Minister of Health Florence Duperval Guillaume has been designated as interim prime minister to replace Laurent Lamothe, who resigned a week ago Saturday.
Guillaume’s designation was announced in an email signed by Enex Jean-Charles, the secretary of the council of ministers, that was circulated among cabinet members late Saturday and early Sunday. Jean-Charles confirmed the news to the Herald.
As the minister of health, Guillaume,a physician by training, has been leading the transformation of the country's health ministry, which is the only Haitian ministry that receives some direct U.S. funding. She has the confidence and support of First Lady Sophia Martelly, who has long been an advocate for improving health services.
Over the last eight years, Haiti has seen tremendous improvements in maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS and the combating of cholera, Guillaume said in a recent Herald interview.
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She is currently overseeing the reconstruction of the country's main public hospital, which was partially destroyed in the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake. The hospital's construction is being financed by France, the United States and the Haitian government.
Her temporary appointment comes as President Michel Martelly continues to meet with opposition groups to negotiate a new government while seeking to unblock a worsening political crisis by implementing the recommendations of a 10-page report by a presidential commission.
The commission recommended a series of far-reaching measures, including the resignation of Lamothe, in hopes of preventing a deepening of the political crisis, which has led to growing anti-government protests throughout the country, and a reversal of U.S. policy.
The U.S. State Department has said that it supports the commission’s recommendations, and last week Secretary of State John Kerry urged all sides to find a consensus solution to the crisis.
Since his 2011 election, Martelly has been at loggerheads with the opposition, which has accused him of corruption and violating the constitution. On the streets, protesters complain that life is becoming tougher despite new roads, buildings under construction and the many official overseas trips in private jets.
Adding to the deepening crisis are the long overdue legislative and local elections, which both sides accuse the other of dragging their feet on, and accusations that Lamothe was campaigning for the presidency on the public dime. Lamothe has denied that he was a presidential candidate.
Sen. Edo Zenny, a Martelly supporter, said the president will have to find a prime minister who is neither of his party nor the opposition, but “someone in the middle.”
“What the country needs is a political deal,” he said.
Martelly has said he will announce a short list of candidates on Monday.
The internal note that circulated among the cabinet did not say how long Guillaume, one of the more respected and capable members of the goverment, will be in her new temporary role. She comes into the job at a difficult time. Haiti is not only facing the ongoing anti-government protests calling for Martelly’s resignation, and which have spread beyond the capital, but also a budget shortfall as imports and world oil prices drop.
At the same time, the head of the country’s leading human rights organizations, Pierre Esperance, is raising the alarm about what he fears are efforts to free a suspected kidnapping kingpin, Woodley Ethéart (aka Sonson La Familia), and members of his alleged gang.
He fears that Haiti’s dysfunctional judiciary will try to release the suspected criminals as the justice ministry implements one of the commission’s recommendations, the release of “political prisoners.”
“One of the biggest concerns we have is that we know very well that certain preparations are being made right now for them to free Sonson La Familia’s gang, and Sonson La Familia,” said Esperance, executive director the National Human Rights Defense Network.
Esperance said amid the political uncertainty of recent weeks, Ethéart was transferred from one jail to another with no explanation, meetings have been held inside the prison with him and gang members, and lawyers are working on circumventing the investigative judge on his case in favor of a more sympathetic judge.
“We are encouraging all of the sectors who are denouncing the deviation of Martelly to remain vigilant because there was a lot of effort made by [Lamothe] to combat the mafia sector close to the presidency like drug traffickers and kidnappers,” Esperance said.
Esperance said while his group has been critical of Martelly and Lamothe, especially in areas of justice and human rights, one has to recognize Lamothe’s efforts to go after kidnappers and drug traffickers regardless of their alleged ties to the palace through his support to the judicial police. Ethéart is said to be a close associate of one of Martelly’s brother-in-laws.
“I am not talking about the professionalism of the police,” Esperance said, noting that is still needed. “But support to combat organized crimes like kidnapping.”
According to the the human rights network, 37 of 40 “political prisoners” have been released so far on the instructions of Martelly. They include two brothers, Enold and Josué Florestal, who were jailed a year and a half ago after filing a corruption complaint about the first family.