Haitians' Patience For President Wears Thin With the political chaos stemming from disputed elections, President Rene Preval is under increasing pressure. The political instability engulfing Haiti is just the latest trouble for Preval, who has been widely criticized for his handling of the aftermath of last year's earthquake.
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Haitians' Patience For President Preval Wears Thin

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Haitians' Patience For President Preval Wears Thin

Haitians' Patience For President Preval Wears Thin

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


I'm Robert Siegel.

And we begin this hour in Haiti, where President Rene Preval is under increasing pressure. That's after the return this week of former dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier and continued political instability.

A second round of presidential elections has been indefinitely postponed. The first round marred by allegations of fraud and voter intimidation.

BLOCK: For the outgoing president, the political chaos now engulfing Haiti is just the latest trouble. Preval is still weathering criticism for how he handled the aftermath of last year's earthquake.

NPR's Carrie Kahn has this profile of the Haitian president.

CARRIE KAHN: At the site where tens of thousands of earthquake victims are buried, President Preval made a rare public appearance earlier this month at one of the commemorations of the January 12 catastrophe.

President RENE PREVAL (Haiti): (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: Reading from prepared notes, Preval looked out on the hillside dotted with hundreds of black crosses and in Creole told the crowd to never forget those who perished.

Preval is not known for consoling statements or skilled oratory. In the aftermath of the earthquake, he was rarely seen in public and widely criticized for his absence.

Preval first took office after the popular priest-turned-politician Jean-Bertrand Aristide left in 1996, and he was re-elected in 2006.

(Soundbite of car horn)

KAHN: But today, it's difficult to find supporters, especially in the squalid encampments erected in the shadow of the destroyed palace.

Mr. CARLOS JEAN CHARLES (Painter): (Unintelligible) national policy, the devil's house, you know?

KAHN: It's the devil's house, says Carlos Jean Charles. He sells his paintings to foreigners who come to stare at the crumbled ruins through its tall neon green gates.

Mr. CHARLES: Rene Preval is the devil in this country, you know? In his time, we receive cholera, earthquake, tsunami. We don't need him in this country no more.

KAHN: In person, Preval is genial. He's a slight man with a gap in his teeth and a silver beard. He greets me with a swift kiss on both cheeks as we walk into a small room in the only wing left standing behind the presidential palace.

Speaking in French and accompanied by his personal interpreter, Preval says he knows the people blame him for all the ills that have fallen on his country.

Pres. PREVAL: (Through translator) Here, I must say, I have extraordinary power.

KAHN: Breaking into English, Preval easily jokes.

Pres. PREVAL: What do you think?

(Soundbite of laughter)

KAHN: How do you want to be remembered?

Pres. PREVAL: I want to go home.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Pres. PREVAL: That's it.

KAHN: Home is the rural provinces outside Port-au-Prince. After leaving office the first time, Preval, an agronomist, helped peasants grow crops and bamboo.

In a 2009 U.S. diplomatic cable made public recently on WikiLeaks, the then-U.S. ambassador to Haiti described Preval as preoccupied with finding a successor who would allow him to stay in the country.

In our interview, Preval said he is proud to be the only elected president not forced into exile. He says he wants to be remembered for his achievements: increasing agricultural production, electricity and paving roads.

Pres. PREVAL: (Through translator) I don't have a style of leadership that is like show business. I prefer to work and be efficient.

KAHN: Before the earthquake, Preval was viewed as a hard worker. In one leaked cable, he's described as working very long hours, with a daily two-hour nap in full pajamas.

He did manage a truce among rival gangs in the capital, stopped a spate of high-profile kidnappings and allowed for a free press.

Author Amy Wilentz, who has written extensively about Haiti, says Preval likes to work behind the scenes, but keeps a tight fist on power.

Ms. AMY WILENTZ (Author): He doesn't lead the Haitian people, what he does is sits on the Haitian political class. For that, you don't need to be so visible to the Haitian people, but you need to be wily and manipulative.

KAHN: Preval will need to use all of those skills if he is to peacefully hand over power this time.

Reached at her Miami office, Youri Mevs, who owns Haiti's largest private ports and warehouses, says she hopes the U.S. goes, quote, "all the way" to make sure the democratic transfer of power in Haiti continues.

Ms. YOURI MEVS: The man needs some help in leaving honorably, elegantly. He does need help in doing the right thing.

KAHN: On the streets of Port-au-Prince, patience for Preval is wearing thin.

Mr. JAMES EDWARD: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: This man, James Edward, sitting in front of his downtown tent, taps on a large rock by his foot. He says he's saving it to throw at Preval.

(Soundbite of car horn)

Carrie Kahn, NPR News.

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