Op-Ed: Martelly 'Another Disaster' For Haiti
NEAL CONAN, host:
And now, the Opinion Page.
On Saturday, Michel Martelly was sworn in as Haiti's new president. Tens of thousands cheered as the former pop star known as Sweet Micky spoke from a stage in front of the collapsed national palace. He promise to rebuild the earthquake-devastated capital, to build a modern army, to provide universal education. And he had a message for the outside world.
President MICHEL MARTELLY (Haiti): This is a new Haiti, a new Haiti open for business now.
CONAN: President Martelly inherits a government with few resources and major challenges. If you're from Haiti, if you've travelled there, what's the new president's most urgent priority? 800-989-8255 is the phone number. Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Garry Pierre-Pierre just returned from Port-au-Prince, and joins us from our bureau in New York. He is the editor and publisher of The Haitian Times.
And it's good to have you with us today.
Mr. GARRY PIERRE-PIERRE (Editor and Publisher, The Haitian Times): My pleasure, Neal.
CONAN: In an op-ed you wrote before the inauguration, you describe the election of President Martelly as another disaster for Haiti. Do you still stand by that?
Mr. PIERRE-PIERRE: Well, yes. I mean, if you listen to the clip you just played, Neal, this wasn't a presidential speech. It was still a campaign mode, and a tone very, you know, irascible, very fiery. And I think at this juncture, Haitians need someone more diplomatic, more able to put the pieces back together, both physically and psychologically. And I just don't think that right now, Michel Martelly has a temperament to be a good president.
CONAN: Some would say rallying the country and getting people excited about the future is exactly what Haiti needs, particularly after the previous president seem to be absent following the earthquake.
Mr. PIERRE-PIERRE: Well, yes, indeed. But there's something about - there's a difference, rather, between bringing people together on a positive note, or bringing people together in a negative one, in a sense that - I mean, I've been a constant critic of various Haitian presidents, and I was one of Preval's staunchest critic. But I must give him credit, actually, for bringing the people together, bringing the country together, although I think in the greatest moment of his presidency, after the earthquake, he failed miserably.
But Preval inherited a very fractured society. Haiti was split, and he was able to do that. And I think now what Michel Martelly must do is maintain Preval's sense of togetherness and build upon it. I don't think right now Haiti needs amateur. And then I think that's exactly what we've elected, a very popular man. I know him personally. He's a great musician, probably one of the best entertainers Haiti as ever had. But I don't think that's what we know - we need right now. But having said that, he is the president, and as all Haitian-Americans, you know, we'll support a mixture of that, you know, for the benefit of the country, he succeeds.
CONAN: The United States elected a former movie actor by the name of Ronald Reagan. Of course, he had been governor of California for two terms. He had some experience in politics, but a lot of people think he worked out pretty well.
Mr. PIERRE-PIERRE: Well, yes, he did. But the key there, you said, he had experience in politics. He was the president of the Screen Actors Guild. He was a pretty suave individual, though we may have had various - different political opinions. But, you know, it's not about politics in this case.
I think that, you know, Martelly would have to improve his temperament. I mean, he has a bad boy image, and I think it's a very tough transition, and it will remain to be seen whether he can make the transition from a bad boy entertainer to a president of a country that is reeling right now.
CONAN: You were there at the inauguration. Could you describe it for us? What was the scene like?
Mr. PIERRE-PIERRE: It was extremely hot, first of all. But it was positive in the sense that, you know, Haiti hasn't had much pomp and circumstances in the last several years. And it was a moment where people felt good. You know, my friends and sources describe the atmosphere as Christmas Eve. It was joyful. There was a lot of optimism in the air. You know, people want Martelly to succeed - not just for Martelly to succeed but for Haiti to succeed.
The country, my beloved homeland, has gone through a lot. And now we hope that we can turn the corner and essentially attract investment. And we need to really do all these things simultaneously, hence my reservations, my sort of like guarded optimism.
CONAN: The government's largest resource - and I will say this and please correct me if I'm wrong - is it not the outside aid that's going to come in to help recover from the earthquake?
Mr. PIERRE-PIERRE: Well, certainly. And that's always been the case, be it the dash for Haitian overseas or foreign donors. I mean, we don't produce much because of competition from overseas market. The farmers have abandoned the farms. We don't produce much anymore, and this is something that Martelly recognizes. And he is talking about restoring local productivity in the agriculture sector. We don't have any natural resources to speak of. We used to have bauxite, but that was tapped out quite some time.
What we have is a very - is about 10 million industrious people who are yearning for work and would love to work. And now it's up to the leadership to provide that. I think what they can do is attract first, you know, some factories, some low-cost factories to get people working. And then after a while modernize the economy and attract better paying jobs.
CONAN: We're talking with Gary Pierre-Pierre, the editor and publisher of "The Haitian Times," an English-language newspaper that is published weekly since 1999.
And let's see if we can get some callers in on the conversation. What are the urgent priorities for the new president, Martelly, in Haiti? 800-989-8255. Email: email@example.com. And Adele(ph) is on the line, Adele calling us from Pensacola.
ADELE (Caller): Yes. I've been (unintelligible) and down in the southern part of Haiti on several medical mission trips in the last year, six to be exact. It seems to me that (unintelligible) obviously (unintelligible) infrastructure within a country as broken at this point, but that there is rampant corruption from the bottom level to all the way at the top level prior to the earthquake, after the earthquake, involved with redistribution of earthquake funds, getting goods skimmed from docks, et cetera.
And until that sort thing is addressed and (unintelligible) strong arm tactics, I don't think there's going to be a lot of progress going forth in this country.
CONAN: Garry Pierre-Pierre, did the president, the new president, address the issue of corruption?
Mr. PIERRE-PIERRE: Well, you know, Adele, thank you for your service to Haiti. It's greatly appreciated. But I think corruption really is not the problem. And I've travelled to the Dominican Republic, where I would say is more over corruption than in Haiti. The problem, Adele, that you face is a lack of sophistication, a lack of competency from the part of the people we're dealing with. And if they were competent and knew what they were doing, they wouldn't have to act the way they do. And so we can deal with the corruption issue. The problem is a competency issue which the president has stated publicly, that he has to deal with that, and we all know the problems of why people are corrupt.
For instance, when you have a police officer who is making about the minimum wage and he has a gun, that's a serious problem. And they're talking about raising the wages of the police officers in Haiti and then the civil servant. And these things have to be addressed.
And you also have - his first priority, Neal, is to really restore the justice system and the rule of law. That's the first thing. And once, you know, he does that, the rest is pretty much doable, not to say easy. And foreigners who come into the country won't have to deal with people who are really asking you for bribes because they're hungry, essentially, and they're underpaid. That's what it is.
CONAN: Adele, thanks very much for the call.
CONAN: Let's go next to - this is Diane - Dionne(ph), excuse me - Dionne with us from Tampa.
DIONNE (Caller): Hi. I have traveled to Haiti post-earthquake and prior to the earthquake several times on some mission organizations with the United Methodist Church here in Tampa. And my experience has been that there's - it's such a deep problem there. But one of the things that I've experienced just recently, when I was there about five or six weeks ago, is the infrastructure is nonexistent, but the road system in Haiti is almost nonexistent, where people can't access health care. They can't access jobs. They can't access education. And we went up to the mountains and spent time in a mountain village. It took four hours to travel maybe 25 miles.
CONAN: These are dirt roads or just badly (unintelligible)?
DIONNE: Dirt roads but even beyond dirt roads. They are just rocky, and you have to go about 10 miles per hour. But the people in the villages in the mountains can't get down to access any of the - what the country does have to offer. And there's no medical care, and just the - an infrastructure, road systems would help. But then, of course, there's an atmosphere of hopelessness and dependency.
CONAN: And Garry Pierre...
DIONNE: And that's a greater cultural issue that's been there for generations.
CONAN: I just wanted to start with the issue of roads. If local agriculture is to be part of the salvation that the new president talked about, well, those goods have to be brought to market.
Mr. PIERRE-PIERRE: Well, certainly. But the roads that Dionne is talking about is remote villages, and really, really difficult to build roads. But I think more importantly, the main thoroughfare is impassable at times. And that's a bigger problem than really trying to build roads for - in these remote villages right now. Absolutely, you've got to have the infrastructure in place. And right now there's so much to be done for this new government. And I don't know where to start sometimes because the needs are so great from every angle, every element is a priority. But I still believe that, you know, the rule of law and security should be the priority.
CONAN: Dionne, thanks very much for the call.
DIONNE: Thank you.
CONAN: We're talking with Garry Pierre-Pierre of The Haitian Times.
You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And let's see if we go next to - this is Smith, and Smith is from Brockton in Massachusetts.
SMITH (Caller): Hello. Hi, Neal.
CONAN: Go ahead, please.
SMITH: Hello, Garry.
Mr. PIERRE-PIERRE: How are you doing?
SMITH: I listen to TALK OF THE NATION all the time since when Juan Williams. So I'm a very big fan of TALK OF THE NATION, and you guys are doing a wonderful job there.
CONAN: Well, thank you.
SMITH: And I think there are a lot of things that need to be attacked right away. And it's almost like everything is a priority. The first priority is to unite the people of Haiti. The elections, you can basically see that there were - was a lot of tension and, you know, folks who were supporting all the other candidates. A lot of them are unhappy now that you have - it's not their own candidate. And in Haiti there's a mentality - people don't get together to make sure that they work for their own country. It's like if I don't win, I can't do anything for the country. It's like - that's the mentality. Nobody wants to work together. If they - your candidate is the candidate in power, then I'm supposed to not work with you.
CONAN: Garry Pierre-Pierre, you put that in your op-ed piece rather neatly. You said the political class has been ripped apart by this election. But given its previous failures, is that such a bad thing?
Mr. PIERRE-PIERRE: Well, exactly. It's not such a bad thing. And - but what Smith is saying and, hence, the problem. That class is real reactionary, and it will make sure that it does everything it can for Martelly to fail. And I'm really worried that Martelly will not be able to rise to the occasion and circumvent it. And it is powerful. And that class controls the civil society and the country. They come from that. It is a patronage galore. And they've had their way for so long, and this is the first time that they've been outside of power. And I don't think they will handle it very well.
And what happens next is a big question. Is Martelly smart, sophisticated, savvy enough politically, that is - to work around them? Because they are going to put up some formidable roadblock on his way. And no matter what he wants to do, they're going to make sure it fails. I mean, if we think that the Republicans are obstructionist or the Democrats in this country are obstructionist, you haven't seen nothing yet with the Haitian politician.
It is a zero-sum game, Neal. Either win everything or you lose nothing. There's no sharing of anything in Haiti, and that goes to every level of society, even at the business end. Haitian businessmen or women - and women - do not share. It's everything for me, nothing for you. But it doesn't function that way. Someone has to gain something so that society functions. And we have to change our mindset about that.
CONAN: Smith, thanks very much for the call. Thanks also for the kind words. We appreciate it. One other thing I wanted to ask you about, Garry Pierre-Pierre, was that the - you described - you said you had been persuaded that Michel Martelly is a different character than the persona that he portrayed on stage, the Sweet Micky character who was vulgar and, well, a number of other things as well. Yet you worry about Sweet Micky, you say, also lurking in the background.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. PIERRE-PIERRE: Yes, indeed. Because sometimes you don't know who's coming out or when the line between Martelly and Micky are crossed. I know both characters, and I like Sweet Micky. I do like his bad boy image in some ways. I think he has let's step back a little bit and, you know, make a mark with Sweet Micky. I have a lot of respect for Sweet Micky because Sweet Micky is a man who really pushed Haitians' social mores to the max.
Haiti, unbeknownst to a lot of Americans, is a deeply conservative society. And he spoke about openly gay causes. I've interviewed people in villages who adore this man, because they are gay, but they couldn't come out. And because of Sweet Micky, they're able to talk about their sexuality openly. That's a major thing. That's a major impact. And that's why Martelly was able to win the presidency, because he has a repository of goodwill in Haiti.
But I think Martelly, politically, is not very smart and sophisticated, and I will repeat that. Because the Haitian Haiti's political system is so byzantine and so archaic. It's from the 17th century French sort of way of governing, before the French Revolution, and in 2010 that's the mindset you have from the political class in Haiti, and it's very difficult. That's why everyone always seems to fail politically in Haiti.
CONAN: President Martelly now has a five year term to see what he can do to address Haiti's major challenges. Garry Pierre-Pierre, thank you very much for your time today.
Mr. PIERRE-PIERRE: Thank you, Neal. My pleasure.
CONAN: His op-ed, well, there's a link to it on our website. You can go to npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.
I'm Neal Conan. This is NPR News.
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