Haiti’s president turns to Cabinet for new PM

Haiti Prime MinisterHaiti’s president turned Friday to a member of his former prime minister’s freshly dissolved Cabinet to replace her, a day after she was abruptly removed by the Senate in a vote that reflects the country’s deep political divisions.

Jean-Max Bellerive, the minister of planning and external cooperation, is President Rene Preval’s nominee to be Haiti’s next premier, Preval said in a statement addressed to parliament.

Bellerive, an economist, has held a variety of government posts over the past decade, including as an official in the administration of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was forced from office in a violent rebellion in 2004. Bellerive, in Preval’s government, has played a major role in coordinating and courting investment and foreign aid for the country.

Preval’s nomination must be ratified by the Senate.

It was the Senate that voted early Friday to oust Prime Minister Michele Pierre-Louis amid a power struggle that threatens to undermine the campaign to attract foreign investment to the impoverished country.

Pierre-Louis was removed when 18 of 29 senators voted for censure and dissolved the Cabinet.

Most of the votes against the prime minister came from President Rene Preval’s own Lespwa movement, which took control of the Senate after winning June elections.

Critics accused Pierre-Louis of failing to do enough to alleviate poverty, though the vote also reflects a struggle among senators for leadership roles as some position themselves for possible runs for president next year.

“She doesn’t have social and economic policies. It’s the Inter-American Development Bank and World Bank that are making economic decisions,” said Sen. Joseph Lambert.

Pierre-Louis took office in September 2008 as Haiti was being pummeled by four tropical storms and hurricanes that killed nearly 800 people, left tens of thousands homeless and caused $1 billion in damage.

An educator who headed the Haitian branch of George Soros’ Open Society Institute, she filled a post that had been vacant for five months after senators dismissed her predecessor during riots over the high cost of food.

In the past five years, politically tumultuous Haiti has gone through five prime ministers in addition to ousting Aristide.

Pierre-Louis’ removal comes as former U.S. President Bill Clinton, a U.N. special envoy to Haiti, has been trying to assure international investors that the country has regained stability.

The prime minister alluded to that campaign in a letter to the Senate announcing she would not attend the debate on her ouster.

“At a time when efforts are under way for Haiti to join the international community and it has possibilities of investment, national and international, to better the lives of the Haitian population … my government decides not to participate in this hearing,” she wrote.

She added, “I leave the senators of the republic to face their responsibility in front of the nation.”

Her refusal to attend angered some lawmakers. “It is an insult that she decided not to come,” said Sen. John Joel Joseph, a member of Lespwa.

Pierre-Louis was nominated by Preval, but is not part of the Lespwa movement, which is not a traditional political party but rather an organization that supports the president.

The debate over her removal raged for more than nine hours, with senators storming out of the room, accusing each other of carrying weapons and marching up and down the aisle of the narrow chamber as Senate President Kelly Bastien rang a silver bell to call for order.

Pierre-Louis’ supporters said that procedural errors made the ouster illegal.

The U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton phoned Preval on Oct. 23, after senators issued their summons to Pierre-Louis.

Spokeswoman Mari Tolliver on Thursday declined to give details of the conversation, but said, “We have made it known to the Haitian government that the perception of instability could be very damaging to Haiti at this time.”

Haiti’s U.N. Stabilization Mission also expressed concern, issuing a statement praising Pierre-Louis for her work and saying her ouster “comes at a critical time in the country’s political, economic and social stabilization efforts.”

It urged that a replacement be named rapidly “to avoid any risk of returning to a period of instability” that could harm investment and job creation.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.