposition figure who nonetheless publicly said that he came to rely on Préval’s counsel during his time in office. Préval returned to Marmelade, where he worked on projects which included an agricultural co-operative, an education centre and a juice factory. His last public appearance was at the investiture of Haiti’s new president, Jovenel Moïse, a few weeks before Préval died.

His first wife was Solange Lafontant, a bookseller. They divorced, and in 1997 he married Guerda Benoit, who worked in the country’s foreign ministry. They also divorced, and in 2009 he married Elisabeth Débrosse Delatour, the widow of the former governor of the country’s central bank and one of Préval’s economic advisers.

She survives him along with two daughters from his first marriage, Dominique and Patricia, two sons and three sisters.
 
René Garcia Préval, politician, born 17 January 1943; died 3 March 2017

Monday, February 13, 2017

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

A few notes on the Miami-Dade County Board of County Commissioners meeting



What I witnessed yesterday at the Miami-Dade County Board of County Commissioners meeting was a disgrace and an affront to democracy.

In a packed house, as citizen after citizen rose to voice to their opposition to the city's collaboration with the Trump administration's nakedly racist policies targeting immigrants, Muslims and others - and to express that there are now whole communities in Miami that are living in fear - the speakers were consistently cut off and silenced by Commissioner Esteban L. Bovo, Jr., who presided over the meeting with the glittering arrogance of colonial proconsul addressing his imperial subjects. 

As voter after voter spoke - some removed from the Chamber by Bovo even though they were no way being disruptive, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez ignored the proceedings entirely, standing off to one side laughing and joking with his cronies. The dynamic finally erupted into a walkout and protest by many of those assembled (including me).

For those interested who would like to see video confirmation of my story, I posted three videos of the meeting and the aftermath that I took with my phone here.

The Miami-Dade County Board of County Commissioners has clearly forgotten who they work, so I suggest from here on out we remind them, not just on voting day but at every meeting henceforth. They work for us, the city of Miami, and we always have been and remain a city and a county of immigrants and a refuge for the persecuted, all the stronger for our diversity. 

This will not pass. Ni un paso atrás.



Sunday, February 05, 2017

Havana Nocturne

Havana Nocturne, photo by me.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Some Monday thoughts from a fading democracy


 Protest at Thomas Paine Plaza, Philadelphia, 26 January 2017. Photo credit: Ben Deibert.

I think we are in a very dangerous moment in the United States at present.

There are clearly yawning fissures within and between our institutions - the Executive, the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the judiciary - that should worry any clear-eyed observer, especially given the fact that Steven Bannon (who, don't forget, is a former Navy officer) is exercising so much control over Trump.

The fact that CBP (whose union, remember, endorsed Trump and whose more moderate leader was ousted once he took office) brazenly ignored a valid court order for hours and treated attorneys and even elected officials like Cory Booker with scorn when they tried to intervene, even invoking Trump's name in the process, has, to my knowledge, never happened before. 

Also, make no mistake, both the Muslim Ban and the omission of Jews on Holocaust Memorial Day feed into white nationalist narrative that Bannon promotes (which is in no way undercut by the happenstance Jewishness of Trump's son in law). 

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio mentioned yesterday if this is where Trump is starting, imagine where the government is heading. And imagine what their response will be when the next terrorist attack happens (and it will). I fully expect unprecedented attacks on the judiciary, the free press, the separation of powers, and I think people need to be prepared for the worst. Looking at all the signs and based on my years of reporting on politics abroad, I fear there is a strong chance this could get violent before it's all over. 

I wish I had better news for you, I'm sorry...

Love to you all,

M

Saturday, January 28, 2017

To my progressive friends: Common ground with your erstwhile conservative foes

Dear progressive friends: There ARE some conservatives and GOP folks who, to varying degrees, see Trump for what he is and realize the danger he poses. These may be people I don't agree with on a lot of issues, but on this they have (thus far ) been fairly sober when it comes to the unique peril the nation currently finds itself in. Among those I would suggest following (Twitter handles after their names):

-Senator John McCain, @SenJohnMcCain
-Senator Lindsey Graham, @LindseyGrahamSC
-Senator Rob Portman, @senrobportman
-Senator Susan Collins, @SenatorCollins
-Senator Jeff Flake, @JeffFlake  
-Gov. John Kasich, @JohnKasich
-David Frum, @davidfrum
-John Weaver, @JWGOP
-Ana Navarro, @ananavarro
-Jonah Goldberg, @JonahNRO
-David French, @DavidAFrench
-Bill Kristol, @BillKristol
-George F. Will, @GeorgeWill
-David Brooks, @nytdavidbrooks
-Eliot A Cohen, @EliotACohen
-Max Boot, @MaxBoot  
-Evan McMullin, @Evan_McMullin

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I know there are issues (choice, the meaning of the 2nd amendment) on which I and these individuals would strongly disagree. But if there is one thing I have seen about despots in my 20 years as a journalist covering them (and make no mistake, that is where we are heading), it is that it takes a broad based coalition to bring them down, not a sectarian one. It is going to take bridge building on all sides for the country to get through this in one piece, and even then I think it will be a challenge like we haven't faced since the Great Depression or the Civil War. Before liberals or conservatives, Democrats or Republicans, we must now act as Americans.

Fight Trump every day.

Never give up.

L'union fait la force.