Haiti

'We did all we could for the country': Haiti PM Laurent Lamothe resigns

jcharles@miamiherald.com

Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe pictured on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014.
Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe pictured on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Bowing to pressure, Haiti Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe resigned Saturday, paving the way for a new government to lead the country into long overdue legislative and local elections.

Lamothe announced his resignation in a speech that was recorded shortly after 11 p.m., but did not air until almost 2 a.m. Sunday because of technical difficulties. He thanked President Michel Martelly, parliament, ministers and the Haitian people as he gave an account of his accomplishments. They included everything from increasing the percentage of children enrolled in school, augmenting tourism and foreign investments, and cutting insecurity and extreme poverty.

Citing a recent World Bank study that looked at the drop in poverty in Haiti between 2000 and 2012, Lamothe who took office in May 2012, said, “We are happy, but we are not satisfied when we see the number of people in extreme poverty has dropped from 31 percent to 24 percent in 2014 thanks to [our] work.”

The Bank acknowledged the government’s investments in social programs, which Lamothe took credit for in his speech, but questioned the programs’ sustainability in the face of dwindling foreign aid nearly five years after Haiti’s Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake.

“We can say today, that after 31 months, the results are there,” Lamothe said. “We’re leaving. We are going with the sentiment that we did all we could for the country....I leave the post of prime minister this evening, with the feeling of accomplishment.”

Lamothe said he was making the sacrifice for Haiti because the country not only needs development but also political stability to advance.

“Despite all of these accomplishments, if this is what can truly unblock the political crisis, I’ve decided,” he said, “to hand President Martelly my resignation and that of the entire government.”

The government’s resignation came on yet another day of tense anti-government protests, which also spread to the cities of Cap-Haitien and Gonaives. In Port-au-Prince, protesters accused police of killing an unarmed demonstrator who had a visible bullet wound in his chest.

Police spokesman Gary Desrosiers said “no one died in today’s protests. There were no great incidents.” He said an investigation has been launched into the death of the unidentified man, but it looked like people “put the body there.”

The protests took place despite President Michel Martelly announcing Friday that he would accept Lamothe’s offer to resign as part of a series of far-reaching “calming” measures recommended by a presidential commission to quell rising political tensions.

But with no timetable on Lamothe’s resignation, opponents believed Martelly would try to outsmart them and took to the streets Saturday demanding both his and Lamothe’s resignations. Opponents accuse Martelly of intentionally delaying the vote so that he could rule by decree on Jan. 12, making it easier for Lamothe to become a presidential contender in next year’s presidential elections.

“Michel Martelly has allowed the crisis to rot and degenerate by not doing what he should have done months ago,” said Volcy Assad, a protest organizer, referring to the delayed local and legislative elections.

But his criticisms weren’t just about Martelly, who has accused opposition senators of blocking the vote of an electoral law needed to schedule the balloting. Assad and others criticized the U.S. support of Martelly. Some protesters even waved photos of Russian President Vladimir Putin while singing, “Long Live Putin, Down with Obama.”

They also strongly condemned former U.S. President and U.N. Haiti Envoy Bill Clinton for his recent defense of Lamothe in a Miami Herald interview.

“Bill Clinton says that this is ‘the most consistent and decisive government’ he has ever worked with, yet you have thousands of Haitians in the streets, who are hungry and protesting because they are not happy with the situation,” Assad said. “Yet he’s clapping, ‘Bravo.’ Economic interests are at play here, not Haitian interests. We are defending Haiti’s interests.”

Under increasing pressure to organize elections, Martelly, who took office in 2011, appointed an 11-member presidential commission late last month to help stem the crisis. They called for a new Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) and several resignations including the controversial head of the Supreme Court.

At the top of their list, however, was the resignation of Martelly’s best friend and confidante, Lamothe. A tech-savvy entrepreneur, he was named prime minister with unusual swiftness after Martelly’s first prime minister, longtime U.N. diplomat Gary Conille, was forced to resign after only four months.

Lamothe’s energy on the job invigorated the government and captivated the international community. But his rigid personality, jet-setting and refusal to be accountable to parliament fired up opponents and the streets in a high-stakes, competitive and unforgiving Haitian political environment.

Adding to his woes were his political ambitions and allegations of government corruption amid rising discontent.

“Martelly had a Lamothe problem,” said Daly Valet, a local journalist and political analyst. “For emotional and political reasons, he couldn’t ask Lamothe to quit as prime minister. It’s not a good demonstration of leadership when a president is being forced to decide one way or another by events on the streets.”

And while some doubt that Lamothe’s resignation will quell tensions on the streets where U.N. peacekeepers opened fire on a crowd of protesters marching through Port-au-Prince Friday, triggering an investigation and condemnation of excessive use of force by the global body, Valet thinks the resignation is a good thing — at least for Martelly.

“Lamothe should have resigned three months ago to pave the way for his political future as a presidential candidate and to facilitate a comprehensive political settlement between President Martelly and the opposition,” he said.

Negotiations on a new prime minister and government more reflective of the political parties in parliament, per the commission’s recommendations, are expected to begin on Monday. Historically these have been protracted political battles in Haiti where the departure of a prime minister in the past has sometimes left a months-long political void and created further instability to the frustration of the international community.

As that search and negotiations get under way, Martelly is expected to name an interim prime minister from within his administration to address the country’s day-to-day affairs.

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