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Haitian Heads Home For Key Role in Democratic Government

September 1, 1993

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) _ Politics drove Louis Dejoie Jr. and his family from Haiti. Now politics is bringing him back as a key Cabinet member in a new government dedicated to democracy.

On Tuesday he dawdled over breakfast with his wife in his exile home, spent some extra time with his son, saw the doctor and said goodbye to his buddies in Puerto Rico’s Rotary Club. On Wednesday morning, Haiti’s new commerce and industry minister returns to his homeland to help rebuild his devastated nation.

″The last 23 months have been really the worst point in Haiti’s history,″ Dejoie, 65, said from his San Juan home.

He calmly lists the estimates of the carnage following the army’s overthrow of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in September 1991: more than 1,500 Haitians killed from military repression, hundreds of thousands driven underground and an estimated 10,000 deaths from malnutrition and disease resulting from the worldwide economic sanctions that followed the coup.

Like Aristide’s hand-picked new prime minister, Robert Malval, who returned to Haiti on Tuesday after assuming the post the previous day, Dejoie has known persecution in a manner difficult for an American politican to imagine. Retribution followed his father’s challenge, in the scandal-tainted 1957 presidential election, of Francois ″Papa Doc″ Duvalier and the traditionally strong army.

Duvalier consolidated his power by waging a seven-year killing spree of thousands of real or imagined political opponents, including many supporters of Louis Dejoie Sr. and members of Haiti’s mulatto minority. The Dejoie family’s factories in southern Haiti were plundered and their lands confiscated.

The Dejoie family sought asylum in the Mexican Embassy in Haiti and made its way to Puerto Rico. While the Duvalier family kleptocracy bankrupted Haiti, the younger Dejoie, an agronomist, built up a prosperous construction company in Puerto Rico.

His wife, Ghislaine, said personal success has never been enough for him.

″He has always wanted to do something more for his country,″ she said at breakfast. After the fall of the Duvalier family dictatorship, Dejoie revived his father’s political party and finished a distant third to Aristide and to Marc Bazin in the 1990 presidential race.

After the coup, he got death threats. At a political meeting Jan. 25, 1992, armed plainclothes police burst in, killing one man and ordering Dejoie to lay face down on the floor. A policemen then stomped on his bald head.

″These men,″ Ghislaine Dejoie said, referring to her husband and Malval, ″they are superheroes to even attempt what they are doing.″

Aristide and Malval both telephoned the conservative Dejoie, urging him to oversee the rebuilding of the nation’s business. Dejoie, committed to constitutional order, accepted. Now he hopes to revive an economy paralyzed by government corruption and nearly two years of international sanctions intended to pressure for a return to democracy.

The sanctions are lifted, and world nations say they are committed to ensuring the restoration of democracy. When Dejoie and the rest of Malval’s Cabinet take office on Thursday, they hope to move beyond the many false starts that Haiti has had toward democracy.

″I hesitate to use a cliche,″ Dejoie said, ″but I think we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel now.″

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