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Haiti's Candidate Michel Martelly Talks About the Election, Fraud, and the Future

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Michel Martelly Campaigning for the Haitian Presidency

It has been over a week since Haitian voters went to the polls in what has been widely viewed as an election process fraught with fraud, manipulation, and voter intimidation. Polling and leaked results indicate a surprise in which the Preval government's choice, Jude Celestin, has been reduced to third place behind a grandmother and a popular flamboyant musician. 70-year-old Mirlande H. Manigat, a former parliamentarian, Sorbonne graduate and the wife of a past president, along with businessman and musician Michel "Sweet Mickey" Martelly (49) have surged in a crowded field. Campaign polling reports 39 percent for Martelly and 31 percent for Mrs. Manigat. In another report from the Associated Press, Mirlande Manigat had 30 percent, Martelly 25 percent, and Celestin only 20 percent, according to the National Observation Council (CNO), a local election-monitoring group financed by the European Union.

Haiti's constitution calls for a run-off if no one exceeds 50 percent and the current numbers would put Preval's pick, Jude Celestin out of the running. President René Préval is legally barred from seeking a third term.

We had the opportunity to speak with Michel Martelly by phone from Haiti on Monday evening, 24 hours before the results of the election are scheduled to be announced by the Permanent Electoral council (CEP). The council has until midnight Tuesday to produce the numbers and names of the two contenders who will compete in a January 16 run-off vote.

During a forty-minute interview Martelly talked about the electoral process, the meaning of democracy, the profound challenges facing Haiti, the controversial United Nations presence, and how his flamboyant past sometimes "haunts" him as he seeks the presidency.

Comments have been shortened and edited for clarity in some instances.

Question: The polling results put you in the run-off. Do you know anything about the results that we are not hearing yet?

Martelly: One thing that I do know is that the people have voted for change. I am the candidate of change, and it looks to our campaign that we may have as much as 47 percent of the vote. The numbers look real to me, and if they hold it means that people's will is reflected in the numbers that we have. As for numbers that are coming from the CEP we cannot comment on that. They have not made a declaration. We will wait for declaration tomorrow when we will know who the front-runners are.

[Article 192 of Haiti's 1987 Constitution stipulates that Haiti have a Permanent Electoral Council (CEP) that must be composed of nine members. The first three are picked by the Executive Branch; the second three are chosen by the Supreme Court; and the final three are recruited by the National Assembly]

Question: It has been a week and the CEP is not releasing any preliminary numbers. Can you speculate on that?

Martelly: There is a crisis right now in Haiti and everyone is aware of it. Anyone who is following the election knows exactly what is going on, and it is not a number problem. They (CEP) know exactly what has been done; they know the results already. The fact of the matter is the government is trying to modify the numbers. They do not want to lose because of their interests. They probably have things to hide we don't know about and want to hold onto power. The government candidate has been rejected. By trying to hold onto power the government will be denying people. They are hungry; they are denied the right to health care, denied the right to security. The current government has no plan for Haiti. Officials are not talking about agricultural reform. They are not allowing young Haitians to dream. A young person cannot expect to even own a small car in his or here entire lifetime. The current government and its [hand-picked] successor have been rejected by the people. Young Haitians are tired of this system that only has produced poverty and misery.

[Martelly has a point. The CIA World Fact Book states that 58.5% percent of the Haitian population is between the ages of 15 and 64, and that 80% of the country lives in poverty.]

For the last week we have felt the pressure of the election. We have been kidnapped [figuratively] for one week waiting for the results. Still nothing is being done to help the people of Haiti. We have people under tents for ten months. This is killing the Haitian people. We are calling for a correct result tomorrow. The people have voted, and we call for the international community to keep a close eye on the result, because our country has a history of being overthrown overnight. One day we woke up to find the whole country invaded. We were given democracy without being taught what it is.

[In 2004 President Aristide was forced into exile in South Africa; US forces were sent in and later replaced by the sixth UN mission, the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).
International donors pledged more than $1billion in aid after flooding killed more than 5,000 people, including 3,000 in the wake of tropical storm Jeanne. In 2006 René Préval was declared the winner of the first presidential elections after an internationally brokered deal over disputed results.]

I will tell the world that democracy is not just being President and telling the media we have a democratic nation. It is only when the citizens have the opportunity to exercise their freedom and have (their) vote respected. As long as we have that we have respected democracy. Otherwise it is a coup d'état. Somehow we must allow the process to be fair.

Question: It was widely reported that twelve of the 18 presidential contenders said there was widespread fraud during the election and called for the polls to be vacated, but Mrs. Manigat and you later reversed your decisions. Did you reverse your decision, and if so why?

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Posters for the Government's choice plastered all over Haiti Copyright G. Nienaber

Martelly: I never did that. On election day I invited two other candidates to come and condemn the fraud process and issue a joint declaration, it was a just few of us. Then I went home to a hear about a joint communication and the CEP issued a statement saying there was fraud but that it was minimal and we should go on.

I decided as long as the voice of the people was respected I would go forward. I would work with them. We will condemn the fraud. CEP is only institution that can deny the election and I told them as long as the people are respected I would go forward.

I do not regret my declaration. There was never a group of twelve. There was no group alliance; there was only a joint declaration against fraud.

I never left the group, since there was no group. We are all fighting the fraud; fighting against the government candidate [Celestin] who has been rejected by the people. CEP is the only institution that can decide this. Does this mean there was no fraud? No way.

I always said there was never a group of twelve. There was no alliance. It was just a joint declaration condemning fraud. They claimed I left the group, but that was never the case. We shared the same fight against fraud, against the system, against the government candidate who is unpopular and has been rejected by the people [Despite efforts to ensure his victory through fraud].

Question: This is probably the most important election in Haiti's history. Your country is not yet one year past the earthquake that killed 250,000, injured 300,000, and left at least 1.5 million homeless. You are also facing an uncontrolled cholera epidemic that has infected 90,000 and killed over 2,000. Progress has been slow.

Donors pledged a total of US $9.9 billion, of which US$5.3 billion is pledged over two years [against the requested US$3.9 million] in support of the Haitian government's Action Plan for National Recovery and Development at the International Donors Conference.

What do you see as your first priority for Haiti, should you be elected?

Martelly: Everything in Haiti right now is a priority. I would make as an emergency priority the need to remove the people from the tents or the tarps as you say because, believe me, in the heat of the afternoon at one o'clock in the afternoon the people are frying; they are burning. It is like fish being fried in oil. It is an emergency.

The second emergency is containing the cholera and eliminating the problem entirely. Besides that, every single thing, everything in Haiti is a problem--access to education, poverty, no access to health care, no security in the country-- the law is not respected, corruption is everywhere. There is transparency, no agricultural program. We need to resume exports of sugar, of bananas, and coffee. [Because of trade policies] other countries have been made rich. We are getting more donated money than we have ever gotten before, but where is the money and where are the results?

International donors, our friends, should demand results; impose results. The fact of giving money is not helping if you give money to honest people and there is no structure to manage that money. It is not helping. The rich are getting richer, and they are stealing the money when they should be helping us with infrastructure. We need honest people governing in a transparent manner. Donors need to know what their money is being used for.

Question: Do you have an idea how you would accomplish this transparency?

Martelly: Certainly. The government is a victim of the NGOs. NGOs have weakened the institution of the State. The State should have made sure the money given to the NGOs was used according to a global plan for Haiti; not doing whatever they want. They should be supervised and have to report and make sure the money is being used properly. They are here, but we are seeing no results.

The problem is we have to enforce the government institutions and ensure that the right people are in the right positions. The messenger is more important than the message. We need someone who has always been here, who cares for the people of Haiti in [positions of power]. We need people who are good people who inspire confidence.

Question: This brings up the question of internally displaced persons. The government of Haiti has termed homeless who do not live in government run camps as "squatters." Camps Corail and Canaan illustrate this problem. Corail is the government camp. The residents of Canaan down the road have no official status and are being denied help. How can the homeless be called squatters?

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Camp Canaan

Martelly: I'm not aware of that, but this is an example of the fact that our government is not doing anything. This is a lack of good faith. We are victims of a government that is corrupted.

Question: You have pledged to re-establish the Haitian army, which was disbanded in the 1990s. This seems an odd promise given Haiti's history of military repression and coups d'état. Would you?

Martelly: The Haitian army was dismantled in 1994. This was very unfortunate because if there was something wrong they could have fixed it, and now we have an international force here and we have 80 percent unemployed. This would be an opportunity to create jobs for our youth.

We are happy the international force is here. We have no other way of ensuring security. But what is the agenda? How long will they be here? When will they leave? We have to prepare ourselves or they are here for life due to a lack of leadership. We have no agenda. Still I have to thank them for being here. We have nothing [in the way of security].

Question: Do you have a response to the UN's Edmund Mulet's statement about the demonstrations that took place before the election in protest against the UN presence? Mulet said that the "international community will never accept that a legitimate Haitian president leaves under pressure from the street. It would be a coup." Mulet threatened that the UN would leave Haiti.

Martelly: It is unfair for a few people to hold the country hostage. Let's just let the vote count.

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Question: A lot has been made of your career as the flamboyant musician, "Sweet Mickey" in the international press. What would you like people to know about you as a businessman and Haitian?

Martelly: For 23 years I have been happily married and have four children. Being able to manage my music career when there was no structure for musicians in Haiti gave me a career. I turned it around and made it possible for musicians to make a living in Haiti.

My wife and I do social work with our foundation. We have a very straight attitude. What was crazy in my life happened when I was Sweet Mickey. It created the buzz around my personal life. Yes, I was defiant on stage, and yet the people understood it. It was the time when we were having coup after coup and it was a way for people to be entertained. I did it with joy and passion, but at the end of the day these things sometimes come back to haunt me. It (the stage persona) was done to bring passion and joy to the Haitian community.

Question: They are telling us we are out of time. One last question. Can you talk about the importance of Agriculture? Haiti imports 9 million eggs per day. Also, regarding the Sugar Mill in Darbonne. The current government will not sign cooperative agreement with farmers. Would you?

Martelly: Haiti is an agricultural country. Sixty percent of the population is peasant farmers. They have been neglected. They need security and a sensible import/export program. Let me tell you, anything that will help Haiti and that is practical I will support. This means anything that will help exports; anything that will create jobs; anything that will help the private sector. You can find the complete plan on my website.

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Note: A few hours after we completed this interview, Martelly issued a press release in French that addressed several of the issues discussed in our interview.

"We are very optimistic and remain positive about the outcome of these elections. We know, thanks to our own figures, the expression of the will of the people which has placed our bid to rank first above suspicion...

"The question now is to ask if we win the first round with more than 50 percent if a second round will be required...

"...I heard the threat of the UN to leave the country. I have been advised of concerns of the embassy of the United States for the future relations with Haiti...I want to say that the international community, the diplomatic corps, and non-governmental agencies that we need them...."