- News & Reports
- Take action
- Donate to CHAN Site
President Michel Martelly's Visit to New York City
Submitted by CHAN on October 3, 2011 - 06:16
By Kim Ives, Haiti Liberte, September 28, 2011; Vol. 5, No. 11
Proclaiming “I am the leader now,” Haitian President Michel Martelly tried to sell his “vision” for Haiti last week in New York, where he, like many heads of state, had come principally to address the opening of the United Nations General Assembly’s 66th session.
In addition, Martelly attended the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, was interviewed by CNN, and addressed a rally of Haitians at York College in Queens, NY.
Haitians greeted his presence at the UN with demonstrations on Sept. 19 and Sept. 23 to demand the withdrawal of the UN Stabilization Mission for Haiti (MINUSTAH), under which over 12,000 UN troops are deployed in Haiti. The mission’s mandate expires on Oct. 15, but the UN Security Council is expected to renew it in the next two weeks.
MINUSTAH is deeply and widely unpopular in Haiti, but, despite vocal demonstrations against it in New York and Port-au-Prince in recent weeks, Martelly defended keeping the force. “Haiti needs the support of MINUSTAH right now,” he said in an interview with reporters at his hotel, the New York Times reported, because “there is still instability.”
In the face of a firestorm of protest provoked by a recently-divulged video of five Uruguayan UN soldiers apparently sexually assaulting an 18-year-old man in Port Salut last July, UN officials have proposed scaling back the force to about 9,000, its strength prior to the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake.
But Martelly said he “would not even think of reducing” the troops, perhaps overplaying his role in an annual charade where, as the mandate’s expiration nears, the Haitian government “invites” the MINUSTAH to remain in Haiti, a deployment which violates the Haitian Constitution and the UN Charter. As secret U.S. Embassy cables obtained by the media organization WikiLeaks have shown, the UN’s leadership, in concert with Washington and Paris, really decide on whether and in what strength to deploy MINUSTAH, the UN’s third largest “peacekeeping” mission (see Haiti Liberte, Vol. 5, No. 10, 9/21/2011).
In his speech to the General Assembly on Sept. 23, Martelly minimized the recent violent Uruguayan episode and other alleged assaults as merely “unacceptable blunders” which “have stained the prestige of the Mission, but we should not lose the forest for the trees.” Nowhere in his speech did Martelly raise the fact that UN troops brought cholera to Haiti a year ago, unleashing an epidemic which has now killed 6,200 people and infected over 400,000.
In his continuing attempt to use the MINUSTAH’s eventual withdrawal as an excuse to reactivate the Haitian Army, which was disbanded 16 years ago, Martelly argued in his UN speech that “nothing would be more irresponsible and dangerous than letting [MINUSTAH] leave without an effective national alternative.”
The Haitian Army, set up as a surrogate force by U.S. Marines leaving after their first military occupation of Haiti (1915-1934), became world-infamous as a corrupt, coup-making, budget-draining force. Most Haitians were happy to see it demobilized in 1995 by former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (whom Haitian soldiers overthrew in 1991) and would like it to stay that way. Even the New York Times, in a Sep. 19 editorial, complained that “Post-quake plans to hire and train thousands of new [police] officers are behind schedule” but that Martelly “appears more interested in building up an army — something Haiti does not need.”
Time Magazine’s Tim Padgett echoed this position, writing on Sept. 27 that “many hope [Martelly] realizes ... that an army is the last thing Haiti needs.” (As we go to press on Sept. 27, the Associated Press reports that “Haiti's president is moving forward with a controversial campaign pledge to restore the country's disbanded military with an initial force of 3,500 soldiers,” according to a leaked official internal document it obtained.)
Martelly also pushed for a return of the Army in his rally at York College, but the event was a dud. The 1,500 seat auditorium was barely half-full, a striking contrast to the overflow crowd that greeted former President Rene Preval in the same auditorium five years earlier. As Martelly and some members of the 28-member delegation he brought (at great expense) to New York took the stage, the audience sometimes fell silent, prompting the emcee to shout “Keep it warm! Keep it warm!” in an attempt to generate applause.
Even this largely pro-Martelly crowd may have been taken aback to see how many of the President’s “team” were well-known partisans of the Duvalier dictatorship (1957-1986), including “political advisor” Daniel Supplice, “legal advisor” Gregory Mayard-Paul, and “health advisor” Dr. Pierre Pompee. There was also the uncomfortably grinning presence of Stanley Lucas, a former agent of the National Endowment for Democracy’s International Republican Institute (IRI), who played a leading role in the 2004 coup d’etat against Aristide and whose precise advisorial role Martelly chose not to announce.
Martelly betrayed a bit of a chip on his shoulder when he declared early on to the audience that “I am the leader now, and I must take the right decisions.” This defensiveness may stem from the fact that he came to power in a patently flawed election with a very weak mandate of less than 17% of the electorate. (In his UN speech, Martelly also attempted to self-aggrandize and obfuscate his weak mandate when he declared that Haitians need “change, change in their mentality, in their political, economic and social conduct” and that “an entire people were convinced that I was elected with a very definite mandate: to bring about this change.” (Martelly’s emphasis)
At another point in his York address, Martelly said “I didn’t come to boost my popularity. I was already popular.”
His chest-beating began to take a decidedly threatening timbre when he said “there are many people that thought I came to continue the same disorder that was there. Well, those people will be surprised! I have come to change Haiti!”
He also warned that “there are Haitians, because they lost power, or because the anarchy was good for them and they have a whole system in their hand, they are still talking stupidities. All those people will be surprised... So the question of coming and doing whatever you want in the country, that is over!”
Despite his bluster, Martelly intimated that he felt misunderstood by the Haitian people. “Sometimes – I don’t like to say this – but sometimes I have the impression that I find more support abroad, as if people there understand what I’ve come to do, something new.”
But the program Martelly has come with is not new. It is almost a duplicate of the failed development strategy laid out by dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier three decades ago and by President Rene Preval over the last five years. It consists of “creating jobs” by attracting foreign sweatshop investors with Haiti’s cheap labor (now $5 a day), tourism and handicrafts.
Martelly repeated several times his claim that by (irregularly, and perhaps illegally) taxing all international phone calls to Haiti five cents, and every $100 money transfer for $1.50, that he will be able to send 772,000 kids to school this year for free. (Martelly said his “economic advisor,” telcom magnate Laurent Lamothe, devised and supervises this “education” fund.)
Even offering free education – the center-piece of his program – is not new. President Aristide heavily subsidized education during his coup-truncated administrations, as did Preval, to a lesser extent. Aristide also built more schools in Haiti during his time in office than the previous total built in all of Haitian history. And yet Martelly applauded the overthrow of that “education president.”
On Sept. 26, without fanfare, Aristide re-opened the medical school of the University of the Aristide Foundation – UNIFA – which was closed down and used as a barracks by U.S. troops occupying Haiti in 2004 on the day after his Washington-backed ouster. It has 126 Haitian students and mostly Cuban doctors as teachers.
Martelly is cutting himself plenty of slack for the success of his education program. “I say that education is a beautiful thing, but the results will come in 15 or 20 years,” he said.
Martelly’s overriding goal is to “rebrand Haiti,” as he calls it. He said he wants to “motivate Haitians, rebuild their confidence, have them know that Haiti is not just ‘cholera,’ not just ‘boat people,’ not just ‘poverty,’... And there are some people who live off these bad images, who make this propaganda, who present Haiti only as a poverty country, cholera country, boat people country.”
In short, like many privileged Haitian-Americans, Martelly wants to remove the perceived stigma that Haiti’s poverty generates. But he did not target the other stigmas, like that of Haiti’s tiny “Morally Repugnant Elite,” which owns 90% of Haiti’s resources, or the former death-squad leaders and soldiers who are among his most zealous supporters.
On Sept. 22, the day of the York address, Duvalierist hooligans broke up a press conference by Amnesty International in Port-au-Prince calling on Haitian authorities to try former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, who has still not been charged eight months after arriving in Haiti last January.
“I intend not to interfere with what the judiciary system has to do,” Martelly told CNN. “I will give them the free latitude to take the right decision. But I will even avoid giving my opinion on that matter.”
But after packing his “team” with Duvalierist “advisors” (including Jean-Claude’s son, Nicolas Duvalier), Martelly leaves little doubt about his position. And when he pledged at York to stop the “disorder” in Haiti, he was not talking about the disruption of Amnesty International’s press conference earlier that day. He was referring to the demonstrations of Haiti’s masses calling for Duvalier’s judgement and MINUSTAH’s withdrawal.
Although Martelly asked Haitians to “unite behind my vision,” his New York trip did little to reinforce his flagging popularity. In fact, many of his declarations had an ominous tone. He concluded by saying that “as President, you have to be ready to take big decisions. And this, no matter what the cost. No matter what the cost.”