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Viewing cable 09PORTAUPRINCE575, DECONSTRUCTING PREVAL

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09PORTAUPRINCE575 2009-06-16 18:06 2010-11-30 16:04 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Port Au Prince
O 161802Z JUN 09
FM AMEMBASSY PORT AU PRINCE
TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0044
INFO HAITI COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
AMEMBASSY BRASILIA PRIORITY 
AMEMBASSY MONTEVIDEO PRIORITY 
AMCONSUL MONTREAL PRIORITY 
AMCONSUL QUEBEC PRIORITY 
DEA HQS WASHDC PRIORITY
HQ USSOUTHCOM J2 MIAMI FL PRIORITY
CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L PORT AU PRINCE 000575


DEPARTMENT FOR WHA
SOUTHCOM ALSO FOR POLAD
DEPARTMENT PASS USAID FOR LAC

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/01/2019
TAGS: PGOV HA KBIO
SUBJECT: DECONSTRUCTING PREVAL

Classified By: Ambassador Janet A. Sanderson, reason 1.4(b) and (d).

Summary and Introduction
-------------------------

1. (C) Haitian President Rene Preval has now completed three
years of his five year presidential mandate. Widely touted as
the "transitional president" poised to lead Haiti into a new
era of democracy and economic prosperity, he has had only
modest success thus far. Haiti's problems are indeed
daunting, and redressing them will take much more than a
five-year term. However, Preval's particular world view, his
personality and often indecisive and uncommunicative
leadership style, coupled with Haiti's deeply divided
political class and the devastating events of 2008, have
conspired to defer, if not derail, forward movement here.

2. (C) That being said, Preval remains Haiti's indispensable
man. Legitimately elected, still moderately popular, and
likely the only politician capable of imposing his will on
Haiti - if so inclined - Preval's role over the next 18
months is critical. Dealing with Preval is a challenge,
occasionally frustrating and sometimes rewarding. He is wary
of change and suspicious of outsiders, even those who seek
his success. Managing Preval will remain challenging during
the remainder of his term yet doing so is key to our success
and that of Haiti. We must continue to find creative ways to
work with him, influence him, and encourage him to recapture
the activism of his first year in office. Until he does,
political change and economic progress, so necessary to
Haiti's future, is likely to be incremental at best.

The Politics of Personality
----------------------------

3. (C) Preval's attitude towards his presidency has been
shaped by both experience and personality. As Aristide's
Prime Minister and successor, he was overshadowed by the more
charismatic ex-priest. At our first meeting, Preval recounted
that he was "the last stop after Tabarre (where Aristide
lived) when visitors came", bitterly reminding me that many
USG visitors barely had time to see him when he was
president. Those slights still rankle. A retiring, complex
personality, the president shares little. His inner circle
has greatly constricted during the past two years, with key
advisors including Bob Manuel, all but dropping out. His
involvement with his fiancee, financial advisor Babette
Delatour has colored many of his other relationships,
according to friends, and caused an estrangement of sorts
with his sister and one of his daughters.

4. (C) Even those close to Preval concede that his
chameleon-like character makes dealing with the president
difficult. One close advisor calls it "the roller coaster
that is Rene Preval." Personally engaging - even seductive -
when he so wishes, Preval can be equally harsh with
colleagues and others. Ministers, close advisors and others
have felt the sting of his tongue, both in public and in
private. Stubbornly holding to ideas long past their shelf
life, he rarely welcomes dissenting opinions. His courting
of Taiwan in 2006, which almost led to the Chinese blocking
renewal of the MINUSTAH mandate in 2006, is a case in point.
Preval is highly disinclined to delegate power or authority
and even the smallest detail comes to his office for
decision, a situation which has caused stress in his
relationships with both his current and former prime
ministers. Planning Minister Bellerive described to me a
recent Cabinet meeting where the Prime Minister and the
Cabinet presented a development plan for the long-suffering
northern tier of the country. Preval ridiculed the idea and
when confronted by a united ministerial front, walked out of
the cabinet meeting and told his advisors to strike the
proposal from the agenda.

5. (C) Uncomfortable in formal settings such as summits and
international conferences, Preval seeks personal
"relationships of trust" with his interlocutors. Often
unable to articulate exactly what he wants - except in the
broadest of terms - Preval tends to view issues in black and
white. Nonetheless, he expects a positive - and prompt
response. That is particularly true of his dealings with the
international community. He remains skeptical about the
international community's commitment to his government's
goals, for instance telling me that he is suspicious of how
the Collier report will be used. He measures success with the
international community - and the U.S.- in terms of positive
response to his priorities, rather than according to some
broader international benchmarks of success.

6. (C) Nevertheless, Preval's stubborn and cautious nature
has sometimes borne fruit. In his first year in office, he
was widely praised for reaching out to Haitians of all
political stripes and for attempting to bridge Haiti's
massive political divides. He has shrewdly coopted major
political rivals into his personal cabinet over the past two
years and has, through patient diplomacy managed to get
fractious parliamentary groupings to sit around the table
working on issues ranging from the budget to privatization to
the current minimum wage crisis. He believes strongly that
without his intercession, the international community would
have ignored the impact of the 2008 hurricanes on Haiti, and
that his early efforts at negotiation and discussion with the
gangs of Cite Soleil (which he often reminds me that I
criticized at the time) set the stage for the successful
MINUSTAH operation to clear the area.


A Narrowing Circle?
------------------

7. (C) Preval's seeming isolation in the palace during the
past year is striking. Close friends report that they have
little contact - and even less influence - with him. A
businessman who was key to Preval's election said the last
time that he talked to Preval, the president brushed him off.
Shunning newspapers and radio, he has a friend in New York do
a daily press summary for him; otherwise he freely admits
that he neither reads nor listens to the news, either local
or international. He uses one or two cell phones but rarely
shares the numbers with his colleagues. He uses his email to
communicate with family and close friends, but prefers to
talk on the telephone. He seldom leaves the palace except to
travel to his residence each evening and to the retreat he
has bought for his fiancee in the mountains above Port au
Prince.

The Health Issue
----------------

8. (C) Preval's occasionally erratic behavior over the past
year has again sparked widespread rumors that he is suffering
from the effects of his past prostate cancer or that he has
resumed drinking. There is no indication that he is taking
medicine that affects his judgment or temperament, but he has
ignored suggestions from his inner circle, including that of
Delatour, that he do complete medical check-up in the U.S. He
has not been to Cuba for follow-up tests in more than a year.
Preval has increased his alcoholic consumption and often
attends a Petionville night club with friends, but during our
social interaction I have never seen him drink to excess.
Nonetheless, reports of heavy drinking are circulating
widely.


An Agenda deferred: Elections, Constitutional Reform, and
Drugs
--------------------------------------------- ---------------

9. (C) Preval has said that his agenda for his remaining
years in office focuses on three interconnected issues:
elections, constitutional reform, and drugs. He came late to
the election issue, originally suggesting that the partial
Senatorial elections be combined with the lower house polls
scheduled for fall. He backed down in the face of
international pressure, but also as he came to realize that
he would have little success - or support - if he moved on
constitutional reform without a fully functioning senate.
Given the delays in moving this election forward, he no
longer believes that he will see an overhaul of the
constitution. He now expects to focus on two critical
constitutional issues, dual nationality and government
decentralization. He has angrily denied charges that he
manipulated the electoral process through the CEP and its
decision to exclude Lavalas to undermine an already weak
legislature.

10. (C) Preval's focus on comprehensive constitutional reform
over the past year raised concerns about his ulterior
motives. Many in Haiti's political class drew the conclusion
that Preval was seeking a third term. The President's
refusal to explicitly reject that possibility created
confusion and uncertainty, but I view this development as
highly unlikely. Nonetheless, concerns about Preval's
intentions, coupled with deteriorating relations with
parliament, and his cavalier treatment of major political
parties has undermined consensus on constitutional reform and
he seems now resigned to more limited changes.

11. (C) Preval's fixation on drug trafficking reflects both a
growing frustration with the inflow of drugs into the
country's political process and irritation that his
government is unable to address something that could indeed
pose a personal threat to his future after the presidency.
Shunning all GOH responsibility for the problem, he looks to
hand it over to us. He has yet to believe that we take his
concerns seriously, and that has colored much of his dealings
with us beyond the counternarcotics agenda.


A not-always-helpful world view
-------------------------------

12. (C) Although Preval's presidency started off well, with
the new president reaching out across the political spectrum
in an effort to create a new political culture in the
country, those efforts have now essentially stalled. The
President, whether by inclination or design, has not fully
developed a vision of Haiti's future. By turns determined or
distracted, Preval is often reluctant to use the levers of
power given to him by the office of the presidency. In one
telling instance, he held off going public in the April riots
until the presidency appeared to hang in the balance.
Skeptical of friends from abroad, and cynical about his own
political class's ability to effect change, Preval believes
that it is best only to speak out after the deals are done.
Pressing him to be more expansive and communicative has been,
in my experience, counterproductive. At the same time, he is
reluctant to let anyone else pick up the slack, and as a
result, the political vacuum in Haiti is often filled by
those who do not necessarily have the nation's best interests
at heart.

13. (C) There are those who argue that the April, 2008 riots
so badly shook Preval's world view that he has become
reluctant to act. We believe this is too simplistic an
explanation. Preval was indeed unprepared for the riots in
the street, but he used them to press some key objectives,
including the removal of then-Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard
Alexis. More to the point, I believe that the President's own
style and outlook, his often unilateral decision-making
style, his propensity to micromanage, and his essentially
cynical (and often justified) view of the Haitian political
process were, I believe, reinforced by what he saw in April,
and he is looking for ways to ensure he is not caught
unawares again.

14. (C) Preval's old friends suggest that in many ways he
remains the radical student who broke with his conservative
father and spent his university days in the political
maelstrom of 1960s Europe. While this may overstate the
case, Preval remains essentially a nationalist politician in
the Haitian sense of the word - suspicious of outsiders
intentions and convinced that no one understands Haiti like
he does. He often takes actions, such as publicly dismissing
the results of the Washington Donors Conference or stalling
elections, which could be construed as working at cross
purposes with the U.S. Preval clearly believes that he can
walk a fine line without losing U.S. or international
community support. Here, however, he runs a risk. Although he
briefly lived in the U.S., Preval does not truly understand
Americans or the Washington policy environment - and he often
ignores advisors who do.


The After-Life
--------------

15. (C) Close friends speculate that many of Preval's actions
during the past year - his rapprochement with Alexis and the
Neptune faction of Lavalas, his obsession with constitutional
reform, his anger over drug trafficker Guy Philippe, even his
reactions to the April riots - stem from his very real fear
that politics will prohibit him from returning to private
life in Haiti after his presidency. Thus, they argue, his
overriding goal is to orchestrate the 2011 presidential
transition in such a way as to ensure that whoever is elected
will allow him to go home unimpeded. Based on our
conversations, this is indeed a matter that looms large for
Preval. He has said to me on various occasions that he is
worried about his life after the presidency, that he would
not survive in exile. His concerns seem real, given Haiti's
history, albeit somewhat overblown at this point in time.


What It Means for Us
---------------------

16. (C) Preval and I entered on duty in our respective
positions at pretty much the same time and we have enjoyed an
interesting, if not always harmonious, relationship during
the past three and a half years. During that period, I have
found him somewhat isolated, less open to ideas and advice,
and more reluctant to use the tools of his office to advance
his agenda than in his first year in office. Some say that
he is reverting to the do-nothing persona of his first term
as president. Like much about Preval, the reality is somewhat
more complicated. What is clear to me, however, is that
Preval has yet to truly provide the strong, consistent
leadership that Haiti's current circumstances demand. In
other places, we could find ways to circumvent or overcome
these weaknesses. Not so in Haiti. Given Haiti's strong
tradition of presidential rule, the blurred constitutional
lines of authority, and his own reluctance to delegate
authority, I believe that Preval - and only Preval - will
continue to set the rhythm and scope of change in Haiti. And
while we may argue with him about pace and priorities, we
will have to adapt to his rhythm. Dealing with Preval has
never been easy. Yet he remains Haiti's indispensable man and
he must succeed in passing this country to a new leadership
in 2011. We therefore must continue to find creative,
consistent ways to reinforce and maintain our engagement - at
all levels of the USG - with Preval and to press him to move
forward the important agenda of change that remains as yet
unrealized here.


TIGHE