Ouster of prime minister threatens Haitian economic campaign

Stability had been part of pitch to foreign investors

SAW PROMISE Michele Pierre-Louis was hopeful foreign investment would ‘better the lives of the Haitian population.’ SAW PROMISE
Michele Pierre-Louis was hopeful foreign investment would ‘better the lives of the Haitian population.’
By Jonathan M. Katz
Associated Press / October 31, 2009

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - Lawmakers ousted the prime minister yesterday in a power struggle that threatens to undermine a campaign to attract foreign investment to the impoverished country.

Michele Pierre-Louis was removed when 18 of 29 senators voted for censure and dissolved the Cabinet. Most of the votes against the prime minister came from President Rene Preval’s Lespwa movement, which took control of the Senate after winning June elections.

Critics accused Pierre-Louis of failing to do enough to alleviate poverty, though the vote also reflects a struggle among senators for leadership roles as some position themselves for possible runs for president next year.

“She doesn’t have social and economic policies. It’s the Inter-American Development Bank and World Bank that are making economic decisions,’’ said Senator Joseph Lambert.

Pierre-Louis took office in September 2008 as Haiti was being pummeled by four tropical storms and hurricanes that killed nearly 800 people, left tens of thousands homeless, and caused $1 billion in damage.

An educator who headed the Haitian branch of philanthropist George Soros’s Open Society Institute, she filled a post that had been vacant for five months after senators dismissed her predecessor during riots over the high cost of food.

Jean-Max Bellerive, the minister of planning and external cooperation and an economist, is President Rene Preval’s nominee to be Haiti’s next premier, Preval said in a statement addressed to parliament.

In the past five years, politically tumultuous Haiti has ousted a president in a bloody rebellion and has gone through five prime ministers.

The removal of Pierre-Louis comes as former President Bill Clinton, a UN special envoy to Haiti, has been trying to assure international investors that the country has regained stability.

Pierre-Louis alluded to that campaign in a letter to the Senate announcing she would not attend the debate on her ouster.

“At a time when efforts are underway for Haiti to join the international community and it has possibilities of investment, national and international, to better the lives of the Haitian population . . . my government decides not to participate in this hearing,’’ she wrote.

Her refusal to attend angered some lawmakers. “It is an insult that she decided not to come,’’ said Senator John Joel Joseph, a member of Lespwa.

Pierre-Louis was nominated by Preval, but is not part of Lespwa, which is not a traditional party but an organization that supports the president.

Debate raged for more than nine hours, with senators storming out of the room, accusing one another of carrying weapons, and marching in the aisle of the narrow chamber as Kelly Bastien, the Senate’s president, rang a silver bell to call for order.