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Haitian President-elect Preval Visits Canada

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Issue: 36 Section: Canadian News

May 2, 2006

Haitian President-elect Preval Visits Canada

by Dru Oja Jay

by Jean Saint-Vil and Dru Oja Jay

Haitian President-elect René Préval meets with Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brasília in March. photo: José Cruz/ABr
Haitian President-elect René Préval was in Ottawa on Monday, meeting with Governor General Michaëlle Jean, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and Members of Parliament.

On Sunday night, Préval gave an exclusive interview to Créole-language radio shows serving Ottawa's Haitian community. Préval, who previously served as President from 1996 to 2001, was elected in the first elections held in Haiti after a military coup removed thousands of elected officials and replaced them with a US- and Canadian-backed government led by Gerard Latortue. Latortue's rule was characterized by widespread political violence and a flouting of the constitution. In one instance, Latortue dismissed the country's Supreme Court.

During the interview Préval told the Dominion that he intends to govern "a sovereign Haiti" and be nobody's puppet. The President-elect said that the issue of political prisoners in Haiti is a "top priority that needs to be resolved as soon as possible," pointing to the fact that even UN Special envoy Louis Joinet had often commented that prominent leaders of Aristide's party such as Annette Auguste and former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune continue to be unjustly incarcerated. Preval also reiterated his intention to uphold the Haitian Constitution's ban of political exile. Aristide's return to Haiti as a free citizen remains a central and popular demand among pro-democracy advocates in Haiti.

Five days earlier, members of the Ottawa Haiti Solidarity Committee had demanded that NDP foreign affairs critic Alexa McDonnough "help free Preval from the political prisoners and exiles file," stressing that political prisoners should be freed before the sixty-three year old politician takes office.

Two Montréal groups, Résistance Haitienne au Québec and Haiti Action Montréal, used Préval's visit to demand that Prime Minister Harper apologize to the Haitian people for the damage done to Haiti's democracy by Canadian intervention before and after the coup.

Préval said he was optimistic about relations with the US, saying that "good relations" and potential foreign investment in Haiti's textile sector could "create jobs".

Speaking to a Haitian radio audience, Préval touted a 25-year "governability pact" that will prevent Parliamentary gridlock, which was a problem during his previous term in office.

Préval obliquely criticized his unelected predecessor, pointing out that under the Haitian constitution, the President is responsible for state-to-state relations. Though technically Prime Minister, Latortue visited Canada, the US and other countries while the nominal President, Boniface Alexandre, stayed in Haiti.

Préval's election was seen as a rebuke to US- and Canadian-backed political parties, though many observers are taking a wait-and-see approach before assessing the effectiveness of the new government in addressing the needs of the Haiti's overwhelmingly impoverished majority and dealing with western-backed elite groups.

Préval recently raised eyebrows by visiting Venezuela and Cuba, where he discussed deals for preferential pricing for oil and an increase in the number of Cuban doctors in Haiti.

"Relations between Venezuela and the US is their business, not Haiti's," said Préval. "If poor people in the US can negotiate deals with Chavez, then why can't Haitians?" Tensions have been high between the Bush and Chavez administrations in the years following an failed coup that was largely funded by Washington.

Préval will be in Montréal on Tuesday, where he will meet with Québec Premier Jean Charest and speak to members of Montréal's Haitian community.

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