Posted on April 5, 2011

Haiti’s New President: Unexpected but Understandable

Moni Basu, CNN, April 5, 2011

It was just before Christmas when Michel Martelly mulled over events in his troubled land and concluded that everything had been done to ensure loss for him at the polls.

An election rife with fraud had ousted him from the race. Martelly’s dreams of leading Haiti were all but dead. But four months of recounts, reviews and a runoff changed everything and the unexpected candidate is poised now to move into the presidential office.

Unexpected because Martelly has never been a politician. He’s better known as “Sweet Mickey,” a popular kompa singer who enthralled his fans with a bad-boy antics on stage. He cursed and swayed with a bottle of Barbancourt rum in his hands and on occasion, mooned his audience.

It’s an image that Martelly said he cultivated for the stage. Still, it led many to question whether he was fit to run a nation as beleaguered as Haiti. Already the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, Haiti is reeling from devastation caused by last year’s massive earthquake followed by a cholera epidemic later in the year.


On the streets of Port-au-Prince, thousands turned out to chant one of his most popular nicknames: “Tet Kale,” which means bald head in Creole. Haitians, especially the youth, were starving for a fresh face. And they got it Monday when the election council announced preliminary results.

Martelly won by a landslide with 67.6% of the vote, soundly defeating his challenger, former first lady Mirlande Manigat, who received 31.5%.


Martelly appeared in jeans and a button-down shirt at his plush home in Peguyville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince high up in the hills. A silver arm cuff hugged his right wrist and he sipped hard on his favorite ice-cream soda. He sat at a table surrounded by a piano and eight wall-mounted speakers. It was not hard to tell this was a musician’s home.

Haiti, he said then, was on the brink of revolution.

“This is a very dangerous corner in Haiti’s history,” he said. “But it’s a revolution that can be done peacefully through the election.”

Under the father-and-son Duvalier dictatorship, Haitians lacked freedom but the people had clean roads, electricity, jobs, security, Martelly says. When democracy came overnight to this Caribbean nation, people didn’t know how to handle it.


He said, for instance, that the $12 billion that was pledged by the international community for earthquake assistance should come in the form of infrastructure, not money, because Haitians don’t know how to manage money.

“People are fed up here,” he said. “They have no food, no education, no health care. What kind of place is it when a young girl will sell her body to buy a phone card?”