By Garry Pierre-Pierre
As we move toward the next presidential election, Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe has made his ambitions to succeed Martelly known. The former business associate of President Michel Martelly works hard to be a man of the people, all the while participating in photo ops where he’s seen hugging poor children and dancing with local peasant women – the sort of practices politicians of all stripes try to master.
But, there are politicians like Bill Clinton and Martelly who genuinely enjoy such things, allowing the sincerity of the moment to be captured clearly. In Lamothe’s case, however, photos of the communications mogul in photo ops look awkward.
I will not fault the man for trying because after all, an election is like a beauty contest, you have to be all things to all people.
What I take issue with Lamothe is his penchant for exaggerations and taking credit for projects that are coming to fruition under his administration, and not necessarily initiatives conceptualized by his team.
One of Lamothe’s favorite platforms is Twitter, where his pronouncements sound pedantic and at times stretch the truth. In one of many examples, he proclaimed the opening of a Cap Haiten terminal and runway “historic” during its inauguration, citing it as proof that Haiti is open for business; another slogan he and Martelly coined early in their tenure.
To be clear, it is a good thing for Haiti’s second largest city, located in the north of the country, to have an airport with the capacity to handle large commercial airplanes.
Many Haitians living in South Florida come from the north and to get home they have to land in Port-au-Prince and make a five-hour trek by car to reach their final destination. Still, very few people would call such mundane achievement historic, perhaps in 1929 it would have been, but not in 2014.
As a journalist, I appreciate and value the dissemination of information. Marketing and public relations are important and I applaud this team for trying to change the negative narrative that plagues Haiti. However, there is a difference between emphasizing the positive and spinning the truth.
What Lamothe and Martelly failed to acknowledge during their speech after an American Airline Boeing 737 landed at the airport, is that they had precious little to do with the airport project.
It was conceptualized and funded under Rene Preval, Martelly’s predecessor. Such oversight is a recurring theme with this dynamic administration, who has consistently taken credit for hotels and other private sector initiatives as their government’s own achievements.
It leaves people with the wrong impression that Preval did precious little while he was in power. Preval’s failure was that, unlike them, he was blasé when it came to taking credit and was more concerned about building roads and schools than trumpeting his projects.
By all accounts, Laurent Lamothe is a competent administrator who is doing his best with a bad hand. The prime minister has overcome a shaky start and has lasted as head of Haiti’s government much longer than many pundits anticipated.
This is not to say that this administration hasn’t been working. It has. It inherited the aftermath of a devastating earthquake that destroyed the center of the capital, including the National Palace and many government ministries.
During a visit in August, the Champs de Mars, Haiti’s largest square, seemed to me like a huge construction zone, as destroyed ministries were being rebuilt. The makeshift tenements that lined the capital’s streets, including the Champs de Mars, disappeared. This government has many projects that are underway to build resorts and make tourism the country’s main economic engine. So it doesn’t need to resort to false propaganda and outright sleigh of hands to convince people that it is working.
Still, we won’t know the impact of their labor until several years after they’ve left office. Because the Haitian constitution allows the president to serve only one term and step aside before he or she can run again, it’s difficult to assess immediately the accomplishments of a government.
Despite Lamothe’s and this administration’s self- laudatory, history will be the ultimate judge of their success.