Martelly: Making the Grade?

Martelly: Making the Grade?
May 19, 2012 Christian Wisskirchen
martelly

Martelly: Making the Grade?

Miami Herald, posted on Monday, 14 May 2012. BY ROBERT MAGUIRE

This week, Michel Martelly, aka “Sweet Micky,” marks the end of his first of five years as president of Haiti. The singer-elected-president appeared on the scene as a man of action. Expectations were high. Results so far have been decidedly mixed.

Martelly has displayed boundless energy and a knack for public relations. With great fanfare, he routinely announces new programs, accompanied by expertly written press releases. He became adept at ribbon cuttings, mostly for projects begun before he was elected. During visits in the countryside, the excitable leader showers crowds with kisses and hugs while distributing such gifts as fertilizer and motorcycles ‘from your president.’ Whether in Davos rubbing elbows with businessmen or at home hosting visits by political leaders and jet-setting fashion designers and models, the gregarious president exudes positive energy.

Hugs and kisses are not lavished on those in Haiti who challenge his primacy. Rather, angry vulgarities and threats rain down on them. In the case of a parliamentarian who verbally sparred with the president, the response was outright (and illegal) arrest. Sharing the president’s opprobrium are others, particularly Haitian journalists, who ask difficult questions. Martelly’s pursuit of a my-way-or-the-highway approach toward governing has already weakened the patterns of broadly inclusive governance and political tolerance that preceded him.

At times the president and his advisers — composed of many whose lineage emanates from the Duvalier dictatorship (1957-1986) and its militaristic offspring — seem to be itching for a fight. By acting arbitrarily in such matters as the nomination of a prime minister and by avoiding answers to legitimate constitutional questions concerning dual citizenship, they have dragged Haiti into needless political confrontation and gridlock — only recently broken with the parliamentary confirmation of Martelly’s second prime minister, Laurent Lamothe, within a year. Nevertheless, his repeated provocation of the legislative branch has sent a signal that the country’s hard won but halting gains in establishing democratic patterns and practices over the past 25 years are now at risk.

Once in office Martelly declared “rule of law” as a key priority. His obsessive quest to recreate Haiti’s disgraced, defunct army, while concurrently limiting support of the internationally-trained Haitian National Police force, has cast doubt over his definition of that phrase and is fundamentally at odds with protecting public safety.

Indeed, the presence in Haiti over the past few months of at least 3,500 uniformed and armed rogue militiamen, whose leaders believe it their role to storm the parliament and threaten lawmakers, is fueling a restoration of the insecurity that had receded prior to Martelly’s election. Sadly, Haitians who remember the bad old days of arbitrary abuse perpetrated by soldiers and paramilitary goons see their country headed back in that direction.

Martelly’s engagement with returned dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier — under whose reign those abuses were common — is a barometer of the Haitian president’s interpretation of rule of law. At best, Martelly has been ambivalent toward Jean-Claude; at worst he has been pro-active in assisting the former dictator regain his impunity. Following the forceful disruption several months ago by Duvalier’s lead lawyer and allied thugs of a public meeting to release a human rights organization’s report on the dictator’s criminal past, Martelly contradicted his stated commitment to rule of law by neglecting to speak out about this attack on freedom of speech and assembly.

When, subsequently, the president appeared smiling in a photograph with Duvalier and his lawyer, he transformed his stated rule of law priority into a mockery.

If Haiti’s president were graded today on his one year performance, he would merit a low grade in politics and governance. In public and social relations, however, he would have a high pass. While his final cumulative grade is an incomplete after only one year in office, his progress report would weigh heavily on politics and governance, not public and social relations.

After all, as president of Haiti, Michel Martelly is no longer Sweet Micky. If Haiti’s president learns from the mistakes of his first year and corrects his course toward convincing support of patterns and practices of broadly inclusive democratic governance and rule of law, he has a chance to improve his grade considerably. If not, not only he, but democracy in Haiti, will fail.

After all, as president of Haiti, Michel Martelly is no longer Sweet Micky. If Haiti’s president learns from the mistakes of his first year and corrects his course toward convincing support of patterns and practices of broadly inclusive democratic governance and rule of law, he has a chance to improve his grade considerably. If not, not only he, but democracy in Haiti, will fail.

Robert Maguire is the director of the Latin American & Hemispheric Studies Program of the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University. He first traveled to Haiti in 1974.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/05/14/2799313_is-martelly-making-the-grade.html#storylink=addthis#storylink=cpy

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