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Haiti leader: "This is our chance'

Helping Haiti recover from three years of military rule and devastating trade embargoes must be the new government's top priority, Prime Minister-designate Smarck Michel said.

"We want to be a modern country, or we won't make it. And this is our chance to start!" Michel said in an interview Wednesday, a day after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide made his nomination official.

"After three years of crisis, I think everybody has matured," he said. "Everybody is willing to do his part. I think we are in a state of grace everybody should take advantage of."

Michel, a wealthy businessman and close associate of Aristide, said his first priority would be to "put the country on the road to development."

Haiti's needs are overwhelming. Three years of international trade embargoes designed to force out the coup leaders who overthrew Aristide in September 1991 have ravaged a nation that already was gasping for breath.

Michel, 57, acknowledged that Haiti will be heavily dependent on other countries, which have pledged $800-million over the next 15 months to help rebuild Haiti.

He declined to give details of his development plans, saying he wanted to share them first with the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, which still must ratify his nomination. Aristide has submitted an economic plan that calls for reducing government jobs from 45,000 to 23,000, privatization of state-run enterprises and removal of tariffs on most imports.

Choosing a prime minister was one of the most important decisions Aristide will make in his remaining 15 months in office, because Haiti's Constitution gives the premier broader powers than the president. Sources speculate Michel's selection was designed to satisfy the United States and the Haitian business community.

"I've heard a theory which I liked a lot from a friend of mine," Michel said. "He said: "You're being chosen because you're one-third, one-third and one-third.'


"You're one-third friend of the president, and he has to choose a friend. You are one-third economy, because you are a businessman; and you are one-third social, because you've always been so open to the needs of the masses.' I felt very proud of that description."