Sweet Micky's masquerade

Michel Martelly is Haiti’s new president. But the musician has a dark side.

The Caribbean sun blazes relentlessly on the tall orange gates of Bernard Mevs Hospital in Port-au-Prince. Women with heaping baskets of mangos and laundry balanced on their heads plod by on the unpaved road. As men repair rusty jalopies, a merengue beat drifts languidly over the noise of nearby Toussaint Louverture Boulevard.

The lazy Friday morning doesn't last. A pack of police on four-wheelers tears down the narrow street, sending merchants frantically scrambling out of the way. Then a half-dozen motorcycles roar through the cloud of dust, their riders dismounting in a blur of camouflage and assault rifles. Finally, two jet-black SUVs pull up in front of the hospital gate.

A perfectly hairless orb emerges from one of the vehicles like a caramel-colored lollipop. "Tet kale!" the rapidly swelling crowd shouts. "Bald head!" Cameras flash.

It's an entrance fit for a pop star or a president. Or both.

Dressed in a dapper gray suit, Michel Martelly squints his heavy-lidded eyes, beams a brilliantly white smile, and waves. Only six days into his unlikely presidency, he's unfazed by the attention. It's no surprise. For more than two decades, "Sweet Micky" was Haiti's most popular musician: a raucous performer who combined lascivious dances with romantic, often bawdy lyrics. He drank, smoked, cursed, cross-dressed, and stripped onstage. Then he ran for president. After a round of voting that was marred by fraud and deadly riots, Martelly won a March runoff by a landslide.

Now he is in charge of one of the poorest nations in the world, still reeling from the January 12, 2010 earthquake that killed as many as 300,000 Haitians and left more than a million homeless. In a nation looted by the father-and-son dictatorship of François and Jean-Claude Duvalier, Martelly is also entrusted with spending more than $11 billion of international aid.

Yet Martelly is a mystery. He has never held office, touting his outsider status in the lead up to the election.

"My music was never political," Martelly tells New Times in an exclusive interview. "I have always tried to make sure that people laughed and had fun."

But a close look at his life and tunes proves otherwise. As a musician, he provided the soundtrack for coups d'état. He hosted private parties for right-wing thugs accused of extrajudicial killings. He borrowed his nickname from a notorious police chief later convicted of human rights abuses.

Despite a slick political makeover, Haiti's self-proclaimed "bad boy" hasn't really changed. He plans to re-establish the army that was abolished after the coup and has shown other early signs of a strongman mentality. Most worrisome, however, a video uploaded to YouTube in February shows Martelly calling opponents "faggots" and threatening to kill Jean-Bertrand Aristide — a leftist ex-president who recently returned from exile — by "stick[ing] a dick up his ass."

The stage may have changed, but Sweet Micky is still performing. And Haiti might end up getting played.

"He has two lives," says François Pierre-Louis, a Haitian political scientist at the City University of New York. "He's really a right-wing populist... Once he doesn't get his way, he will force his way and do things that aren't constitutional." So far, he says, Martelly has excluded opposition ministers from crucial meetings and proposed an unqualified candidate for prime minister.

Born on February 12, 1961, four years into the 14-year reign of François "Papa Doc" Duvalier, Martelly lived a sheltered upbringing during the reign of the brutal dictator, who ordered the killings of 30,000 of his countrymen. Martelly's father was a Shell Oil executive, and young Micky was expelled from a series of private schools for his rebelliousness. After finishing high school, he was kicked out of the Haitian Military Academy after impregnating a general's goddaughter, he says.

In 1984, Martelly moved to Colorado and then to Miami, where he briefly attended Miami-Dade Community College, dropped out, and worked in construction. In 1986, just as Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier was forced into exile, Martelly returned to Port-au-Prince and joined a friend's band, teaching himself to play the keyboard while singing every night at the El Rancho Hotel. Eventually, Martelly landed his own gig at Le Florville, a popular nightclub in the relatively upscale suburb of Petionville.

It was an uncertain time in Haiti. Baby Doc's departure had unleashed his Tonton Macoute thugs on the capital, while a series of military generals gave lip service to democratic change. Most musicians were busy penning politically charged protest lyrics, but Martelly sang playful, romantic numbers over a slowed-down merengue beat called compas, the only music allowed under the Duvaliers.

"There was a patriotic fervor attached to the overthrowing of the dictatorship, but Micky was the contrarian," says Gage Averill, an expert on Haitian music. "Haiti was coming through cathartic times, and here he was making such a strong play for this playboy image: partying with nice cars and beautiful women in Petionville clubs. His music was really a nostalgia for those Jean-Claude years."

"Ou La La"

Life is good for me, and everything I have is for you,

When I'm by your waist, I never feel like leaving.

Martelly's allegiances became clearer after the 1991 coup d'état against Aristide, a popular priest who was elected after promising to combat poverty. Martelly opened a Petionville club called the Garage, where he entertained many of the coup's main architects, including the much-feared chief of national police, Michel François, later convicted in absentia for massacring Aristide supporters. François liked Martelly's music so much that he allegedly lent the singer his own nickname: "Sweet Micky."

The two were close enough that Martelly played free of charge for François during a 1992 protest against the arrival of Dante Caputo, a UN representative in charge of negotiating Aristide's return. The koudjay (jam session) brought several hundred people to the airport. As they danced and cheered, Martelly rallied the crowd with a slogan from the Haitian revolution. "Grenadier! To the attack!" he yelled. "If anyone dies, that's his business!"

In a 1997 interview with New Times, Martelly said he didn't regret the incident. "I didn't accept [the request to play] because I was Michel François's friend," he explained. "I went because I did not want Aristide back... You want me to be a de facto [supporter of the coup]. I'm a de facto. It's my right. It's my country. I can fight for whatever I believe in."

Sweet Micky's politics soon began creeping into his songs. After the coup, he made an album whose title captured his ambivalence: I Don't Care. When UN soldiers reinstalled Aristide in 1994, "Go fuck your mother, Aristide!" became a common refrain at Martelly's concerts.

"By then it became clear that Micky had really strong Duvalierist inclinations," Averill says.

"Even back in the day when I said that, I never meant it," Martelly now claims of his divisive lyrics. "That was the type of [rhetoric] we had in Haiti, and I just used it."

"I Don't Care"

If I catch them on Bicentenaire

We're going to spank them

Ruthless, Micky is ruthless

When they attack me, Micky gets ruthless

That's how we are

If you don't like it, get out!

Martelly toned down the political messages after Aristide left office in 1996. But the singer also upped his outrageous onstage antics: dressing in a diaper and leading the Port-au-Prince Carnival in a dress and pink wig. He also began talking half-jokingly about becoming president one day. By the time Aristide was re-elected in 2000, Sweet Micky was "a musical figure in the halls of power in Haiti," Averill says. When a coup once again deposed Aristide in 2004, it was Gérard Latortue — a friend of Martelly's — who took over.

At the time, Martelly was living the high life in South Florida. He and his wife had bought a 6,000-square-foot house in Royal Palm Beach for $910,000. But in 2007, Martelly officially retired, stopped paying the mortgage, and moved back to Haiti — defaulting on more than $1 million in loans and losing three properties to foreclosure.

"I Remember My Country"

If one day you have to travel far

Just remember it's life's problems that brought us here,

Haiti is my country.

There is nobody that is going to make me leave and not come back.

Last summer he announced his candidacy for president. He hired Spanish marketing firm Solas — which had worked on John McCain's 2008 campaign — to transform him from a reactionary into a political maverick with pop-star name recognition. It wasn't difficult.

"There wasn't much education about Martelly's background," Pierre-Louis says. "Besides, no one was really paying attention to him in the first round. He had no chance." Indeed, he came in third in a November 28 election, a couple thousand votes behind Marlene Manigat, a former first lady, and Jude Célestin, President René Préval's chosen successor.

But Martelly supporters refused to accept the results, alleging massive fraud. They constructed flaming roadblocks in Petionville and Port-au-Prince, and demanded Sweet Micky's inclusion in another round. Under international pressure, Haitian election officials threw out Célestin, paving the way for Martelly's commanding March 20 victory.

Paradoxically, Martelly says that despite his bad-boy act, voters elected him because they saw he was a real person, not a phony politician.

"Onstage I had that character — Sweet Micky — that was run by Michel Martelly," he says. "People enjoyed it and saw the persona for what it was. It definitely helped my [political] career because people were able to see my DNA. They were able to say, 'Who's that guy who's running for politics now? At least he is [independent].'"

Martelly says he is "the president of every Haitian," but despite winning two-thirds of the votes in the runoff, historic absenteeism meant less than 17 percent of eligible Haitians voted for him. And although he remains popular in the streets, there are signs that his reformation is just a show.

An audio recording allegedly taken only two days before the runoff features Sweet Micky insulting supporters of Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas party: "The Lavalas are so ugly. They smell like shit. Fuck you, Lavalas. Fuck you, Jean-Bertrand Aristide." Then there was the YouTube video, in which Martelly insults Aristide while smiling, pulling up his shirt, and rubbing his belly.

Outside Bernard Mevs Hospital, however, there is nothing but love for Sweet Micky. By the time Martelly leaves, hundreds of supporters have swarmed the gate, waving flags and singing. When the crowds clear, Isselda Ismael stands next to her tiny cell-phone kiosk on the street. She remembers all of Sweet Micky's hits by heart.

"For a long time, very serious people have done nothing for us," she says. "So let's let a singer have a try."

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19 comments
Implex
Implex

This article is load of crap. I am just saying.

Geo4u1
Geo4u1

leave haiti alone.....then we will be o

Dominique Esser
Dominique Esser

This article is well sourced, unfortunately the same cannot be said of the futile diversionary tactics by Martelly supporters.

Genevieveisma
Genevieveisma

We need people with positive critics. The person who wrote this article to stop that kind of propaganda. Give Haitian population a chance.

Dominique Esser
Dominique Esser

A good summary of the politics that Haitian President Michel Martelly stands for. These are the reasons why less than 18 percent of eligible Haitians voted for him. No track record in politics, but ample evidence that Martelly is a Duvalierist with ultra-right leanings.

Had Haiti been given the chance of a fair and inclusive election, Michel Martelly would only have garnered a fraction of the total votes. But, thanks to OAS and Obama government pressure, flawed and undemocratic elections were forced upon the Haitian electorate and Martelly's election is the unfortunate result. Unfortunate mainly for Haiti's poor, since Martelly has proven himself to be squarely in the camp of the powerful and corrupt elites

joonbug
joonbug

Maybe you can explain what those reasons are for low participation at the polls? I don't seem to understand that argument here as if the people should have flooded the polls to cast they vote while they are trying to recover from piles of rubles, death, destruction, and misery. I'm not sure if the majority of the people would run to the polls to vote for a candidate supported by the very government that failed to respond effectively during the earthquake or cast ballot for a candidate deeply rooted in the system for 30 years and failed to bring real solutions to the people. I think the Haitian is fortunate to have someone like Martelly ready to fight for the poor, but also open to work with the elites to bring real change...call them poor or elites, they are Haitians who deeply love their country and want to the country move forward.

mc
mc

Great summation of Martelly and his shady past. It's an interesting read, well said, and supported by reliable sources.

Unfortunately, Haiti remains the scene of an international crime -- as revealed by the Wikileaks cables being written about at The Nation and Haiti Liberté. Is it futile to wait for more Wikileaks revelations about the role of the U.S. in removing Haiti's first democratically elected president? Preval was the second democratically elected president.

M. Martelly was "selected" in a fraudulent and rigged election. Haiti's most popular party Fanmi Lavalas has been barred from participation in the last two elections on the basis of manufactured technicalities.

The election had the lowest voter turn out in this hemisphere... no democratic legitimacy to speak of, unfortunately. The whole election process was brought and paid for by the "international" community. Martelly refused to name who his donors were, so there was no transparency. Independent does not fit his description. It's not a good omen for independent leadership when one sees that Martelly is owned by so many entities.

Very interesting isn't it that Martelly was accepted as a candidate? He resided in Haiti for less than the requisite 5 (five) years (since 2007), so he didn't qualify to run for the Haitian presidency. Meanwhile, Martelly's comrade from the music business, Wyclef Jean was disqualified on that basis by the CEP. Makes one wonder -- since both men mismanaged or allegedly defrauded money -- why did the "international" community choose to go with MM? Maybe it was his popularity with those who like his music and porn star persona... or do they just know something about Martelly that we don't?

The direction of this new government is discouraging... no surprise at all that Martelly is taxing the poor majority via the Diaspora's remittances and their cell phone transactions. Of course, he has no plans to tax the multinational elitist rich minority who have exploited and denigrated the poor for so long, while investing and spending their money abroad. Also disappointing is the plan to remove the people living in makeshift camps with no plans to provide them with alternate shelter or homes. It's been very sad to watch the violent evictions and destruction of the personal belongings of the victims of the quake in PaP by armed and baton wielding thugs led by the Major of PaP, Wilson Jeudy.

Gage Averill
Gage Averill

Having been quoted (accurately) in the article, I did want to reiterate my opinion that Michel's associations don't preclude him from being President, and that he may have as good a chance as anyone at being successful. More important than figuring out his complex "political" history is looking at his program (generally pretty sharp) and seeing if we can't give Haiti the opportunity to move ahead with MM in the Presidency. By the way, I've loved his music for over 20 years. The Haitian people have spoken, and it would be a shame to drag down the real potential of this moment by focusing only on Martelly's past, antics, and associations. I just didn't want my comments to be construed to mean that I was pining for Aristide or that I didn't hope that M. Tet Kale would move Haiti forward.

Alain Armand
Alain Armand

Wow! I actually started reading some of Micheal Miller's other articles to see if they were as bad, useless, blatantly misleading, biased and uninformed as this piece of "work". @mikemillermiami @jacquiecharles

Dmac365
Dmac365

No surprise here !!! Some people just wish the country to fail. Haiti has its own Rush Limbaugh...

Fanny Roy
Fanny Roy

This article is a waste of webspace... It brings nothing new to the table... Only offers negativity and allegations of future possible wrong doing... Really? Mr Miller, I'm sure you know better...

Also, being anti Aristide makes no one a Duvalierist as you suggest...Implying this is disrespectful to all the victims of both those regimes...

Go back to your books then try and write an ACTUAL opinion...

Craftdavi
Craftdavi

Less than 20% of the electorate went voting and you call call that "the Haitian People"?Smear implies what is not true. Anything in this article that suggests to you the author was lying?

joonbug
joonbug

"Sweet Micky's masquerade"? Still find yourself stuck in the past? Haiti is moving forward and the people made their final choice...show some respect as "Sweet Micky" is now Mr. President Michel Joseph Martelly. Get with the program and start focusing on how he's governing the country. Apart from your smear campaign against Mr. Martelly, I'm not sure what your viewpoint is or who this is benefiting at end, certainly not the Haitian people (they chose Mr. Martelly to be their president).

Firstlady509
Firstlady509

What a sh@#tty article. I want my 5 minutes I wasted reading back please.

Michael Miller
Michael Miller

I also hope Haiti is moving forward. The country needs a leader. But President Martelly's long history of divisive comments -- including many "jokes" about killing or assaulting ex-president Aristide and his supporters -- are troubling. As is his desire to re-establish the military that carried out the coup against Aristide. The point of the article is that despite Martelly's claims that he has changed, the evidence suggests otherwise. Everyone -- Haitians and the international community -- deserves to know Martelly's background. Let's hope he'll prove as good a leader as he was an entertainer.

joonbug
joonbug

I understand the importance of Martelly's background. However, what evidence do we have today that his administration is acting on those past divisive comments? The Haitian people understand the difference between "Sweet Micky" and "Joseph Michel Martelly". Rightly so, you called them "jokes". Another point, Mr. Martelly is not looking to round up the same military men that carried out the coup against Aristide, he wants a modern army that consitutes engineering and medical corps to respond to catastrophes...what is wrong with that? He wants the country to be self sufficient and we should all applaud him for that. There's no objectivity to the article.

Chaylo50
Chaylo50

Dennyboy - I'm a Haitian citizen serving in the usmc, a military can't destroy a country where the people join voluntarily. I support the idea of a military in Haiti. Great leaders make great country. I think young Haitians in my generation are looking toward to change the way Haiti is being look everyday by others from around the world. We must first attract tourism, meaning they must feel safe. A government that have a fair legal system. And justice can never be equal than how can we move forward if I don't see he risk of winning something. To want something you never have you have to do aomthint you never done before. The ideas of life doesn't have to change everytime someone different in power. Their must be a goal to reach, a mission that is state clearly by the people that will take more than two terms making the next candidate after is on a mission to carry on the mission of the people.

Eguerrier
Eguerrier

the picture shown above is not that of the Haitian president, go back to your archive.

 
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