New prime minister urges Haitians to heal deep divisions

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) " Haiti's new prime minister on Tuesday urged this deeply polarized country to bridge divisions, and he vowed to bring steady advances even while acknowledging that the struggling nation has no shortage of accelerating problems.

Dr. Jack Guy Lafontant, a physician and political outsider approved as Haiti's No. 2 official after clearing a final parliamentary hurdle early in the day, took the oath of office in front of politicians and dignitaries on the grounds of the national palace.

"Time is serious and the legacy is heavy. I inherited the prime minister's job at a time when inflation is rampant, the depreciation of the (Haitian) gourd is accelerating, and where agriculture, the main backbone of our economy, continues to lose its competitiveness," Lafontant said.

He stressed that significant progress in what is one of the world's poorest and most unequal countries will be possible only by bringing its people together and providing opportunities for citizens to demonstrate their "know-how and expertise."

"The Haitian dream is possible. It cannot be done without the unity of its daughters and sons," he said.

After 19 hours of discussion, the Chamber of Deputies voted early Tuesday to approve Lafontant and his government policy. Six lawmakers voted against him, two abstained and 95 voted in favor. The Senate had approved him previously.

Lafontant, a gastroenterologist who formerly headed the Rotary Club in the commercial district of Petionville, was the first pick of President Jovenel Moise to oversee the Cabinet and run the government's day-to-day operations.

He has said agriculture will be the government's investment priority, echoing comments by Moise, who was an agricultural entrepreneur before being elected president. Like Moise, Lafontant is a first-time public office-holder.

During his swearing-in ceremony, Lafontant said Haiti needs "deep reforms" in the severely underfunded health sector, a "non-stop struggle" against corruption, and improvements to education.

There is little expectation among Haitians that the new government can overcome poverty and economic malaise in the next five years, but Moise's Tet Kale party does have a majority in Parliament and some are hopeful the businessman-turned-politician and his new prime minister will make steady improvements.

Moise said he was eager to get his administration moving.

"Every second, every minute counts. We don't have time to waste," he said.

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David McFadden on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dmcfadd

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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