Haiti’s provisional President Jocelerme Privert, accompanied by his wife Ginette Michaud, greets friends during his installation ceremony, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016
President Jocelerme Privert successfully managed President Michel Martelly’s exit and then got parliament to elect him as the nation’s interim head of state. “There are very few individuals who have as strong a backing from both the formal, forward-looking private sector and the radical elements on the streets,” said Lionel Delatour, a private sector consultant and political analyst.
Since his release from a Haitian prison a decade ago, Privert, 62, has quietly remade his image.
He served as an adviser to former President René Préval, became an expert on Haiti’s most important relationship with Venezuela — earning the nickname Mr. Petrocaribe — and became such an indispensable resource on the tax system that a foreign diplomat once referred to him as one of Haiti’s smartest men.
A LARGE SECTOR HAS PUT THEIR TRUST IN ME BECAUSE THEY BELIEVE I CAN OFFER UP A RESPONSE TO THE CRISIS. Provisional Haiti President Jocelerme Privert
“I’ve spent all of my life serving the country, all of my life serving the State and now, I’ve arrived at this historic crossroads.,” Privert told the Miami Herald, explaining why he would take on what some define as “an impossible mission.” “A large sector has put their trust in me because they believe I can offer up a response to the crisis. My colleagues in the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies believe that my experience in government, my capacity to communicate with everyone in this society, to gather people, are right for this situation that almost ripped this country apart.”
“He has a profound knowledge of the State administration in all of its composites, whether it’s the executive or central government. He knows how it functions, all of its weaknesses and its strengths,” said former Finance Minister Marie Carmelle Jean-Marie, who was Privert’s professor when he enrolled in a course on economic systems at private Quisqueya University in 1992. “He doesn’t just have a theoretical knowledge that he learned in books. He has a practical one. He has put his hands in the grease and massage the problems.”
Under the negotiated accord dictating Haiti’s second transitional government in 12 years, Privert said his main role “is to quickly assure that the electoral process continues.” After selecting a prime minister by consensus, the new caretaker government must put in place a new Provisional Electoral Council. Together, they must decide what to do about the postponed presidential vote that currently pits Martelly-backed candidate Jovenel Moïse against former government technocrat Jude Célestin.
Célestin’s refusal to participate in last month’s presidential runoff after alleging “massive fraud” in favor of Moïse helped forced an indefinite postponement of the vote amid a violent outbreak, and Martelly’s departure without an elected successor. Third and fourth place finishers, former Sen. Moïse Jean-Charles and Dr. Maryse Narcisse, are also contesting their showing and have led systematic, and often violent street protests.
“The situation is very difficult,” said Sen. Nenel Cassy, a friend and former colleague of Privert, who resigned as president of the Senate and the National Assembly immediately after winning the 120-day job on Sunday. “There is an apparent calm, but there isn’t yet a solution to the crisis.
Looking back at the last transition government, Privert said he was “a victim of political persecution,” and the U.S.-backed government had no legitimacy. Unlike then, today there is a parliament to provide checks and balances. He holds no hard feelings, he said, over his imprisonment where he went a year without seeing a judge, mounted a hunger strike alongside Neptune and briefly escaped. While in prison, he authored the book, The Haitian Tax Guide.
Privert’s political resurrection and the power shift back to the left has raised the specter of La Scierie with critics saying he isn’t qualified to lead Haiti through its current crisis. Some have also interpreted his rise as the restoration of Lavalas on the political terrain. Among those attending his official installation ceremony Sunday at the National Palace was Aristide’s wife, Mildred Trouillot-Aristide.
“Tell them to dream on. They are making a big mistake if they think of it that way and they are going to be very surprised,” said Francois Pierre-Louis, an associate professor of political science at Queens College, New York. “He has given everyone something to hold onto, some kind of hope.”
Smart, cunning and a calculating politician, Privert should not be underestimated, Pierre-Louis said.
Born on Feb. 1, 1954 in Petit-Trou de Nippes, Privert has positioned himself as a man who is above class and political interests. He often tells confidantes that he’s proof one can rise in Haitian society regardless of their origins or complexion. Unassuming, he knows how to take advantage of political opportunities, friends say. For example, when he became the head of the Haitian revenue service (DGI) in 1995, he was not the first in line.
He moved through the ranks of government, collaborating with the business community and gaining influential friends along the way. Last December as he contemplated a bid for the Senate presidency against the odds, he told an influential friend and member of the private sector that all that had happened to him in life had been a matter of circumstance.
“He’s very welcomed in the private sector unlike other Lavalas who are not welcomed,” Pierre-Louis said. “He’s very good at putting people at ease.”
Still, those relations didn’t stop Privert during his inaugural address to call on Haiti’s economic elite to show more empathy for the “economically weak.”