On November 28, Haitians will go to the polls to choose their next president. Nineteen candidates have made the cut to run. Over the next month, The Haitian Times will interview about seven of those candidates and will endorse the best person we think will lead the country in the next five years. In this first installment, we present Charles Henri Baker.
BROOKLYN – If he is elected president of Haiti, Charles Henri Baker said his first act will be to sign a decree restoring the country’s armed forces that was disbanded in 1995.
As he made this pronouncement at a packed hall in Flatbush, the crowd cheered the move. Baker, one of 19 candidates for the presidency of the troubled Caribbean nation was in the New York area last weekend, touring Brooklyn and New Jersey with stops in South Florida in between.
Baker, who calls himself a planter, touched on all of the sensitive points that are near and dear to Haitian-American hearts like double citizenship for more than three millions Haitians who live overseas. He also said that his administration would actively recruit Haitian professionals who are needed to help rebuild the country in the aftermath of a terrible earthquake that flattened most of the capital city of Port-au-Prince.
He also pledged to reform the country’s education system by building more schools, at least one in each city, commune and other rural areas. He said he is also looking to build hospitals and roads and other infrastructure.
However, Baker, did not mention where he would find the money to create the army, which was a huge financial burden for the country and an institution that was used more to destabilize the country politically rather than protect it from foreign invaders.
Still, this move is widely supported by Haitians who view the army as a strong symbol of sovereignty and an institution worth bringing back, no matter the cost. Haiti’s army which was known as Forces Armeés D’Haiti, or FADH, was disbanded when Jean Bertrand Aristide returned from exile from the United States in 1995. Aristide was overthrown by the military despite having handpicked officers he thought were loyalist to the high command.
But when the business elite became disenchanted with Aristide fiery rhetoric, his commander in chief, Gen. Raoul Cédras led a bloody coup that toppled the priest turned president. Cédras went into exile in Panama when Aristide returned with the assistance of 20,000 foreign soldiers and then he summarily disbanded the army.
Baker said that a need for an army is even more pressing in light of the earthquake that ravaged Haiti. Had there been an army in place, he said, soldiers would have been able to rescue more people and have the skills to remove debris that still engulfs Port-au-Prince.
There are others who see the army as more a nuisance than a nest for Haiti.
“The Haitian army has and will continue to be for the foreseeable future a figment of Haitians’ imagination,” said Jocelyn MCalla, a policy analyst and a supporter of Leslie Voltaire, another presidential candidate. “For the better part of the last 206 years, Haiti has never had anything more than a police force. Those who claim otherwise are misled or misleading the people of Haiti into a false sense of pride and security. There is no future for a Haitian army.”
Security remains a primary platform for Baker, he told the Brooklyn audience. He also said that Haiti has suffered from a lack of agricultural production that has rendered the country economically impotent.
“Security is our biggest need. We’ve lost thousands of jobs and many lives from the insecurity. When we address the problem of security, we will begin to grow again. We will help the Haitian peasant immediately and provide them with the means to produce more food. We will open agricultural credit banks to increase production and efficiency. Through agriculture, we can create jobs throughout the country, and bring down the cost of living since much of our food is currently imported.”
Baker said that he is best positioned to lead a post-earthquake nation because, saying that his background in agriculture and industry he understands the public and private sectors intimately and will work with international community in a transparent basis.
“Haiti is not for sale under any means. We are looking for real, concrete, non-exploitative relationships with our international donors,” he said in a press release. “The time for corrupt business and political activities within the country too must end for a new beginning. It is my desire that the reconstruction period of Haiti be not as brief as the one experienced by the African Americans in America. Haiti, despite its destruction by natural and manmade forces, has the capability and strength to become once again “the Pearl of the Antilles.”
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