"I love the dude's music," says one of my Haitian friends, "but do you realize that he is the R. Kelly of Haiti?"
Yes, that would be Michel Martelly, aka "Sweet Micky," the front runner in the Haitian elections a mere 20 days away. A search of Martelly on Google reveals Sweet Mickey singles, his recent loan defaults on more than $1 million in South Florida properties, and his friendship with Wyclef Jean. Notably absent are his plans to build a functioning government in Haiti or a dearth of political experience.
Putting his bad boy '90s kompa image and famous pants dropping routine aside, Martelly may have a more sinister past than his music videos convey. Sources speculate that Martelly maintained a close affiliation with the reactionary "forces of darkness" that sponsored bloody coups d'état and military rule. In 2002, the Washington Post described "Sweet Micky" as a "favorite of the thugs who worked on behalf of the hated Duvalier family dictatorship before its 1986 collapse," and the singer was always extremely outspoken in his disdain for former president Aristide and the Lavalas family party.
Conversations with human rights organizations on the ground in Port-au-Prince confirm Martelly's Duvalier ties. As a refresher, "Baby Doc" and "Papa Doc" Duvalier, are most famous for their reign of terror against any opponents, disappearances, and their armed militia, Les Tonton Macoutes who often stoned and burned people alive. Many times the corpses were put on display, often hung in trees for everyone to see, and family members who tried to remove the bodies for proper burial often disappeared themselves. Charges for fraud and embezzlement were filed against Jean-Claude Duvalier last month days after he returned to Haiti for the first time since he was exiled to France in 1986.
The elections on Haiti have been riddled with corruption from the beginning, starting with the exclusion of Haiti's most popular political party, Fanmi Lavalas. Uncertainty over what to do with the preliminary results of the November election culminated in Hillary Clinton's personal visit to ensure that President Préval backed away from his hand-picked successor, Jude Célestin for the run-off elections. (The U.S. threatened to withhold billions of dollars in international assistance if Préval did not comply). On January 30, Hillary Clinton flew to Haiti to meet with Préval and emphasized that the U.S. has "made it very clear we support the OAS recommendations"--the ones that favor Martelly over Célestin, in other words -- "and we would like to see those acted on."
Over a year after the earthquake, and almost a century after political instability and extreme poverty, the most popular words surrounding Haiti continue to be the latest celebrity visit (ahem, Charlie Sheen), orphanage rebuilding or strings-attached aid packages. Yet, Haiti is a country that is at a point where it can continue its political tradition of massive corruption and manipulation by foreign governments, or it is a time where it can focus on a grassroots democratic movement and institutional capacity building.
Quite simply, why aren't we outraged that the United States and the OAS pushed for the adoption of election results that many well-respected human rights organizations and policy experts have deemed fraudulent? Why was it preposterous that Wyclef Jean wanted the presidential bid, but Sweet Micky Martelly's candidacy doesn't seem to be ruffling too many feathers in the United States?
Is Haiti our pet aid project, rich with corporate branding opportunities and self-aggrandizing celebrity trips?
It is no secret that Haiti has always been a strategic point of interest for the United States, and that the US government has every interest in maintaining stability and its heavy-handed influence in the region. But as social media mavens, educated activists and social entrepreneur enthusiasts, shouldn't we at least be talking about the election? Don't get me wrong. Haiti needs our attention, our ideas and (maybe) even some of our financial assistance. What it needs most, however, is a functioning government -- one that will nurture the private market and ensure civil liberties. We should not be shrugging off the Haitian elections, as doomed to fail or as irrelevant (or simply less sexy than the latest Charlie Sheen visit), because they are crucial for long-term development.
"There is simply no replacement for a strong, independent government that is accountable to its people," explains Institute for Justice and Democracy for Haiti staff attorney Nicole Philips, "we talk about entrepreneurship, economic development and human rights," but none of these things can happen in a sustainable manner without fair and inclusive elections."
With the elections approaching on March 21, let's start talking about something that really matters -- the future of a country and a vibrant, rich culture on the brink of a new beginning.
For more on the OAS's recommendations and election results that were declared flawed and statistically unsound by several leading Haiti NGOs, please see the Joint Report of Independent Electoral Monitors of Haiti's November 28, 2010 Election.