South Florida Sun-Sentinel
March 10, 2004

Supporters say Haitian leader brings hope to troubled nation

The Associated Press

BOCA RATON -- During his years in exile in South Florida, Gerard Latortue always urged his fellow Haitians not to lose courage during their country's troubled times.

At St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Miami's Little Haiti, where the troubled nation's new prime minister occasionally spoke, parishioners would follow his optimistic speeches with an inspired rendition of "Proud Haiti,'' a song ending with the words: ``Tomorrow is the glory of Haiti,'' said Jean Fritz Bazin, the church's pastor.

``People would say, 'How many tomorrows will we wait for?' He was always so optimistic that tomorrow would come,'' Bazin said. ``It is my hope that tomorrow has come today and that he will make today the glory of Haiti.''

As Latortue arrived in Haiti on Wednesday to become the country's prime minister, many Haitians across South Florida shared in Bazin's optimism.

A former U.N. official and foreign minister, Latortue will be faced with rebuilding a nation following a bloody monthlong insurgency that ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and left more than 300 dead. Colleagues and friends say Latortue's experience both in Haiti and internationally, along with his reputation for integrity, make him well suited for the job.

``I believe he's one of the most qualified actually to do the work, both because of his academic preparation, his experience in politics and economics, his love for the country and his willingness to work hard for the country,'' said the Rev. Jonas Georges of the All Nations Presbyterian Church in North Miami.

Latortue, 69, has spent nearly 20 years in exile, most recently living in a gated, middle-class community here, where he has worked as an international business consultant and gained fans by hosting cable television programs on Haitian affairs.

Supporters say his fame and his lack of political affiliation could help him bring together disparate factions of Haitians, including supporters of Aristide, who Latortue regularly criticized.

``He has been gone for a long while, but Haiti is just next door,'' Bazin said. ``He has never really left Haiti. People know Gerard Latortue. He has many friends.''

Latortue fled Haiti after serving as foreign minister in 1988 for former President Leslie Manigat, who was toppled in one of 32 coups led by Haiti's army. He later lived in the West African nations of Togo and Ivory Coast, working with the U.N. Industrial Development Organization.

``He was never involved in the Haitian political mess,'' said Gerard Ferere, a friend and neighbor who previously served as an officer in the Haitian navy. He called Latortue's appointment, ``the best news this country has had since 1957.''

Latortue, who replaces Yvon Neptune, will work with interim President Boniface Alexandre to lead Haiti out of its political, social and economic turmoil, building a new government and organizing elections in a country that only once in its 200 years of independence had a democratic election.

Gepsie Metellus, executive director of the Haitian Neighborhood Center, said she believed Latortue would meet the challenges ahead, which she described as ``almost impossibly difficult.''

``He's got to help lift Haiti out of its poverty and misery,'' Metellus said. ``And he's got all the right elements -- background, training and experience-- to facilitate a process at this point that has been unfolding for so many years, if not 200 years.''

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