HAITI'S NEW PRESIDENT
MARCH 21, 1996
President Rene Preval of Haiti discusses his country's future, his transition to power and U.S.-Haiti relations. Charlayne Hunter-Gault conducts the interview.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Rene Preval, who became President of Haiti a month ago, is in Washington for a meeting with President Clinton and other officials. For the leader of a small, impoverished Caribbean nation, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, he's receiving a big welcome. President Preval succeeded Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was put back into office with the help of American troops in 1994. The Americans are mostly gone, and the remaining United Nations forces are expected to leave soon. But there are still many issues between Haiti and the United States which Mr. Preval was here to discuss. I talked with him this afternoon.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: President Preval, thank you for joining us.
PRESIDENT RENE PREVAL, Haiti: (speaking through interpreter) Thank you for this opportunity that you're giving me to talk to the Haitian people and to the American people.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: This was your first call as President of Haiti on the President of the United States. How would you describe the meeting?
PRESIDENT PREVAL: (speaking through interpreter) This meeting was an opportunity for me to exchange with President Clinton, the American President, ideas on problems concerning two countries. First, I thanked him, through him, I thanked the American people for their contribution for the restoration of democracy in Haiti. And then we discussed problems regarding the two countries.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: He said in the meeting that he was very hopeful, his hope was propelled in part by the peaceful transition of power, which resulted in your election. Are you as hopeful as he?
PRESIDENT PREVAL: (speaking through interpreter) Like President Clinton, we are much encouraged by the fact that for the first time in Haiti an elected President has succeeded another elected President. This is the first time this has happened in the history of Haiti. It is our interest to work together--the American people, the Haitian people, the American government, and the Haitian government--for the installation of democracy in Haiti which will be also very good for the United States, because when things don't go well in the U.S.--when things don't go well in Haiti, people leave Haiti to go to the shores of the U.S., so we have common interests.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: You talked about say the things you talked with the President about needing help from America. What priorities did you speak of to the President?
PRESIDENT PREVAL: (speaking through interpreter) Our priority right now is that democracy must be strengthened by economic progress. The first thing that we are trying to reach is the increase of the national production, especially agricultural production. We have discussed various aspects of agricultural production, and also production in general. What is important for us is not the assistance, it is the necessity to create a climate so that we can have investments, private investments in Haiti, Haitians, as well as foreign investments in Haiti.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: So what did you ask specifically for from the President?
PRESIDENT PREVAL: (speaking through interpreter) First, technical assistance to help us undertake the reforms of the public administration in finances and on privatization, also assistance to--for the balance of payment and to balance our budget, and finally, compensation, also compensation for the people who will have to be turned away by public administration, we need compensation for those people who will be fired, also assistance for the development of infrastructures in Haiti, especially telecommunications, and power, energy, and also public safety, so that we can have that climate that will encourage investors both from Haiti and abroad to come with their capital in Haiti.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And what kind of response did you get from the President on that very large ticket?
PRESIDENT PREVAL: (speaking through interpreter) You know that the United States has its-- has limits on its financial capacities, and within those limits, those constraints, President Clinton will do everything in his power to help us strengthen our economy and public safety in our country.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: How did you deal with the issue of aid, which the United States and the international community has either stopped or slowed to a trickle, because of what they perceive as Haiti's inability to put a plan in place for privatization. Did you work that out?
PRESIDENT PREVAL: (speaking through interpreter) Privatization is a necessity. It was not well explained to the population. The fruit was there, it was not ripe yet. Now, we have explained the necessity of privatization to the Haitian people. The Haitian people have understood, and now we're going to move in that direction. And we must do it quickly, since the international donors will see their fiscal year end on June 30th. We're not doing privatization just because we are under pressure. We're doing it because we think it's a good thing. We think that the private sector is a better manager than the state.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: So that the President, did he tell you that the money would be released? I mean, was he satisfied with what you told him about your pending efforts to move towards privatization quickly?
PRESIDENT PREVAL: (speaking through interpreter) Not only was the President satisfied with that, but his team, the U.S. aid team and people from the IMF, or World Bank, whom we have already met and whom we will meet officially tomorrow morning, are satisfied.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: How do you assess Haiti's capacity to preserve order now that most of the U.S. troops have left and most of the U.S.--the international forces will be leaving, I believe, in the Spring, because that's a necessary precondition to the stability that you talked about?
PRESIDENT PREVAL: (speaking through interpreter) The main factor for trouble in Haiti is not there anymore. It was the Haitian army. It was the essential thing. We have replaced it with a very young police force, and that will have to improve its training in its areas of intervention, as well as equipment. We expect to--we're thinking of using periods while the men are in Haiti, we will reinforce that police force. But, first of all, it's an economic question. The population must have the hope that democracy has brought some economic future for them, and secondly, we must organize the gathering of all political forces that are for democracy and to stop those who are against democracy, and then we will discuss, we will see the police question. The police question is the last factor.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: How do you respond to those who don't approve of President Clinton's policy towards Haiti of releasing any money at all to your country and who, in fact, feel that his efforts in Haiti have come to nothing?
PRESIDENT PREVAL: (speaking through interpreter) They are wrong because the efforts of President Clinton have brought democracy back to Haiti, stability is being reinforced. We had legislative and presidential elections, and as I just said, this is the first time that an elected President has succeeded another elected President. Democracy is not an easy thing. It is a process that must be built. It's a struggle that we cannot achieve in--overnight without--without problems.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Finally, Mr. President, in the few seconds that we have left, when you were prime minister briefly, you had a plan to transform Haitian society by redistributing the wealth from the small Haitian mulatto elite to the masses of the people, and that, of course, led to the coup that ousted President Aristide in this long siege of non-democracy in your country. Do you have any such plans now?
PRESIDENT PREVAL: (speaking through interpreter) We never had a plan to redistribute the wealth of the elite to the masses, to the population. We had a plan to give equal opportunity to all by asking everyone to pay the taxes and asking them to respect the rules of the game and by giving an equal chance to everyone to penetrate the economic sector. We never thought and it's not in our plan to date to redistribute the wealth of the, of the--wealth to the other people.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Briefly now, do you regard the aristocracy as allies, or what?
PRESIDENT PREVAL: (speaking through interpreter) Everybody must respect the rules of the game. I'm not asking people to be my allies or not. They have to respect the state of rule and the condition and the laws of Haiti.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, Mr. President, thank you for joining us and all the best.
PRESIDENT PREVAL: (speaking through interpreter) I thank you, thank you very much.