#HAITI CRISIS: Joel Deeb Interview with the Honorable Youri Latortue,President of the Haitian National Assembly of Haiti

OMEGA World News

Interview with the Honorable Youri Latortue,President of the Haitian National Assembly of Haiti

September 20, 2017

 

JD: Senator, as you may know, it has been many months since we have been attentively following your political course.  We have even endorsed your endeavor pertaining to the Petro-Caribe investigation while you were President of the Anti-Corruption Commission of the Haitian Senate.

SYL : Indeed I have been made aware of that.  And, I am most grateful, as this exercise of finalizing the report hasn’t been an easy one.  Thankfully, I benefited from the assistance of numerous competent collaborators within the Senate, and even from the national and international press that have enormously contributed to the end product.  I can say that the Petro-Caribe investigation has been a collaborative effort.

JD: Hopefully then we will have the opportunity to discuss this matter more at length in the near future.  Meanwhile, knowing that you are pressed for time, let me get to the questions since you have kindly accepted to speak with us.  In this spirit,  Senator, could you tell us about your position regarding the protests against the 2017-2018 national budget presented by the Haitian Executive branch?

SYL : Firstly, the right to voice disagreement with decisions taken by respective branches of government, is an integral part of the democratic life.  At times, the public disapproval may be scant, while at other times it may grow to significantly more impressive proportions.  Whatever the case, freedom of expression, including that to protest is a  fundamental right.  It makes for a healthy alert system that governing authorities should be attentive to; albeit at different degrees depending upon the support gained  by the protest movement.  So, when I am asked if I am for or against the ongoing protests, I have no qualm with answering that no democrat could be against the right of a people to express discontent, providing that such popular discontent remains nonviolent and, as well, preserves its authenticity.  You might have noted that depending upon the day, some protest happening in the Port-au-Prince area have held such well-founded characteristics.  Unfortunately, I deplore that this has not been consistent.  On diverse occasions, the expression of discontent has spiraled out of control, negatively staining the sensible message initially projected.

JD :  Are you in essence able to make a distinction for us between protests that you find credible and those that have side tracked?

SYL :  Even if I have an opinion regarding some groups of protesters which are more credible than others, I would not divulge specifics at this point.  As you may appreciate, it is important that I speak in general terms not to single out any one sector.  As the President of the National Assembly, it is of the essence that I do my best to avoid what might be considered subjective labeling.  It is an obligation and a duty for me at this point.  Especially when the local ambiance remains volatile.

We both know that what I am sharing with you in the course of this interview may not only be the subject of great scrutiny, but also of interpretations that may be exact, or fall short of being fraudulent. This is why for the time being, it is important to exercise restraint and refer to founding principles.  Yes, protests must be allowed.  Yes, our people’s discontent must be taken into account.  But all tag along opportunistic political manipulation seeking to take advantage of legitimate demonstrations by honest citizens, should not be tolerated.

JD :  I notice that the word « legitimate » comes back quite frequently in your remarks.  So allow me to ask:  What do you consider a legitimate protest?

SYL : According to me, a legitimate protest is, in a wide sense of course, the action of men and women desirous of expressing or calling attention to a position that they want the authorities to consider, because of their convictions, whatever they may be.  But when such actions use physical violence and intimidation to get their point across, to me they cease to be civic in nature and thus lose their legitimacy.

JD :  could you elaborate please? 

SYL :  I do not believe that photo illustrations are required.  Social medias in any event have extensively relayed recent scenes where young men harbor the streets of Port Au Prince, seeking targets for random acts of vandalism.  A clip that struck me is one where a young man, stone in hand aims at the façade of one of the few international investments in the area, the Marriott hotel.  The so-called protester ends up shattering the winnows of a terrorized driver as he desperately tries to safely enter the parking area of the hotel.  No banners, no chants, nothing but sheer intimidation, feverishly escalading to property destruction as a means of inflicting panic and fear. 

   

JD : In other words, you wish for it  to be a distinction between a protest, a strike and intimidation? 

SYL : Yes of course.  People who display destructive behaviors, harmful to bystanders in particular, just as we have witnessed lately, might be protesters, but they do not have legality on their side.  This does not mean that protestors who surrender to the temptation of violence are not fighting for a worthy cause; it however indicates delving into erratic action discredits their stance.  It is therefore essential that all effort be made to contain rampage and ransacking.  And, any group who may wish to promote instability, should not be validated.  There is no excuse to jeopardize the rule of law.

JD :  I understand what you are saying Senator and everyone knows that you are an advocate of strong institutions, but what you have stated lacks the framework for implementing the will of the people under such circumstances.  Supposing that a legitimate protest movement takes impactful proportions, how does it transition from advocacy to implementation of modified policies as an answer to its demands?

SYL :  I do not have all the answers but I am able to state with confidence that it is key for the authorities to promote mechanisms that take into account its people’s needs but also its heartfelt demands as expressed in peaceful protests.  As a mere example, we have seen in recent years, many countries, including Greece, Italy and England, seek recourse in referendums, and we have also witnessed unhappy rulers have to bow to the results even if those results were disappointing.  We need to work on those safety valves that protect democracy, preserve the rule of law, while affording civil society a space for dynamic and even spirited advocacy.

JD :  Senator, you cannot leave us longing for more which is why I insist on this follow up question:  am I justified in assuming that you are suggesting a referendum to decide upon the implementation of the decried budget?

SYL : Not at all.  I could not suggest what the Haitian constitution does not foresee.  What I am in turn suggesting and advocating for is nonviolence.  My point is that if there is an escalation of the protests, we must resort to mechanisms within our constitution that allow taking into account popular disapproval and finding a way to respond to it toward satisfactory treatment of the people’s claims.

JD :  And which are the mechanisms that we could refer to Honorable Senator?

SYL : Once more, it is imperative that I refrain from jumping the gun.  In any event, for now social dialogue must hold the forefront of any action; dialogue between civil society and the government, dialogue between unions and the government in a way that may bring about appeasement and favor long term investments.  Whatever the circumstances, nobody disputes the benefits of achieving political stability in Haiti as in any country for that matter.  Stability is the foundation of durable development.  And, this is a mission that I have consistently made a priority of my political life, within the limits of my humble capacities of course.

JD :  Senator, why was it so difficult for us to obtain an interview with you, when our motivation was to better understand, from your point of view, the mistakes possibly committed by the Haitian Government in its submitting of the  2017-2018 budget?

SYL : Faced with the ongoing brouhaha surrounding the budget, and considering the plethora of anonymous ongoing defamatory campaigns, I felt that my only reasonable option was  temperance.  Experience has taught me that elevating the debates to a structured dialogue is the only way to come out of the furnace.  Adding fuel on an emotionally charged atmosphere would have served no purpose.  When there is too much noise, nobody listens.  It is always better to wait for more opportune times. As to the government’s approach?  its biggest mistake was to neglect to communicate with the people who would be primarily impacted by some of the modifications it sought to implement with this budget.  The government did not communicate efficiently with tax payers and the big key line items of the budget were never explained.  Meanwhile, other entities, not always vested with good will, were left free reins to nourish pre-existing frustrations and distrust.  So, when the government awoke to the crisis, it was too late, especially when dealing with a hyper vigilant population, repeatedly traumatized by the weight of abusive budgetary expenditures, coupled by dismissive accountability.

By the way, I apologize but we had convened on a short interview.   Didn’t we?

JD :  it’s true but I need to know if you believe that a more efficient communication campaign would have sufficed to avoid the impasse where the country it selves today?

SYL :  I cannot say for sure, nobody can; but I do think that if a minimum of transparency had been incorporated in an efficient communication process, thus reassuring on the good use of the taxation regimen, matters would certainly not have escalated as they have. From my first days in office on this second terms as Senator of the Artibonite, I knew that accountability was no longer something my fellow citizens, from the homeland or the diaspora, would negotiate.  As a matter of fact, I believe that the Haitian diaspora’s issue with the income tax item is less about the taxation itself as much as it is with the lack of confidence in the application of the proceeds of those taxes.   Again, the public is simply not convinced that these funds will be invested to good use; and most of my constituents feel the same way. In short, they are fed up.  And I can’t blame them since my work as president of the Commission Ethic et Anti-Corruption in 2016, afforded me privileged and documented knowledge of the extent to which public moneys can be wasted.

JD :  I know we had agreed not to make this interview too long.  In this respect, may I ask you, Mister Senator, if you would be kind enough to answer to one more question?

SYL : Certainly.  It is the least I can do.

JD :  Thank you Senator. However, I must let you know that you might be a bit annoyed with me, as I cannot help but ask about a topic which we had agreed to leave for another time.  But I am sure you will understand that in the name of the Haitian diaspora, it is crucial that you tell me whether or not it was your decisive vote that caused the 2017-2018 budget to pass.

SYL : No.  It is not my vote that allowed for the passing of the 2017-2018 budget.  I don’t believe that it is news to you that PHTK has a senate majority.  In fact, for the ratification of the budget when the time came to approve of the document in its entirety as revised through the session, I did not vote.  Should I remind you that it is public knowledge that the President of the Senate does not vote, except in the exceptional context where there is a deadlock, and the situation is at a stale mate.   As a matter of fact, the bylaws of the Senate foresee that if votes in favor of a position are equal to those opposed, the President of the Senate is exceptionally granted the right to a casting vote.  It is his prerogative to deliver the vote that breaks the deadlock in however manner he deems fit.  This is precisely what occurred when the article pertaining to the specific bylaws that dealt with the income tax that had the diaspora so angered, came to a vote.  The articles are usually voted article per article before the final overall vote of the entire law.  So, when the vote concerning this article came about, there were 10 Senators in favor of keeping it as transferred by the Executive branch while there were 10 Senators against it.  This is when, as President of the Senate, I was brought to casting the decisive vote which broke the tie.  And, as you already know, I voted against the article as such and in favor of the stance taken by many  within the Haitian diaspora.

JD :  Did you chose to vote in that fashion out of concern to preserve your popularity within that group?

SYL : I did it because it was the right thing to do.  I am an institutional advocate and in this spirit, the guidelines are clear:  no law should target a specific group.  By another name, making a tax specific to a particular group (in this case the diaspora was singled out) it is discriminatory and therefore, illegal.  In short, to each his, or her, Compass and mine was unambiguous on this particular clause.  I really have to leave you now as I am concerned not to offend some guests who have been waiting for me as we speak.

JD : Senator, you are leaving us hungry for more.

SYL : I appreciate the courtesy with which you have considered my views.  It is not the last time that we will exchange thoughts.  I look forward to staying in touch and if you wish, perhaps we should reconvene to shed light on any ill explained topic that I will gladly endeavor to expand upon for your readers, next time.

JD :  In the name of Omega, I thank you  for your time Honorable Senator.  Rest assured that the queries gathered from our followers will be promptly forwarded to you.

SYL :  I look forward to receiving them and, incidentally, it is I who should thank you.

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Haitian-American Joel Ramphis Deeb is a Professional Political Consultant with over 20 years experience providing sound analysis, interpretation, problem solving skills land public policy recommendations for solving various political problems that affect national security, public safety and the effectiveness of government, Chairman and CEO, Omega  Analyst, Strategic Studies / Counter Terrorism Action Plan, Latin America 1980 – Present. Congressman Gilman’s Remarks at Haiti Conference Today at Washington Convention Center :, Finding the Path to Redevelopment Before the 40th Annual Congresssional Black Caucus Legislative Committee

 

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