Marc Louis Bazin: Former Haitian Prime Minister and World Bank economist
Friday 30 July 2010
Even within the constant shapeshifting of Haitian politics, Marc Louis Bazin's curriculum vitae was quite unique. He was a World Bank development economist when he was named minister for economy and finance in Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier's brutal and corrupt dictatorship in 1982. He was sacked and exiled after he criticised Duvalier's corruption and won the public nickname "Mr Clean" – a distinctly negative term in the young dictator Duvalier's limited vocabulary.
Four years after Duvalier was ousted in a popular uprising, Bazin ran for president in Haiti's first free, post-dictatorship elections in 1990 but lost to the fiery, populist priest Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Two years later, in June 1992, Bazin was named US-backed acting Prime Minister and de facto President by the military regime, led by General Raoul Cédras, that had overthrown Aristide in September 1991. Taking the job alienated Bazin from the masses, who, although he was black like them, considered him a lackey of President George H W Bush and of the mulatto, or light-skinned, elite which controls virtually all the nation's wealth.
With efforts underway in 1993 by the new US President Bill Clinton to restore Aristide to power, Bazin, always an outspoken critic of Aristide's populist rhetoric, was forced to resign in June of that year, vacating the famous white "wedding cake" presidential palace which collapsed in the earthquake earlier this year.
Over the past 20 years he ran for president several times and, though he could not shake off his pro-American or pro-bourgeoisie image, he became a respected stalwart of Haiti's efforts towards stable democracy and, in recent months, rebuilding after this year's devastating January earthquake. His reputation benefited from his call on Swiss and other banks to freeze the $100m he estimated Baby Doc Duvalier had siphoned from Haiti's public funds.
Bazin also became one of the country's leading media commentators and journalists, writing in elaborately floral French for the daily Le Nouvelliste. His home was always a first stop for visiting foreign correspondents seeking to fathom the latest twists in Haitian politics.
Soon after this year's 12 January earthquake, which his hilltop home survived, Bazin was instrumental in founding the Forum of Former (Haitian) Prime Ministers, which sought to overcome old party-political differences to work with Bill Clinton, the United Nations' special envoy to Haiti, in rebuilding efforts. Shortly before his death, from prostate cancer, Bazin expressed concern about the coming Atlantic hurricane season, which annually threatens Haiti and its neighbours and this year may find hundreds of thousands of tent-dwelling refugees at its mercy.
Marc Louis Bazin was born in 1932 in the small western port of Saint-Marc, while his country was still occupied by the US marines who had been sent there by President Woodrow Wilson in 1915 in the face of what he perceived as civil unrest which could pose a threat to the entire region.
Bazin's father, Louis, was a national senator for the Artibonite, Haiti's largest départment under the French colonial system overthrown by black slaves in 1804. He therefore had something of a privileged start in life despite not belonging to the mulatto elite. Historians say Senator Louis Bazin became a hero in his native land after he walked out of a meeting in Buenos Aires with Argentinian congressmen, all of them white, following racial slights against his delegation.
It was from his father's love of Voltaire and Shakespeare that Bazin became fluent in English and eloquent in French, but he was less at ease with the language of the Haitian masses – Creole – based on the phonetic pronunciation of French by African slaves. This would cost him votes during his various election campaigns since the vast majority of Haitians speak only Creole. It was in French that he studied first law, then economics and sociology – in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and later in Brussels at the Solvay Institute of Sociology.
After returning to Haiti in the 1960s during the dictatorship of Baby Doc's father, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, Bazin spent three years as a finance attaché in Morocco. From 1972-76, he worked for the World Bank's West Africa department and from 1976-80 he was a Haitian representative in the World Health Organisation (WHO), where he was responsible mainly for Upper Volta.
In 1982, when Baby Doc Duvalier was seen to be milking his own country towards bankruptcy, the US and the World Bank insisted Duvalier appoint Bazin as finance and economy minister to sort things out. Duvalier himself, still only 30, was too busy living the good life to care, but his notorious Tontons Macoutes militiamen did not take kindly to the latest US imposition and when Bazin left his ministry one day, he found his limousine covered in human faeces. No one other than the Macoutes could have reached the car. When Bazin criticised official corruption and was dubbed "Mr Clean" by the Haitian media, he received death threats and was forced to resign and flee the country.
In 1986, after Duvalier himself was forced out by a popular uprising, Bazin returned to found a new party, the Mouvement pour l'Instauration de la Démocratie en Haiti (MIDH – the Movement for the Establishment of Democracy in Haiti). By the time Haiti was able to organise its first free elections in 1990, Bazin, less-than-discreetly backed by George H W Bush's administration, was hammered in the presidential race by the man Bush considered a troublesome priest, Aristide, who won 67 per cent of the vote to Bazin's 14 per cent. Bazin finally made it to the presidential palace in June 1992 as a US-backed interim Prime Minister and President under the military junta that had overthrown Aristide the previous September. He stepped down exactly a year later after Aristide, with the help of Bill Clinton's administration, was restored to his elected post. After Aristide was again ousted in 2004 after a rebellion ostensibly by former Haitian soldiers – the fact that he was frogmarched to Port-au-Prince airport by US military advisers rather gave the game away – Bazin ran for president again in 2005, but was defeated by the current President, René Préval.
Marc Louis Bazin, politician: born Saint-Marc, Haiti 6 March 1932; married Marie-Yolaine Sam (several children); died Pétionville, Haiti 16 June 2010.
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