Haiti’s Prime Minister Quits After 4 Months
By Randal C. Archibold, New York Times, Feb 24, 2012
Haiti, whose recovery from the January 2010 earthquake has been stalled in part by political turmoil, has been dealt yet another setback with the resignation on Friday of its prime minister after weeks of mounting tension with President Michel Martelly and his cabinet.
The prime minister, Garry Conille, who served for only four months, was Mr. Martelly’s third choice and the only one who met with approval from a Parliament dominated by political opposition. At the time, his appointment was seen as an important compromise, endorsed by former President Bill Clinton, to help jump-start foreign investment and $4.5 billion in promised aid. Only half of that has been delivered by international donors squeamish about Haiti’s political instability.
Diplomats trying to quicken the pace of rebuilding saw the crisis brewing with growing worry — on Thursday, the head of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti called for all parties to work things out — but apparently could do little to stop it.
Mr. Martelly and Mr. Conille had long had an awkward relationship. Mr. Martelly, who campaigned on shaking up the system, saw Mr. Conille as too bureaucratic and officious, while Mr. Conille, who runs the day-to-day operations of government and answers to Parliament, began complying more with its members’ demands, at the expense of angering ministers. Their tension, a kind of tradition in Haiti with a revolving door of prime ministers in years past, began spilling out in public. Mr. Conille, who did not respond to requests for comment, had insisted on an audit of millions of dollars in post-quake contracts from the previous administration, while Mr. Martelly’s office balked, saying the country needed to move forward.
A few weeks ago, according to Western diplomats and government officials, Mr. Martelly angrily interrupted a private meeting that Mr. Conille was conducting with Parliament members, suggesting they were collaborating against him. How explicitly Mr. Martelly showed his anger is in dispute, but, while playing down the tension to reporters later, he conceded there was yelling.
A Parliament commission is investigating whether government officials hold other nationalities, which the Constitution bars for their positions, and Mr. Conille, over Mr. Martelly’s objections, had pressed administration officials to submit passports and other documents. Mr. Martelly has been dogged by rumors he has an American passport, which would disqualify him as president.
Damian Merlo, a senior adviser to the president, said Mr. Martelly was once a legal resident of the United States but surrendered his green card to the embassy before he took office in May. “The president does not have, nor has had, U.S. citizenship,” he said Friday.
It was unclear when Mr. Martelly would appoint a new prime minister, amid speculation that he would turn to his foreign minister, Laurent Lamothe, or another cabinet member. Mr. Martelly, in a brief address to the nation Friday night, said he would act quickly to replace Mr. Conille, saying he regretted the departure came “when the country is taking off.”
“Both domestic and foreign partners who want to invest in the country and create jobs, I ask them to remain calm,’’ he said.
Mr. Martelly has said coping with an opposition Parliament has been one of the hardest adjustments to his job, but political analysts said it was bound to happen, given the president’s career as a bandleader not used to having his orders challenged. Some analysts wondered whether he would await the possibility of a more favorable Parliament in May elections before submitting his choice of Mr. Conille’s successor for approval. “President Martelly, as an artist, leads our country also as such,” said Jean-Junior Joseph, a blogger and former aide to prime ministers. “When no one expects, he has the ability to twist things around artistically in his favor while the band keeps moving on.”
Still, diplomats urged Mr. Martelly and Parliament to move quickly, with so much at stake for the country, where chronic poverty persists and half a million people displaced by the quake still live in tent camps. “We continue to believe that political stability in Haiti is critical to its ability to attract the domestic and foreign investments needed to increase economic development and create jobs,” the United States Embassy said.