Smarck Michel, a respected Haitian businessman who briefly served as prime minister of Haiti soon after a 1994 U.S.-led invasion restored democratic order to the country, died Saturday at his Port-au-Prince home after a battle with brain cancer. He was 75.
“His passing is a great loss for Haiti at a moment when the country is in great need of qualified models who can inspire the new generation,” former Haiti Prime Minister Gerard Latortue said.
Latortue, who lives in Palm Beach County and served as prime minister from 2004-2006, praised Michel’s, “integrity, his high moral values, his patriotism and his sense of serving the public interest using the best human resources available inside or outside of Haiti.”
Both Haitian President Michel Martelly and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe offered condolences to the family.
“The president of the Republic and the Haitian people are very grateful for the work done by Mr. Smarck Michel,” Haiti’s national palace said.
Born Georges Jean-Jacques Smarck Michel in St. Marc, a city north of Port-au-Prince, Michel was tapped by former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in November 1994 to serve as prime minister after Aristide was returned to power in a U.S.-led invasion. At the time the decision was well received as Michel, a longtime Aristide allay, was also a respected businessman.
He later faced strong opposition and ambivalence from Aristide as he sought to reform Haiti’s economy by privatizing nine key state enterprises. He later resigned in October 1995, despite international community’s pleas that he remain.
“He’s not a politician,” said son Ken Michel, 44. “But when you love your country and you love people, you get drawn into politics because you want to see change. He did it out of love and care for his country.”
That love and fight for a democratic Haiti also earned him the wrath of the Duvalier family dictatorship. He was imprisoned in Haiti’s infamous Fort Dimache prison under the regime, Michel said. When Aristide was forced into exile following a military coup, Michel, an ally of the former-priest turned president, remained in Haiti.
The second of 12 children, Michel’s father was in the Haitian Army, which allowed him to see the country from a very young age. At the age of 19 he left Haiti for New York where he spent two years studying for an associate’s degree.
Over the years, he would open and run several other businesses. He retired in 2010.
“He was a great father, a great friend, a good mentor, a superb businessman of high ethics,” Michel said. “He taught us to love our fellow Haitians, and he taught us to love God and respect God.”
In addition to Michel, the elder Michel is survived by daughters Patricia and Marjorie of Montreal, Canada, and his wife of 53 years, Victoire Marie-Rose. Funeral arrangements are pending.