Jocelerme Privert replaces Michel Martelly as Haiti’s President

by Marie Laurette Numa and Kim Ives. Originally posted at Haiti Liberté

Since the Feb. 6 agreement reached between outgoing President Joseph Michel Martelly and the presidents of the Parliament, Jocelerme Privert (Senate) and Cholzer Chancy (Chamber of Deputies), there was no doubt that the interim president would be Jocelerme Privert.

Jocelerme Privert inauguration

Both the 1987 Constitution and the “Group of Eight” (G8) opposition presidential candidates called for a judge of the Supreme Court (Court de Cassation) to fill the presidential vacuum. So the Organization of American States (OAS) – Washington’s “Ministry of Colonial Affairs” – in league with the outgoing Martelly clique and Haiti’s ruling class, had to find a formula with a veneer of legality and compromise. Moreover, they needed an interim president who could act as a fireman to pacify Haiti’s streets while at the same time neutralizing Haiti’s formal and informal opposition groups, particularly the G8.

Since Feb. 7, when Martelly handed the presidential sash to Privert (then President of the National Assembly), the theatre in the halls of power is just to blunt and bluff the revolutionary upsurge that has been boiling across Haiti and assure a smooth transfer of from one neo-colonial regime to another. The majority of parliamentarians came to their seats through the same violent, fraudulent elections of Aug. 9 and Oct. 25, 2015 that have sent the masses into the streets demanding their annulment. So the supposedly democratic “debate” in this rump Parliament is only to fool the naive, silence the recalcitrant, and open the door to haggling for ever-coveted ministerial posts.

What drama they were able to generate with a very tight first vote in the Parliament! In the Senate, Privert got 13 votes and Edgar Leblanc Fils, of the Struggling People’s Organization (OPL), 10. Among the Deputies, Privert got 45 votes and Leblanc got 46. There was one blank ballot and not one vote for Déjean Bélizaire, a former Senate president in 1991 before the coup d’état against former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Suddenly and inexplicably, in the second vote of the 50th Legislature on the night of Feb. 13-14, everything changed in favor of Privert, who received 77 votes, to Leblanc’s 33 and only 2 for Bélizaire.

Now, according to the Feb. 6 accord, “the mandate of the Temporary President lasts up to 120 days from the date of installation,” which was Feb. 14. “Where appropriate, the National Assembly [both Parliamentary houses] will take the appropriate measures.” In other words, all power has been given to the rump Parliament.

New elections have been projected for Apr. 24, and a new president’s inauguration for May 14, but that schedule can only legally be established by an independent Provisional Electoral Council (CEP). The fact that Privert’s mandate is for 120 days instead of 90 seems to confirm what everyone suspects: the process of rebooting Haiti’s elections is going to take longer than anticipated.

For many Haitians, Privert is seen as close to Aristide’s Lavalas Family party, because he was Interior Minister under Aristide’s Prime Minister Yvon Neptune in the days leading up to the Feb. 29, 2004 coup d’état. Both Privert and Neptune ended up spending about two years without trial in the National Penitentiary after being accused by Haiti’s post-coup government of directing the supposed “La Scierie Massacre” in St. Marc in February 2004. The allegations of that massacre have been discredited by United Nations investigators, among others.

However, after his release from prison, Privert became an advisor to former President René Préval and then a six-year senator for Préval’s party, Lespwa.

Furthermore, Privert began his career as an official in the tax collection agency (DGI) of dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier in the 1980s and represented the Haitian state at a 1992 International Monetary Fund (IMF) colloquium in Washington, DC on the neo-liberal reform of Haiti’s economy.

Therefore, it is clearly too hasty to say that Privert’s will be a “Lavalas government.”

“It is true that Privert is seen as a moderate of the Lavalas people, and I’m not sure how much of his relationship is still with Aristide or whether his relationship is more with Préval,” said Dr. François Pierre-Louis, a long-time Haitian activist and professor at CUNY’s Queens College, in an interview with The Real News.

Pierre-Louis also points out that during his time as a senator, Privert “worked well with Martelly. Do not underestimate the relationship Privert may have had with Martelly, because … Privert was very helpful in helping Martelly on a series of domestic agenda issues.”

Indeed, Privert never publicly criticized President Martelly and even sat next to Martelly and Haitian Archbishop Chibly Langlois during the signing of the infamous El Rancho political accord in March 2014.

As a result, Pierre-Louis warns, “we still have to wait to see if this compromise of Privert being interim president comes out of a pact between Martelly and some sector of the Lavalas movement.”

Especially in a de facto regime, the president is principally a symbolic position, except that he does choose the prime minister, who wields state power. Therefore, it is certain that Washington is most concerned about who the prime minister will be. Some of the leading contenders are Evans Paul, Martelly’s last prime minister, Mirlande Manigat, the center-right presidential candidate who lost to Martelly in 2011, and Edgar Leblanc Fils, whose party, the OPL, has historically been fiercely opposed to Aristide and the Lavalas Family.

The supreme irony in this scenario is that the G8 and the Lavalas Family originally condemned the OAS-brokered Parliamentary “solution” which trumped the Constitution and G8’s proposal. However, on Feb. 14, almost all of the opposition parties had delegations at Privert’s swearing-in ceremony at the National Palace. The Lavalas Family even sent its presidential candidate Dr. Maryse Narcisse accompanied by Aristide’s wife, Mildred Trouillot Aristide. (Former Sen. Moïse Jean-Charles declared on Feb. 15 that high-ranking members of his party, Dessalines Children, were at the ceremony “on their own” and not representing the party. Dessalines Children is a central, if not the principal, component of the G8.)

Also in attendance at the ceremony were the ambassadors of the U.S.-led “Core Group” and the United Nations occupation force, MINUSTAH. Is it possible for genuinely anti-occupation pro-democracy pro-sovereignty opposition figures to applaud the same solution that imperialist representatives do?

Later on Feb. 15, the G8 put out a statement saying it “has followed with interest the scandalous procedure observed by a ‘national assembly’ performed outside the constitutional framework to achieve the election of the interim president.”

The rump Parliament’s move, with OAS backing, “is an attempt to trivialize the victory of Haiti’s people on Jan. 22, 2016 where the anti-democratic forces were forced to back down on their plan to complete a flawed electoral process not respecting the verdict of the polls. It is a clear desire to swallow the results of the 2015 elections. “The G-8 said that the present crisis, far from being a mere presidential succession crisis, is a deep crisis that reflects the disadvantaged masses’ refusal to be excluded from the country’s political life.

“The eruption of the masses on the political scene as a major player reflects their rejection of a spent system. Any attempt to force the Haitian people to accept the unacceptable can only be a thorn that might aggravate the crisis.”

The G8 note was signed only by Samuel Madistin, the presidential candidate of the Popular Movement of the Dessalinien Opposition (MOPOD), as was the case for the G8’s transition proposal in late January.

The huge demonstrations which were a constant over the past three weeks have now died down, which means the Privert gambit has worked so far. But one should expect protest will flare again soon as Washington’s game becomes clear. The nascent revolutionary organizations emerging from the Haitian masses say they will continue to organize and prepare for the months of struggle ahead and are urging the masses to rely on their own strength, not follow the often opportunist agenda of political candidates mostly concerned with securing a salary, jobs for their friends, and a state vehicle.