His Music Rules in Haiti

Sweet Micky's provocative music moves Haitians with an infectious beat and political overtones

Martelly and Sophia blame Aristide for inflaming the poor against the rich and precariously dividing the country. "In the past ten years Haiti has changed dramatically," Martelly says. "It used to be a country under a strong regime. Now it's a jungle. It's like anyone can slap anyone else anywhere, anytime. As a matter a fact, not anyone can slap anyone else. The poor can slap the rich and the rich cannot even slap them back."

Last month Jean-Claude Duvalier gave an interview with a Miami radio station, expressing his desire for a reconciliation with the people of Haiti. His comments were rebroadcast in Port-au-Prince and immediately provoked an uproar. "Everyone is asking for Duvalier," Sophia asserts, vehemently contradicting the government's declarations to the contrary.

If Haitians are ready to accept a government led by Jean-Claude Duvalier, the despised former dictator, why not one led by Michel Martelly, a popular entertainer?

"I think Haiti would change under someone like me," Martelly muses. "You have to believe in what you are doing. You need to know where you are coming from and where you are going. You need to know the problems, and I do. My message is simple. I just want the country to be prosperous. I don't want the kids to beg in the street. I want people to care about the environment."

Martelly refrains from openly declaring his ambitions. "It's a joke," he protests when pressed. "I am a target already, without doing anything," he says, noting that presidential candidates have a way of getting assassinated in Haiti. "After this interview, they might kill me, depending on what you say. You never know."

Still, Martelly is not afraid to reveal that he has given serious thought to his philosophy of government. "First thing, after I establish my power, which would be very strong and necessary, I would close that congress thing. La chambre des deputes. Le senat." He claps his hands. "Out of my way." For the first year he would outlaw all strikes and demonstrations.

He denies that he is seeking power. "You don't know what power I have in this country right now," he insists. Rather, he argues that the Haitian government is paralyzed by strife and needs a Fujimori-style solution. He would tell the voters: "Give me one year. And if you want me out, you just ask me to get out and I get out."

To restore order in the streets, he would bring back the army, which was dismantled by Aristide in order to forestall future coup attempts. "If something was wrong with the army, all you had to do was fix it," Martelly asserts. Martelly would use the army to reforest the country. "Every Sunday we would go out and each person would plant a tree," he extemporizes. "If the president had his band there, and if afterward it's a big party, well I don't care. We need to find ways to get back together, to bring back unity, to rediscover the will to do things together for the same cause."

Martelly emphasizes that he is not against Preval or Aristide. Until last summer, when he left Haiti to tour with the band, he regularly played soccer at the National Palace with members of Preval's security detail. He even ended up campaigning for a friend, Jean-Marie Fourel Celestin, who was running for the Senate on the Lavalas Family ticket. Celestin, a former colonel and army medical doctor, followed Aristide into exile in 1991. Upon Aristide's return, Celestin was placed in charge of security at the National Palace. Aristide nominated him for chief of police in December 1995, but the appointment was nixed by the Senate after Celestin was accused of accepting an $80,000 bribe in alleged exchange for releasing drug dealers from prison.

On vacation in Jacmel, Martelly ran into Celestin, who asked if he would sit on his campaign truck. Martelly laughs as he remembers his conversations with voters. "I said, 'Vote for this guy, but don't vote for Lavalas because Lavalas is fucked up.' He said, 'That's the way you are helping me?'" Celestin won, though the election was marred by accusations made by his opponents that Celestin had hired armed men to intimidate voters. Martelly says he has no way of knowing whether or not the accusations are true, but he notes that he didn't see any people with weapons when he was in Jacmel.

If Martelly decides to run for political office, his friendships with people like Celestin and Michel Francois will inevitably come under scrutiny. Formal charges of drug-dealing and gun-running against some of Martelly's closest associates will raise other questions. Eddy Aurelien, a Little Haiti businessman who owned the North American distribution rights to at least five of Martelly's albums, was arrested last October for allegedly selling $3000 worth of crack cocaine to a DEA informant. He subsequently jumped bail and is believed to be in Haiti.

Gesner Champagne, Martelly's childhood friend, pleaded guilty last year in Miami to attempting to illegally ship 48 handguns to Haiti. The arrest -- and the fact that Martelly put up the money to post Champagne's $150,000 bail -- was big news in Haiti. Champagne is the nephew of Claude Raymond, a retired army general who served as minister of the interior and defense under François Duvalier. Champagne says he purchased the handguns on behalf of individuals and security companies in Haiti, and that he had first obtained legal clearance from Haitian police authorities.

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