When Laurent Lamothe took over as prime minister of Haiti in May of 2012, his first job was to find a printer for his office, he said.
More than two years after an earthquake devastated the Caribbean island nation, the government was still rebuilding.
“I had to start from there and work my way in, in a dedicated manner, to rebuild an entire country,” Lamothe said at an April 13 campus presentation for the Dean’s Innovative Leader Series.
In his talk, Lamothe detailed the work of president Michel Martelly’s administration — in Haiti, the elected president appoints a prime minister to serve as head of government — to re-energize tourism, attract foreign investment, drive agricultural exports, and increase school attendance.
The goal, Lamothe said, was to be an “emerging country” by 2030, seeking prosperity and economic security on par with nations like the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. A January 2010 earthquake in Haiti killed as many as 300,000 people and destroyed about 300,000 buildings, though estimates remain contentious. Today Haiti suffers under a high poverty rate and low gross domestic product per capita.
Success can appear to be modest, such as the opening of a Marriott hotel this spring.
“You have to understand that after the earthquake, we had nothing, not one hotel,” Lamothe said. “People were sleeping in friends’ yards under tents.”
In the 32 months he served as prime minister, Lamothe implemented programs to rebuild Haiti and its economy. To advance education for Haiti’s poorest children, the government in 2011 began to tax wire transfers and international phone calls. Lamothe said that funded school tuition for 1.4 million children and drove school attendance in the country from 55 percent to 95 percent.
Since 2013, Lamothe has partnered with MIT in the MIT-Haiti Initiative to bring Kreyòl, one of Haiti’s two official languages, into classroom instruction and educational materials. In Haiti, classes are conducted in French, although as few as 5 percent of Haitians speak fluent French and almost all Haitians speak Kreyòl. Lamothe encouraged members of the MIT-Haiti Initiative to continue the work.
He also addressed his December 2014 resignation. Lamothe resigned just two days after a commission appointed by the president recommended his removal from office to ease a political stalemate with an opposition party and speed a path to elections.
“The country that we left was a much better place than the country that we found,” he said. “Unfortunately, in many of the developing countries, when you make decisions that are good for the greater community … you are the constant target of special interest groups and groups that have their own interest in mind. We needed to make a greater compromise to bring in the opposition members in order to go to elections this year.”