Raising Haiti's world profile
Until last week, no Haitian head of state had traveled beyond the small, crowded confines of the hemisphere's poorest country in 30 years. Gen. Henri Namphy, the interim president since Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier was forced out of office last February, arrived in Miami last week to begin raising Haiti to a new, more hospitable profile in the world.
He was well received by businessmen and development officials from Caribbean Basin countries here and even won some grudging admiration from Haitian exiles. He flew on to Washington to meet Secretary of State George Shultz and President Reagan on Friday.
Yet Haiti remains in serious trouble. More American investors have pulled out since the fall of Mr. Duvalier than have moved in, withdrawing about 12,000 jobs. Political stability is fragile. General Namphy left Haiti in the middle of a transportation strike that lasted through the week and a mass demonstration in the port city of Gonaives. He was greeted in Miami by 300 protesting Haitian exiles.
The protests center around the survival of Duvalierism in Haiti. Many of the abuses and corruptions of the Duvalier era continue, just as some unpopular Duvalierist figures continue to hold high government posts, according to knowledgeable exiles and an October report by Americas Watch.
Some businessmen are not put off, despite attempted union organizing there that led some American companies to pull out. ``It's a changing country and a good country to do business in,'' says Bill Hendrickson, vice-president of a Florida produce company considering setting up production.
Haiti's business promoters were enthusiastic about launching their country's new profile. At the Caribbean business conference here last week that hosted Namphy, promoters found their appointment book filling fast with prospects. Virtually no new US investors have moved into Haiti since Duvalier fled, but some Haitian industrialists have been getting new American contracts, says Jo"el Th'ebaud. He is director of a new office promoting investment in and exports from Haiti.
Namphy acknowledged that political demonstrations may appear to present risk to potential investors in Haiti, but he said that they ``testify only to the vitality of our new-born democracy and to the dynamism of the notion of human rights, without which no development is possible.''
Roger Biamby, who heads a Haitian community organization in Miami, takes a harsher view. ``Namphy can't guarantee political stability to anyone. No one wants to invest millions of dollars in Haiti and risk losing it.''
Namphy is moving the country on schedule toward democratic elections, however. The first voting for a constituent assembly took place Oct. 19, with between 5 and 15 percent turning out.