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28456: Hermantin(News)Interim prime minister's turbulent term ends quietly (fwd)
From: leonie hermantin <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Interim prime minister's turbulent term ends quietly
By James Gordon Meek
New York Daily News
June 11, 2006
BOCA RATON · On his last day as Haiti's interim prime minister, Gerard Latortue
gently rocked in a hand-carved chair in his modest home and whooped happily at
a big-screen TV as Ecuador trounced Poland in the World Cup.
Unlike most former Haitian leaders, Latortue left Port-au-Prince last month on
two feet and without an armed gang in hot pursuit.
The New York Daily News joined Latortue, 71, on Friday as his turbulent,
26-month term as Haiti's leader ended quietly.
"I'm proud to say my mission was completed," he said.
After getting word that Jacques-Edouard Alexis had been sworn in as Haiti's new
prime minister, the Secret Service detail that guarded Latortue in the United
States packed up its guns, radios, anti-toxin kits and panic buttons and bade
Left to watch TV in his alabaster living room, the man tapped by a U.S.-backed
council of Haitian elder statesmen in 2004 to lead the tiny Caribbean nation
after the U.S.-backed ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide seemed glad to
be relieved of power.
"I am finally free!" he exclaimed giddily, relishing his first night out to a
restaurant in more than two years without bodyguards.
Haiti's new 18-member Cabinet, composed of members from six political parties,
was sworn in Friday, The Associated Press reported.
Though Latortue has been criticized for failing to stop Haiti's bloodshed or
curb rampant corruption, U.S. experts credit the retired U.N. economist with
something unheard of in 202 years since Haiti's independence: He oversaw an
election that peacefully brought to power a man from the opposite political
extreme, President René Préval.
His tenure also was remarkable by Haitian political standards for his personal
honesty, his refusal to sanction violence and his simply walking away from
power after creating the machinery for an open election.
Latortue recalled waking at 3 a.m. on Feb. 7 to find his countrymen standing in
long lines to vote -- without a shot fired.
"I almost cried. I did not expect that to happen at all," Latortue said softly.
Among the accomplishments Latortue cites were firing corrupt customs officers
and police and taking steps to help free the civil service of political
cronyism. He claimed unequaled cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement
Administration on counternarcotics efforts, got $1.3 billion in foreign aid and
enlisted European Union support to rebuild roads.
He eliminated the discretionary spending -- once a key source of bribery and
embezzlement funds -- that was more than half the Haitian budget two years ago.
But though even Latortue's detractors praise his economic policies, they point
to a rash of kidnappings and a Justice Ministry "witch hunt" against Aristide
supporters during his tenure.
"On some issues, Latortue cooperated with the international community, but on
other issues he was an obstacle," said Mark Schneider of the International
Crisis Group, an independent organization based in Belgium.
Latortue admitted the Justice Ministry was "the worst," and said he's
"embarrassed" that Yvon Neptune, Aristide's former prime minister, is still in
The greatest blow to Latortue's credibility was his security chief, a "distant
cousin" and reputed drug runner named Youri Latortue.
U.S. and French diplomats advised him to dump Youri Latortue, known to some as
"Mr. 30 percent" for the kickbacks he allegedly pocketed. But the leader
refused. He argued that in a nation of political assassinations he could trust
Latortue now concedes he was shady and "distanced" himself from his cousin when
he ran and won a Senate seat in February.
"He did provide me first-class security," Latortue said. "Everybody feared him.
The people who wanted to kill me confessed that, if he was not here, it would
have been easy to kill me."
U.S. officials agree he probably would be dead if not for his cousin, said to
be a CIA informant.
Despite the criticism, Latortue is at peace with the end of his turn in power.
And venturing out to a Cuban restaurant in Boca Raton on Friday night, he was
greeted as a returning hero by Haitian kitchen workers.
"You have to be a real man to do such a great job," one said.
Copyright © 2006, South Florida Sun-Sentinel