Monday, April 11, 2011

The New President

Goodbye 'Sweet Micky'? Martelly Serious About Leading Haiti

Apr 10, 2011 ? 6:45 AM

by Emily Troutman

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- On the Sunday night before the announcement of
Haiti's preliminary election results, tensions ran high. The candidates
faced a troubled electoral system, an impatient population, the
never-ending sense that what can go wrong, will.

At 9 p.m., hip-hop star Pras Michel took to Twitter:

RT @PrasMichel Machete + gasoline + matches = the will of people

Pras is an internationally known musician, the cousin and former Fugees
band mate of Wyclef Jean, and he was one of the first to endorse Michel

The Haiti-focused twittersphere, small though it is, erupted in
condemnation, interpreting his message as a call to violence. Fans of
Wyclef and Martelly immediately threw back retorts, calling him a
"moron" and "immature."

Some tagged their responses with frustration, #merde; anger, #yousuck; and social consciousness, #noviolence.

In a stream of apologetic responses, Pras said his tweet was meant as "a
preventative statement and not an aggressive motive." But the damage
was done.

On Monday, results were announced and Martelly swept the polls,
garnering 67 percent of the vote. No violence or tire burning erupted.
At Martelly's house, friends and supporters gathered to celebrate the
sweet reward for their hard work.

Who wasn't invited? Pras. The star was not allowed in.

He's More Like "The Body" Than "The Gipper"

It's fitting that Martelly's first presidential censure took place in
the new margin of Haitian politics, where music, social media and
celebrity overlap. Martelly rose to stardom as the wily carnival star
"Sweet Micky" and, on many counts, his campaign succeeded by leveraging
stardom in all the right ways.

Many compare his foray into politics to that of American movie star
Ronald Reagan. But in context and competency, Martelly more closely
resembles wrestler-turned-governor Jesse "The Body" Ventura.

Ventura served as governor of Minnesota from 1999 to 2003 and as a
veteran, projected the right combination of get-tough, straight-talk
politics to land the state's top job. Ventura ran under the Reform
Party. At the time -- young voters especially -- were fed up with the
better known but stodgy Republican Norm Coleman and legacy Democrat
Hubert H. "Skip" Humphrey III.

Martelly attended military academy as a young man, though he was tossed
out. The socially conscious lyrics of his songs combined with vicious
trash-talk toward his musical "frenemies" left little doubt among
Haitians that he's a force to be reckoned with.

After Ventura took office, Minnesotans often sported goofy T-shirts with
pictures of the uber macho wrestling star and the slogan, "My governor
can beat up your governor." Here, too, Martelly's meteoric popularity
was attended with his unique brand of counter-culture, highlighted in
his trademark pink.

Voters wore pink bracelets and T-shirts with his caricature. His slogan,
the phrase "Tet kale!" means "bald head." It also means "No sweat!" and
has a third, slang meaning with a sexual connotation.

In campaign speeches, Martelly promised if audience members didn't vote
for him, he would come back to town on his float and curse them all. He
made fun of his opponents and increasingly fine-tuned his plainspoken
everyman shtick, which seemed both contrived and authentic in equal

In November, Martelly told AOL News that "Sweet Micky" was just a public
persona; "That was the business. Sweet Micky was the store." But voters
seemed hopeful that's not true.

Haitian Voters Want Change

"Our vote was a response to the current regime," one voter said. "We need a new era. We need change."

Patricia, 47, who sells chicken, said, "I want security. I want to walk
in the street. I never voted before in my life but I voted for Martelly.
To see change."

He was labeled a cowboy, bad boy, outsider, maverick, vagabond and
rebel. For many, especially older women and conservative Christian
voters, it was all a bit much. They were wooed away by Martelly's
opponent, Mirlande Manigat.

Martelly never quite swayed all of the educated class, who were
unimpressed by his lack of technical knowledge. Others were offended
that he failed to try harder to woo them. During his campaign, he went
for the masses and seemed to encourage the over-charged cult of
personality. But even among the nervous, he won votes.

"I don't know, I just thought, [screw] it," a voter said. "It's like
Manigat needed a reason to get people to vote for her. Her reason was,
'I'm smart.' And that wasn't enough."

Martelly was the high-risk vote, but his audacity made him the best chance at a high reward.

Much has been made of Martelly's past, not just in music, but especially
in his past friendship with Michel Francois, a former police chief who
helped orchestrate a coup against former President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide. Martelly's politics are known as "center right" here, and the
vote against the status quo seemed to signal a departure.

Like all well-known crossovers -- Reagan, Ventura, Arnold Schwarzenegger
-- Martelly is less of an "outsider" than his antics imply. Ventura
himself was a mayor in Minnesota before he ran. Martelly first floated
the idea of becoming president 20 years ago.

When asked this week at a press conference how he would deal with former
presidents Jean-Claude Duvalier and Aristide, who are now back in
Haiti, he responded, "I am president of all the Haitians."

It harkened back to his decades-old statements about Francois and
entertaining controversial figures at his nightclub. In 1997, he told
the Miami Herald, "I am a musician. I play for people who pay to get

He Was Political as a Performer

It's likely Martelly was successful in music because he is actually a
politician, rather than a musician who stumbled into politics. At the
very least, his stardom was a practice in power.

"Since I was a kid, even if I was the youngest one in the crowd, I would
be the entertainer," he told AOL News. "I would be the one calling the
shots. I would be the one everybody would focus on."

Music in Haiti, even more so than other forms of art around the world,
is a deeply unifying cultural force. His stardom gave him rare agency in
a culture with intricate class boundaries.

"I have a better Ph.D. than people who went to school. I have studied the complexity of this society for 22 years," he said.

Speaking about his past, he said, "The rich come here, I play at their
wedding. I get inside their house. I do as I please. I get inside their
business. I open their safe. I take as much money as I want -- I'm
serious. I close the safe, I go to the poor and I give that money. And
there was no limit for me in this country."

His campaign was heavily financed by Laurent Lamothe, a Miami-based business associate in international telecommunications.

Martelly has had "proximity" -- as he called it -- to the "rich," but
that term is relative here. Haiti once had booming tourism and apparel
industries, but has been in steady decline for decades.

"They should call us the broke-ass elite," one business owner said.

Haiti has one of the highest disparities between the haves and the
have-nots, but it also has a lower gross domestic product than most
countries; lower than Tajikistan, Yemen, or Equatorial Guinea.

Despite U.S. legislation that allowed duty-free apparel exports since
2006, 20 percent of the country's GDP is remittances from abroad, more
than twice the earnings of all exports.

"A lot of people have been in power and don't do anything," said Jean
Cenor, a cobbler. "We need someone new to take this power and help us."

Celebrity Alone Won't Be Enough

Ventura eventually drew ire for cashing in on a book deal while in
office, but such offers aren't likely to appear for Martelly in Haiti,
where the cache of celebrity is more limited.

During the campaign, he leveraged his local renown by bringing in bigger
fish: Wyclef to harness the Haitian vote, and Sean Penn to lend
legitimacy in the international aid community.

Development professionals and donors who visited Martelly over the past
months often left charmed and star-struck. Both Penn and Wyclef were
spotted at the post-election party at Martelly's house.

Some inside his circle were pleased that Pras was not there.

"I was happy because a lot of people think Michel will allow his friends
to do whatever they want during his term," one party-goer said. "His
decision to keep Pras away because of his tweet proves to me that will
not be the case."

But for most of Haiti, and the world, for those who weren't invited to
the party, the "gasoline + matches" incident was of little note. Who is
Pras? And what is Twitter? Martelly will eventually face much bigger

"People will try to hold you down," said Olita Reneleus, 26, a
shopkeeper and voter with a word of advice. "There is evil around.
You've got to fight a lot. Face a lot of bad stuff. You have to keep
your head clear, straight. Come to us. Come back to the people when you
need our help."

For his first post-election press conference, Martelly abandoned his old
d?cor in favor of the more stately red and blue. But close observers
noted his pale pink shirt. On Twitter at least, he

plans to stay @PresidentMicky.

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