South Florida Sun-Sentinel
February 28, 2004

S. Florida Haitians speculate about Aristide transition

By Alva James-Johnson
Staff Writer

Herard Abraham is a retired commander-in-chief of the Haitian military who has sat quietly on the sidelines in his Miami Shores home.

Gerard Latortue, a former Haitian foreign minister who now lives in Boca Raton, left the country when President Leslie Manigat was overthrown in 1988.

These days both men's names are floating around South Florida as possible transitional leaders if Haiti's President Jean-Bertrand Aristide resigns.

Speculations about who might be involved in helping to restore Haiti in the event of an Aristide resignation are rampant throughout the Haitian-American community. The names of former military leaders and government officials now living in South Florida are mentioned on Haitian radio, in newsletters and e-mails. For the past week the community has been bombarded with proposals from several organizations laying out their plans for the country's future.

Jean-Robert LaFortune, of the Haitian American Grassroots Coalition in Miami, said many think that Haitians living abroad should be part of whatever changes are made in the country. They represent Haiti's middle class, sending $800 million to family annually, about 7 percent of the country's gross domestic product.

"The Haitian diaspora is the next best hope for Haiti," he said. "We have the know-how in terms of technology and professionalism in different fields. We have many investors that have the money to invest in the country. All those attributes can be put into the development of Haiti."

In 1990, Abraham received international acclaim for helping the country move smoothly from 35 years of dictatorship and military rule to a fledgling democracy. He handed the military's power to Interim President Ertha Pascale Trouillot, a Supreme Court justice who then arranged for Haiti's first democratic presidential election. Aristide won.

This week the former lieutenant general issued a statement calling for Aristide's resignation and a plan for a transitional government. A call to Abraham's home was answered by his nephew, Pierre Richard, who said his uncle broke his 14-year silence because the country had become chaotic. He said Abraham was not ready, however, to talk to the media.

For some in the Haitian-American community, Abraham's statement signaled he might return to Haiti to participate in a transition process if Aristide stepped down.

"What I see is that someone very respected might be ready to serve his country again as the new commander-in-chief of the Haitian military," said Parnell Duverger, a Haitian-American and economics professor at Broward Community College.

Latortue is a former executive of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization. He is now a business consultant and a television talk show host on the Haitian Television Network in Miami.

Lesly Jacques, director of a popular Haitian radio station in Boca Raton and an Aristide opponent, said his radio station's correspondent in Haiti reported recently that Latortue's name was presented to Aristide as a possible prime minister, but Aristide rejected it.

"Latortue is a respected economist and his name has been floating around for some time now as a possible prime minister or president of Haiti for two or three years," Duverger said.

Jacques said people in Haiti and the United States have also been talking about Abraham as a possible candidate for either position.

Jean Frantz Turene, an Aristide supporter, said he thinks Abraham would be able to bring the country together because of his military background. If the president is forced to resign, Turene said he wants leaders who will bring peace.

"We have to come up with a compromise where everybody can work together to achieve a common goal for all people," he said. "I want Haiti to go forward where we can make some changes."

Reconstruire Haiti Inc. is a Sunrise-based organization calling for Aristide's resignation and proposing a transitional government. Latortue should serve as prime minister and Abraham and seven others as advisers, the group said.

Olicier Pieriche, president of the organization, said Reconstruire Haiti is the American arm of the opposition movement in Haiti led by businessman Andy Apaid. He said the document laying out their plan had been sent to President Bush, French President Jacques Chirac, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Colin Granderson, assistant secretary-general of the 15-member Caribbean Community.

Pieriche said Latortue and Abraham aren't affiliated with the organization. He said the list of people for the proposed transition consists of Aristide supporters and opponents.

"We need people to work together to change Haiti," he said.

Pieriche is a lawyer and pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale. He said he worked as a foreign diplomat under President Rene Preval, who served from 1996 to 2001.

Granderson said he's not familiar with Reconstruire and has not received the document. He said a transitional government would have to be created by "the major actors on the Haitian question," which he described as the United States, France and Canada.

"I'm hearing the rumors like everybody else. But these things only become important when people in government start dealing with them," he said.

Alva James-Johnson can be reached at or 954-356-4523.

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